In a move with potential ramifications for other European museums, France is displaying 26 looted colonial-era artefacts for one last time before returning them to Benin.
The works are exhibited at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in Paris one last time after almost 130 years abroad.
The pieces were taken from Benin during the colonisation wars over a century ago.
“These art pieces are of essential importance for Benin. It has been more than a century that these pieces have been removed from their historical context. (…)These artefacts are returning to the country today, it’s just historical for the people of Benin”, says Calixte Biah, curator of Ouidah Museum of History.
A royal throne, three wooden anthropomorphic statues, four doors from the Abomey palace amongst other pieces that make up this unique collection also known as the “Abomey Treasures”.
“These are quite exceptional works already in the history of African art and even more so in the history of world art, so they are quite singular and unique in that respect” according to Gaëlle Beaujean, Head of the Africa collections at the Quai Branly Museum.
Two curators from Benin have been in France for over a week to organise the return of the treasures.
The collection also includes pieces that were never exhibited before.
Abdoulaye Imorou, manager of the museum in Benin where the artefacts will be displayed is thrilled to welcome home the collection.
“If I take the statue of Glèlè and Ghézo, they were not in our collections. It will be a plus. I am happy to welcome them. It piques our interest more, as well as these big ceremonial thrones that we had never seen before. It will add more to our collection”, says Imorou.
Since 2019, apart from Benin, another six countries have submitted requests to have works of art returned to their respective home countries.
The list of countries include Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Chad, Mali and Madagascar.