Germany Plans to Return Over 1,000 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in 2022

A letter of intent was signed this week that also states the new agreement will be solidified in December.

Benin bronzes at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. Daniel Bockwoldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

On Thursday, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the information and culture minister of Nigeria, announced that Germany and Nigeria have signed a letter of intent that states that the return of over 1,000 Benin bronzes to their country of origin is now underway. Specifically, the new plan specifies that the process leading to the exchange of the objects will kick off in the second quarter of 2022, and that plans for the new agreement will be solidified in December of this year. Amongst a ongoing worldwide process of different countries figuring out how they’ll deal with their Bronzes, Germany has shown unique willingness to cooperate.

In March, representatives from Germany’s cultural departments began meeting with Nigerian politicians to discuss the return of the Bronzes. More definitive plans were solidified over the summer, and now, it looks like things are more or less official. “The German government and the German people have taken a courageous step by declaring their willingness to return the artifacts voluntarily and without great coercion on the part of Nigeria,” Mohammed said in a statement.

The Berlin Museum currently has approximately 400 Bronzes in its possession, while other museums in Germany, including the Linden Museum in Stuttgart and the Museum am Rothenbaum, also have Bronzes that they’re going to return. The British Museum in the U.K. and the Quai Branly Museum in Paris have also expressed interest in returning their Bronzes to Benin, but these institutions have not moved with the same swiftness that Germany has as a cultural collective.

“As far as we know today, the Benin bronzes were largely acquired illegally,” Hartmut Dorgerloh, the director of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, told Artnet News back in March. “What consequences these decisions will ultimately have for the planned presentation of Benin bronzes at the Humboldt Forum is currently being discussed and will decided in consultation with the partners in Nigeria. One thing is certain, the exhibition will address the injustices.”

Germany Plans to Return Over 1,000 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in 2022