Posted on October 15, 2020

PARIS (AFP).- French lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously voted to return prized artefacts to Benin and Senegal more than a century after they were looted by colonial forces and hauled back to Paris to be displayed in museums.

The pieces include a royal throne and statues taken by the French army during a war in Benin — then the wealthy African kingdom of Dahomey — as well a sabre once wielded by a 19th-century Muslim sheik in what is today Senegal.

After 49 MPs in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, voted Tuesday night in favour of the bill — with none voting against — it will now head to the Senate.

If approved, France will officially restore to Benin 26 items from the Treasure of Behanzin, looted during the 1892 pillaging of the palace of Abomey.

They include the throne of King Glele — a centrepiece of the 70,000-odd African objects held at the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum in Paris.

Senegal will get back a sword and scabbard said to have belonged to Omar Saidou Tall, an important 19th century military and religious figure in West Africa.

The pieces are officially held by the Army Museum in Paris, but are on long-term loan to Dakar, where they have been exhibited since last November.

Former culture minister Franck Riester said the return of the artefacts was part of a “strengthened desire for cooperation” with the two francophone West African countries.

He spoke to the assembly because current Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot was isolating after coming into contact with a positive coronavirus case.

Ahead of the vote, Bachelot insisted the bill was “not an act of repentance or reparation, nor a condemnation of the French cultural model”.

‘Strictly the minimum’

President Emmanuel Macron pledged shortly after his election in 2017 to look into the restitution of African cultural treasures.

Benin’s President Patrice Talon has previously said he was “not satisfied” even while welcoming “small steps” being taken by France.

“To approve a specific law to hand back 26 artefacts is strictly the minimum,” he told the magazine Young Africa, arguing for a law that gave “global restitution based on a precise inventory”.

Last month five activists went on trial in Paris for trying to seize an African funeral staff from the Quai Branly, France’s pre-eminent indigenous art museum, in a bid to put new pressure on Macron to return more items.

An expert report commissioned by Macron in 2018 counted some 90,000 African works in French museums, most of them at the Quai Branly.

Britain has also faced calls to return artefacts, notably the Elgin Marbles to Greece and the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, while museums in Belgium and Austria house tens of thousands of African pieces.

© Agence France-Presse


Posted on January 19, 2020

ABOMEY-CALAVI (AFP).- Ambassadors from France and Japan mingled with presidential officials, royalty and schoolchildren as Benin celebrated the return of dozens of colonial-era antique artefacts looted by France more than a century ago.

Guests clustered around a magnificent 19th-century sword decorated with animal figurines once wielded by one of the Amazons, the female warriors who served as royal bodyguards. Other items include royal sceptres in the shape of an axe or a crosier.

But while France has agreed in recent years to return some of Benin’s looted treasures, this collection came home thanks to a private initiative.

Earlier this year, the Collective of Saint-Germain-des-Pres Antiquarians, a group of specialists based near Paris, managed to acquire them — with the specific aim of sending them back home to Benin.

The exhibition of 28 objects is based at the Petit Musee de la Recade, a small museum on the outskirts of the capital Cotonou.

The works of art were previously displayed at Paris’ Quai Branly museum, home to tens of thousands of pieces of African art.

Looted from what in the late 19th century was the Kingdom of Dahomey before it became a French protectorate from 1894, until recently they belonged to private collections.

When the Petit Musee de la Recade opened in December 2015, it had 37 spectres and six other artefacts donated by the antiquarian group and private collectors — so these new acquisitions represent a significant boost to the collection.

“We have 28 new items in our collection,” said Marion Hamard, director general of the centre for the arts and culture housed within the museum.

“Among them we have two sculptures, eight swords, 16 sceptres and two daggers.”

“This will allow us to expand our collection considerably,” she added.

She hoped the new acquisitions would help boost visitors to the museum — mainly schoolchildren and locals — from 7,000 to 10,000 by the end of the year.

The politics of restitution

The French antiquarians who got hold of the artefacts, bought them last March at auction, paying several thousand euros (dollars) a piece in order to have them transferred back to their homeland.

They came from two private European collections — one handed down by Alfred Testard de Marans, who took part in a military expedition to Dahomey in 1890; the other that of Father Le Gardinier, a priest who was part of the same mission.

“These are two historic collections,” said Bernard Dulon, a member of the antiquaries group behind the project.“These items, collected in the 19th century, hark back to Benin’s very rich past. They bear witness to an upstanding, combative, resistant Africa.”

But a report commissioned by the French presidency two years ago concluded that items looted during the colonial era should be returned to their countries of origin.

