Give Them A Bronze? When Europe Returns Looted Cultural Treasures
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Give Them A Bronze? When Europe Returns Looted Cultural Treasures
Nigerian Culture Minister Lai Mohammed sported a big smile during a ceremony in early July to officially hand back artifacts that had been looted in the 19th century. Next to him stood German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, whose attitude appeared, well … demure.
In the foreground of the official pictures are two Benin bronzes (a 35-kg head of an oba, or king, from the 18th century, and a 16th-century relief of an oba accompanied by guards), the first two items that have now traveled home to Benin City, in the southern Nigerian state of Edo.
The agreement between Germany and Nigeria, which includes the promise to return more than 1,000 artifacts, has been celebrated as a milestone in post-colonial reparation attempts of cultural heritage.
This is a big step because Germany has until recently held the second-largest collection in the world of the Benin bronzes. The British Museum in London, which holds the largest collection, has so far refused to give up its 900 objects, arguing that the British Museum Act of 1963 and the Heritage Act of 1983 prevent it from doing so.
But Britain is far from alone. Countries like Italy, which had a relatively short but bloody colonial expansion into eastern and northern Africa that started in the 19th century and peaked during Fascism, looted artifacts that are still locked up in what was once called the “Italian African Museum.” As L’Essenziale reports, the museum has turned into a deposit, while Italians seem to be in denial about ever having played a role in Europe’s brutal colonial past.
The conversation about returning cultural items to African countries is relatively recent, and was given an extra boost by French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to west Africa in 2017, with his promise that “African heritage must be showcased in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos and Cotonou. Within five years I want the conditions to exist for temporary or permanent returns of African heritage to Africa.”
The visit initiated the return of the Benin bronzes from countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
This push to return looted artifacts also coincided with the Black Lives Matter movement and the move to decolonize public spaces, such as #RhodesMustFall, a campaign to remove the name of slave owner Cecil Rhodes from university buildings in South Africa and the U.K.
But how much do these policies actually work? Or are they just a way for former colonial powers to wash their hands of their past without actually evaluating and atoning for the real legacy of their colonial past?
In the case of the Benin bronzes, for example, talks continue over the time frame for the physical return to Nigeria of the artifacts, while the German government has pledged support for a new museum in Benin City. Edo State is also engulfed in volatility and insecurity, with a local journalist telling German daily Die Welt: “I can't celebrate the return of the bronzes if I'm afraid for my life and wondering what I should eat."
Should financial compensation come with the artifacts’ return? Or a pledge to support the museum infrastructure, training experts and creating spaces where the artifacts can be truly welcomed? Perhaps the process should be tied to broader diplomatic and economic questions? It’s a reminder of how much culture policy says about any one nation, and its relationship with the rest of the world.
— Irene Caselli
🎲 OUR WEEKLY NEWS QUIZ
1. What did Ukrainians line up on the streets of Kyiv to celebrate Independence Day — and spite Russia?
2. Who is suing biotech companies Pfizer and BioNTech for patent infringement on their COVID-19 vaccine?
3. China announced that the dugong, a species of sea mammals, was considered extinct in the country. What is the dugong also known as?
4. A video showing inmates and guards competing against each other at a French prison sparked debate. What was the game? Go-karting / Paintball / Pétanque
The arrest of a Chinese girl for wearing a kimono on a street in Suzhou sparked considerable online debate. In a video, a policeman is seen shouting at the girl “How can you wear a kimono? You are Chinese!”, in spite of the fact that the scene happened on a specifically Japanese-themed street of the Chinese city. The girl was taken in for “disorderly behavior” and her clothes were confiscated. The incident provoked much discussion on China’s developing mentality of aggressive and conservative nationalism.
🎭 5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW
- China changes ending of Minions movie: Chinese movie-goers were surprised to find that their ending to Minions: The Rise of Gru, the latest addition to the Minions franchise, was different from other countries’. The Chinese version of the animated movie, which focuses on Gru’s formative years, concludes with the anti-hero embracing a well-ordered life where fatherhood becomes his “biggest accomplishment.”
- Hungary's weather team fired over postponed fireworks: Hungary’s top two weather forecasters were sacked after their service wrongly announced extreme weather conditions in Budapest last Saturday, prompting authorities to postpone national day’s renowned fireworks for a week. The rain storm eventually changed its course and spared the capital city, causing outrage among the government’s supporters.
