Benin Bronzes: Another Major Step Taken Towards Strengthening Cultural Collaboration and Achieving Restitution

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

The German government and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), which stipulates that the return of the Benin bronzes from German museums will take place in the context of an extensive collaboration in the areas of museum cooperation, museum infrastructure and archaeology.

It also stipulates that beyond the return of objects from the historical Kingdom of Benin from German museums to Nigeria, a more involved collaboration between the two countries in the cultural sector will take place in the future. The accord makes it clear that the return of the objects will not mean the end of cultural relations between Nigeria and Germany. Rather, it heralds an improvement in ties between the two countries.

Memorandum of Understanding Signed in Abuja on 13 October 2021

The Memorandum was signed by the Director-General of the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Prof. Abba Isa Tijani, and Director-General for Cultural Affairs at the Federal Foreign Office, Dr Andreas Görgen, during the German delegation’s visit to Abuja on 13 October 2021.

The delegation also included Prof. Dr Barbara Plankensteiner, Director of the Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) in Hamburg and co-spokesperson of the Benin Dialogue Group, as well as Prof. Dr Hermann Parzinger, President of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz. These two have been tasked by the German government (both at the regional and federal level) to hold talks (together with the Federal Foreign Office) on the return of the Benin bronzes and on intensifying collaboration, based on the agreement on the handling of the Benin Bronzes from 29 April 2021.

Hermann Parzinger stated:

I fully support this agreement. This has been our third successful meeting in the last six months, and I am very pleased that we have now been able to create a solid foundation for the return of the Benin bronzes as well as for further collaborations. I am certain that this cooperation will be a pioneering model for handling colonial looted art.

Agreements on the Return of the Benin Bronzes

The next step in the restitution process is a framework agreement, which is to be signed by the end of 2021. This agreement determines that transfer of ownership should take place in the second quarter of 2022. It was also agreed that the Benin bronzes would continue to be exhibited in German museums, a fact that really highlights the unique nature of this relationship. In addition, the two countries will work together on exhibition projects in the future. These projects will not only assist in the circulation of Nigerian cultural-heritage artefacts, but of German objects as well.

Objects From Benin at the Ethnologisches Museum

The Ethnologisches Museum holds some 500 objects from the historical Kingdom of Benin, including 400 that are part of what is known collectively as the Benin Bronzes. Although most of the bronzes were acquired by the Berlin museum from the art market, the majority of them were originally looted by the British during their conquest of Benin in 1897.