In a landmark move aimed at rectifying historical injustices and fostering the return of cultural artifacts to their countries of origin, Germany and France have come together to establish a joint provenance research fund. The focus of this pioneering initiative will be on museum objects originating from sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has seen a significant portion of its cultural heritage housed in European collections.
The culture ministers of both nations signed the agreement during a meeting in Hamburg, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts to address the historical injustice of cultural heritage looting.
Set to commence in February 2024, this collaborative effort will launch as a three-year pilot project. Germany and France have each pledged annual contributions of up to €360,000 to support the initiative, according to an announcement by the German Culture Ministry.
The primary goal of the project is to redress the imbalance in the global distribution of sub-Saharan Africa's cultural heritage. Currently, a significant portion of this heritage is located in European collections, far removed from their countries of origin. German Culture Minister Claudia Roth emphasized the significance of this joint fund, stating, "With this French-German fund, we are launching a new phase in confronting this historical injustice."
Both Germany and France have made substantial commitments to returning cultural artifacts looted from their former colonies. In 2021, France made headlines by returning 26 objects, which had been looted by colonial soldiers, to the Republic of Benin. The following year, Germany followed suit by transferring ownership of approximately 1,100 Benin bronzes to Nigeria.
In addition to financial contributions, the French-German cooperation agreement emphasizes inclusivity. It includes the establishment of an academic advisory council composed of members from both France and Germany, along with an equal number of representatives from sub-Saharan Africa. This approach aims to ensure broader stakeholder engagement in the processes of restitution and provenance research.
The creation of this joint fund signifies a significant leap forward in the ongoing efforts to redress historical injustices and promote the return of cultural artifacts to their countries of origin. Germany and France are poised to take a leading role in fostering collaboration and transparency in the handling of sub-Saharan African heritage.
This collaborative effort reflects a growing global consciousness about the need to address the historical wrongs associated with the looting of cultural artifacts and to work towards a more just and equitable future for cultural heritage.
Article by Jed Mwangi