In 2018, France pledged to return 26 statuettes from the kingdom of Abomey from the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac museum.

It signed an accord with Benin on joint exhibitions, museum loans and technical assistance for works of art, and the artefacts should be back in Benin by 2021.

Some French museums have however voiced concern on what they see as the politicisation of art restitution. They question whether cultural institutions in some African states have the infrastructure to house them.

The accord provides chiefly for loaning works to Africa rather than permanent restitution, unless, as is the case of the Abomey statuettes, they were obtained through fragrant military pillage.

The Kingdom of Dahomey — in what would become modern-day Benin — reached its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries and became a major source of slaves for European traders before conquest by Paris ended its rule.

© Agence France-Presse



Posted on January 19, 2020

The debate surrounding an important report urging French museums to repatriate objects plundered from Africa continues to rage on.

Stéphane Martin, the president of the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, a Parisian institution that is home to roughly two-thirds of the 90,000 African objects owned by the French state, has been one of the most vocal opponents of that report, which was released in 2018 and authored by art historian Bénédicte Savoy and economist Felwine Sarr. In an interview published Thursday by the French newspaper Le Monde, Martin, who departs his post on January 9 after more than 20 years leading the museum, reaffirmed his disagreement with the report, saying that he prefers “sharing” the objects with the African countries from which they were removed instead of outright repatriating them.

“To deconstruct the history of collecting and collections is to misunderstand what is part of the cultural history of humanity,” Martin said, adding that Sarr and Savoy’s recommendation that the French state undertake a full-scale repatriation of African objects is an act of “self-flagellation and repentance.”

The interview is a sign that not all museum leaders agree with French president Emmanuel Macron, who has been leading the charge on repatriating objects to Africa. In December, France’s minister of culture, Franck Riester, made a promise to return 26 objects that were looted from Benin during the 19th century, including thrones and statues, by 2021—the first sign of action taken on a pledge first made in 2017.

Those objects are currently housed at the Quai Branly, and have become some of the most controversial ones in the debates surrounding repatriation. (Pre-existing French legislation could keep the objects from leaving France’s holdings.) A month before that, France promised to send back a 19th-century sword to Senegal.

The Savoy/Sarr report, titled “The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics,” has been polarizing for a number of reasons—including that France has been slow to act on vows to begin returning objects. Some experts have accused the French government of resisting repatriation, while others have alleged that doing so could permanently alter the Quai Branly and other similar institutions in ways that are potentially negative.

The Le Monde interview is also one of the first times that Martin, who has overseen the museum since its founding in 1998, has offered an alternative to repatriation: hiring a more diverse staff that better represents the areas of the world in which the Quai Branly specializes. “It is still very complicated to bring in conservators from the countries of origin,” Martin said, adding that such a practice is currently being undertaken by museums in Australia and the Netherlands. “This is the next step for us.”

Source: by Alexander Greenberger


Posted on January 19, 2020

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is presenting Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific, the first substantial project on the art of Fiji to be mounted in the U.S. The exhibition features over 280 artworks drawn from major international collections, including Fiji Museum, the British Museum, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge), the Smithsonian, and distinguished private collections. The exhibition includes figurative sculpture, ritual kava bowls, breastplates of pearl shell and whale ivory, large-scale barkcloths, small portable temples, weapons, and European watercolors and paintings. Additionally, Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific showcases historical photographs from LACMA’s recently acquired Blackburn Collection, as well as a newly commissioned 26-foot double-hulled sailing canoe (drua) constructed in Fiji using traditional materials and techniques.

Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific was organized and curated by Professor Steven Hooper, Dr. Karen Jacobs, and Ms. Katrina Igglesden at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, England, where it was on view October 15, 2016–February 12, 2017. The exhibition has been reformatted for the presentation at LACMA, with additional major loans from U.S. collections. The exhibition at LACMA is curated by Nancy Thomas, senior deputy director, art administration and collections at LACMA, with support from the organizing curators.

“LACMA is pleased to collaborate with Professor Steven Hooper and his colleagues from the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich,” said Nancy Thomas. “Research for the project was informed by over 40 years of collaboration with Indigenous Fijian and international scholars and support from the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Fijian government, resulting in this deeply researched and comprehensive exhibition.

”Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific is presented in the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, a major expansion of LACMA’s campus made possible through a landmark gift from trustee Lynda Resnick and Stewart Resnick, the philanthropists and entrepreneurs behind The Wonderful Company and FIJI Water. Since the Resnick Pavilion opened in 2010, its reconfigurable galleries have hosted nearly 50 significant exhibitions covering a diverse cross-section of art history. FIJI Water is the presenting sponsor of the exhibition.