- Somali poet Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame dies: Somalia is mourning its beloved poet Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame, who died on Monday at the age of 79. Nicknamed Hadraawi (meaning “master of speech”), the poet is considered one of the pillars of the country’s art and literature, a defender of the Somali culture and language, as well as a strong advocate for peace and democracy.
- House of the Dragon becomes HBO’s best launch: Game of Thrones’ much awaited spin-off House of the Dragon premiered on Sunday evening with a record audience of nearly 10 million viewers in the U.S. alone, making it HBO’s best series launch in the history of the television network.
- Britney Spears and Elton John release new duet: Music icons Britney Spears and Elton John have released a new duet “Hold Me Closer” on Friday, a dance-pop reimagining of John’s hit song “Tiny Dancer.” This is Spears’ first music recording since the end of her abusive conversatorship in 2021.
⏪ Learning from the failed attempt to kill Hitler
The actions of Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, who failed to assassinate Hitler in 1944, offer no obvious positive lessons for the 21st century.
But 78 years later, with Russians bombs falling down on Ukraine, Stauffenberg's spirit offers an insight into how Ukraine can be free again and how Russia can be welcomed back into the family of nations, writes Thomas Weber in German daily newpaper Die Welt.Read the full story:Stauffenberg And Us: Russian Lessons From The Plot To Assassinate Hitler
🧹 The very visible toll of the hidden mental load
One day, as he was taking care of his sick son while his wife was working, Greece-based Argentine journalist Ignacio Pereyra started reflecting on the mental load — a concept described by the French feminist sociologist Monique Haicault in the 1980s, referring to the invisible burden caused not only by doing everything but also by thinking about everything that still needs to be done.
The key, Pereyra writes, is for men to anticipate what needs to be done, and not just wait for women to tell them what to do. In that way, the mental load will be shared and both fathers and mothers will be able to enjoy leisure time.
Read the full story: Invisible Work: The Weight Of A Family That Men Don’t See
❌ O Medellín, what have you become?
In the 1940s, the city of Medellín, Colombia, wasn’t only the country’s main industrial city but also harbored the most brothels, sex workers and "red light" districts. The love district was called Lovaina and the number of “elegant” brothels started increasing.
But in the early 1950s, violence broke out. What has Medellín become today? Reinaldo Spitaletta writes for El Espectador about the city that lost its dreams and became a den of inequality.
Read the full story: How Medellín Became Colombia's "Open Air" Brothel
👂⚫️ BRIGHT IDEA
NASA released a spooky audio recording of a black hole spinning at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster. This is the first time such a sound has been extracted and made audible. It was made possible by scaling up the octaves.
🇫🇮💃 SMILE OF THE WEEK
Women around the world started posting videos of themselves dancing and partying, using the hashtag #SolidarityWithSanna to show support for the embattled Finnish Prime Minister. Sanna Marin is under continued scrutiny following the leak of videos showing her dancing with friends at a private party, culminating in the politician agreeing to take a drug test this week to shut down accusations from opponents. The test result was negative.
⏩ LOOKING AHEAD
- A proposal to train Ukrainian forces in neighboring countries will be discussed next week by defense ministers, said EU’s chief of Foreign Policy Josep Borell. The goal, he said, is to “help to organize the army” as the war is “set to last.”
- Singapore will drop indoor its COVID-19 mask requirement starting next week, except on public transportation and healthcare facilities. The country will also end the 7-day quarantine for unvaccinated people. In the UK, routine COVID tests in hospitals are to be scrapped, as deaths from the virus doubled through the summer compared to last year.
- Fifty years after the Apollo mission, NASA will launch a new Moon rocket for a highly awaited six-week test flight. The mission cost a total of $93 billion and is set to be the first step towards programs of human exploration for the Moon and Mars.
- This year's U.S Open will start in New York on Aug. 29. The men's competition will unfold without Novak Djokovic, unable to enter the U.S due his COVID-19 vaccination status. It may also be Serena Williams' last tournament, as the 23-time winner indicated she could retire soon.
News quiz answers:
1. To replace Independence Day parades, Ukrainians displayed captured Russian tanks and military vehicles on Kyiv's main street. The day was darkened by renewed deadly attacks, including on a train station in Chaplyne that killed at least 25.
4. Videos of French inmates, seen competing against each other and against guards in go-kart races within the grounds of the Fresnes prison, have sparked controversy.
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