Colonialism provided an opportunity for the exploitation of Africa’s resources including historical cultural artefacts. In a piece for This Is Africa, Rachel Hamada noted that the British Museum holds an impressive number of looted African arts.
“It’s not just the British,” wrote Hamada. “Think of any major Western museum with an African art collection and it will almost always hold cultural objects of dubious provenance, or that are known to have been secured through looting or theft.”
“Any one of those institutions has more than all the museums across sub-Saharan Africa combined,” she added.
Here is a list of some of the art pieces that have been returned in recent times.
In 2013, France returned to the Nigerian government five terracotta sculptures of Nok origin smuggled out of the country in 2010 by a French citizen. The recovered sculptures, which are often portraitures, are believed to be date back more than 3,000 years. The first Nok artefacts were excavated by archaeologists in 1929. Nok art is presumed to be the earliest attempt at portraiture in Nigeria and also shows evidence of the most ancient civilisation in Africa.
Chokwe masks and statue
Congolese entrepreneur and art collector, Sindika Dokolo, bought from private collectors in Belgium and France two female masks and statues made by the Chokwe people of Angola. Dokolo is ready to return the 19th century art pieces to the Angolan museum, where they were stolen during the Angolan civil war. Dokolo has made it his duty to recover and return Africa’s stolen art pieces to their original owners.
Read: What is the value of Ben Enwonwu’s art?
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Colorado, has returned to the Kenyan government 30 East African religious sculptures known as Vigango. The museum received the artefacts as donations but having determined that they may have been stolen, decided to return them. The sculptures will be held at the National Museum of Kenya.
Benin altar figure
In 2014, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, returned to the Nigerian government eight artefacts, among which was the Benin altar figure. The museum determined that the art pieces, which it received as donation, may have been stolen and brought to the United States around 1970. The MFA thus deemed them fit to be returned.