German culture ministers pledge to return looted colonial-era artifacts

Germany’s sixteen-state culture ministers met on Wednesday, March 13, and agreed to establish protocols for the repatriation of colonial-era objects from public collections across the country that have been acquired “legally or morally unjustifiable today”.

They released an eight-page document that declares their intent to address their colonial history and outlines the first steps they will take to do so. States will work with museums and institutions to conduct research, digitize and publish provenance information, and eventually establish a central information and assistance center to process repatriation requests. The ministers also said they will prioritize the return of human remains, which they say ‘have no place in museums’.

The meeting follows French President Emanuel Macron’s decision to commission a groundbreaking report that recommends the permanent return of thousands of colonial-era works of art looted from Africa. Macron said returning looted artefacts would be a “top priority” for the government as it traveled across Africa in 2017.

“Germany missed the opportunity to make a big political gesture like France, but this document shows that it takes the subject very seriously,” said Jürgen Zimmerer, professor of African history at the University of Hamburg. . art diary.

German Federal Culture Minister Monika Grütters called Wednesday’s meeting a “statement of historic responsibility”. In February, Grütters announced that $2.17 million in government funds had been secured for the search for artifacts that entered museum collections during the colonial era. The funds are to be administered by the German Foundation for Lost Art – founded by the German federal government in 2015 to help restore artwork looted by the Nazis after World War II – and grant recipients will be selected by a committee of eight people.

French art historian Bénédicte Savoy – co-author of the 108-page report made public by France last November – will sit on the committee, as will Albert Gouaffo from the University of Dschang in Cameroon, Barbara Plankensteiner from the Museum of ‘Ethnology of Hamburg and Ulrike Lindner of the University of Cologne.