In a recent interview with Keme Nzerem of Channel 4 NewsUK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Benin bronzes “properly resided in the British Museum”.
The UK Culture Secretary’s comments stand in stark contrast to those of Germany’s Culture Minister Monika Gruetters, regarding the stolen Benin Bronzes. Gruetters said the Benin bronzes were a key test for how the country deals with its colonial past.
“We are faced with our historical and moral responsibility,” Gruetters said.
The Associated Press estimates that about 440 bronzes are kept in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and 900 others in the English Museum.
Nzerem stepped in amid Dowden’s comments to remind him that the Benin Bronzes had in fact been stolen from Benin, present-day Nigeria, in 1897. He asked Dowden if the artifacts must belong to the people to whom they had been stolen in the first place. .
“Well, I think the problem with that is if we go back to things that happened in the 19th century and judge them by our values today, that’s completely unacceptable,” Dowden said. . “My concern about this is where do you actually draw the line with this?”
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Pressure from activists around the world has intensified for countries to recognize and reconcile their colonial past. The British Museum has come under increasing pressure to return the bronzes in its possession following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
The British Museum has told the BBC that he is “committed to facilitating a permanent exhibition of Beninese material” in Edo, but did not specify how many items would be returned, adding that “the selection of objects will be determined by discussion with our Nigerian colleagues”.
Professor of world history at the University of Hamburg, Juergen Zimmerer has carried out extensive historical research on the Benin bronzes. He said Germany’s decision will likely affect the wider debate about how institutions in former colonial countries should deal with these artifacts.
“The pressure will mount, as the UK position of simply not addressing restitution is no longer tenable,” Zimmerer said.