“It’s an honor to be able to share the beauty of Fijian arts and culture through this stunning exhibition,” said LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan. “We’re pleased to present this show in the Resnick Pavilion, which has become the heart of LACMA’s campus. I’m deeply grateful to Lynda and Stewart for their commitment to bringing this important exhibition to the U.S., and for their incredible legacy benefiting the larger cultural community of Los Angeles.”

“Fiji holds a very special place in our hearts, and Stewart and I are gratified to support this exhibition,” said Lynda Resnick, vice chair and co-owner of The Wonderful Company. “It is our hope that these works from across the archipelago will help visitors fully appreciate the country’s magnificent culture.

”Following the presentation at LACMA, the exhibition will be on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, from September 12, 2020 through January 3, 2021. FIJI Water is also presenting sponsor of the Peabody Essex Museum presentation. In addition, generous support from FIJI Water funded the construction of the drua and its transportation from Fiji to Los Angeles.

Consisting of an archipelago of more than 300 islands, Fiji’s landscape is rich, with fertile soils on most islands providing ample food crops and lagoons with extensive reef systems supplying fish and shellfish. The local environment produced the majority of materials represented in the exhibition, including a wide variety of timbers for housing, canoes, and weapons; plant materials for textiles, mats, roofing, ropes, and bindings; clay, bamboo, and coconuts for containers; and shells and other marine materials for adornments.

Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific showcases the range and quality of these artworks from the past two centuries and highlights the skill and creative adaptability of the artists and craftspeople who made them. The exhibition presents these artworks in eight thematic sections, including: Voyaging, Fiber and Textile Arts, Warfare, Embodying the Ancestors, Adorning the Body, Chiefly Objects, Respecting the Ancestors, and Fiji Life. The later section illustrates 19th-century Fiji with 22 remarkable photographs including studio portraits, landscapes, architecture, and other features of daily life.

The first section, Voyaging, focuses on the role and implements of travel by sea. Nearly 3,000 years ago, explorers likely from the current region of Vanuatu, undertook a 500-mile voyage before settling in Fiji. Subsequent migrations took place, with voyagers settling on the two main islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, while others inhabited outer islands where canoe transport was essential. In the 18th century, immigrant Samoan and Tongan canoe builders working for Fijian chiefs introduced a new Micronesian-style rig which led to the development of massive double-hulled canoes in the 19th century, often measuring more than 100-feet long. Fast-moving canoes were used for regional transport and for fishing, while spears and nets were the main fishing methods in Fiji in the 19th century. In addition to fishing equipment, this section features a contemporary drua (double-hulled sailing canoe). Without a fixed bow or stern, drua can sail in either direction by adjusting the mast and sail. They provided open-ocean transport and troop transportation in times of warfare. The drua featured in LACMA’s exhibition was commissioned as a heritage project in Fiji to encourage the retention of canoe-building skills. It has no metal components and is made from local timber with coconut-husk-fiber lashings, shell decorations, and a pandanus-leaf matting sail.

Fiber and textile arts were and remain today a significant aspect of Fijian culture. Masi is the Fijian word for the paper mulberry tree as well as for the cloth made from its inner bark. To produce it, the bark is stripped from young tree saplings and the inner bark is separated and soaked in water. The bark is then beaten into thin sheets, layered and folded and joined to make cloths of any size. Masi can then be decorated by stenciling, rubbing, or painting. Large presentation cloths have been made for investitures, weddings, or state gifts. A striking three-piece barkcloth attire, an example of which is on view in this section, could be worn by both men and women on important ceremonial occasions. Other textile arts included elaborate woven mats, which could be used as prestige gifts; as well as rectangular baskets and fans which showed off virtuoso weaving techniques and served as popular exchange items.

Warfare was frequent in Fiji until the mid-19th century and the country continues to maintain a proud martial tradition. More than weapons, Fijian clubs and spears are ritual objects and expressions of supreme carving and military skill. The multiple clubs on view in this section represent the widest range of their design. A club or two was the expected accoutrement for active Fijian men, and pomp and display were important aspects of military action. Combat was traditionally preceded by vigorous parading, performance, and boasting.

A section of the exhibition is dedicated to works embodying the ancestors. While it seems that figures were not worshipped as deities, they were kept in temples and shrines as embodiments of deified deceased individuals, usually ancestors. Figures from the 19th century are rare from Fiji, with just a few dozen examples, some preserved in Fiji Museum, Suva. There appear to be two basic figure types, standing figures with bases or pegs, and those incorporated into hooks used for suspending offerings. This section features one of only three known surviving double-figure hooks made of whale ivory, collected in 1876 by the first resident British governor of Fiji, Sir Arthur Gordon. Field reports refer to such hooks as “the most revered of all objects.”

Adorning the body was an aspect of Fijian ceremony and expression and included necklaces, pendants, and other precious wares. Key forms of personal ornament shown in this section are whale-ivory and pearl-shell breastplates, valued for their subtle design variations and alluring reflective and color properties, which were suited for chiefly wear. Fijians themselves did not hunt whales, but obtained teeth from sperm whales stranded on local reefs and beaches and from European traders in the 19th century. As a result, whale ivory was the basis for many other forms of “valuables,” retained or gifted at events or occasions of social exchange. Sperm whale teeth were sawn vertically and horizontally to produce thin “tusks” which were strung closely together to create striking necklaces.

The section on chiefly objects highlights the tabua, the most significant Fijian valuable. Made from a sperm whale tooth that had been oiled, smoked, polished, and fitted with a coconut-husk fiber cord, it is presented as a gift on important occasions. At such occasions, the donors and recipients hold the tabua in their hands and make formal speeches to acknowledge the participants and explain the purpose of the offering. For Fijians, whale teeth were symbolically associated with the cosmological power of the sea and of chiefs. This section also examines the cultural importance of yaqona, an important drink known generally in the Pacific as kava. The pounded or powdered root of a species of pepperbush is mixed with fresh water in a large wooden bowl, then served with respectful formality to guests in coconut-shell cups. Though yaqona is nonalcoholic, it has relaxing properties and is still consumed by Fijians formally or socially on occasions when relatives or friends gather. Other forms of chiefly regalia are showcased in this section, including finely carved clubs and elaborate headrests.

A number of works in the exhibition provide insight into traditional Fijian Life. This section highlights implements for the making of masi, an adze for cracking of ivi nuts, a bamboo tube for the transportation of water, and an end-blown trumpet for multiple forms of communication. A key domestic object was the bar headrest, made of single or multiple pieces of wood, which offered air circulation and protection for hairdos on tropical nights for sleepers reclining on woven mats. Other works in this section include pottery such as elaborate multi-chambered vessels that often took the shape of natural forms including turtles or citrus fruits. They were rubbed with hot resin from dakua trees to achieve a glossy varnish.

Religious observance in the early 19th century focused mainly on divine ancestors to whom temples were dedicated rather than creator gods, as found in many other areas of the world. In Fiji there was a direct correlation between divine power and phenomena that affected human life, such as rain, drought, crop fertility, and especially illness. Accordingly, there was a very practical aspect to Fijian ritual, which involved prayers, chants, sacrificial offerings, obeisance, and other forms of worship in order to please the gods and elicit from them desired outcomes. The section Respecting the Ancestors features model temples which duplicate the architecture of full-scale temples and were possibly taken as portable shrines on canoe voyages. They are made of great lengths of coconut-husk-fiber cordage and their elaborate construction was a form of sacrifice and skilled sacred work. In pre-Christian ritual, yaqona was made in concentrated form for consumption by priests, who sucked it through a reed tube from a shallow dish, some of which had elaborately carved pedestals. A wide range of these dishes are included in this section, along with rare anthropomorphic bowls presenting human or animal-like characteristics.

The exhibition also presents a remarkable display of period photographs from Fiji. Nineteenth-century photographs of the Pacific were produced by foreign travelers, commercial entrepreneurs, and professional photographers, most often men from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Britain. Works in this section come from LACMA’s extensive collection of Pacific photography, which includes several hundred photographs, albums, cartes-de-visite, and stereographic photos of Fiji. Many images are examples of staged studio portraiture—they capture traditional dress, weapons, and hairstyles, yet impose a colonial perspective on the sitter. Additional images document landscapes and architecture or feature aspects of daily life. As photo archives are digitized and more widely shared, it is anticipated that continuing research will help others find the relatives of original subjects, to reclaim details of lost traditions, and to communicate the rich history of the region.



Posted on January 19, 2020

NEW YORK, NY.- A special exhibition highlighting the artistic achievements of early Caribbean civilizations has gone on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Showcasing more than 40 works drawn primarily from The Met collection and augmented by select loans from public and private collections in the United States, Arte del mar: Artistic Exchange in the Caribbean presents a stunning narrative of creativity from the ancestral cultures that encircled the Caribbean Sea in the millennia before European colonization. The exhibition is the first to focus on the artistic exchange that took place among the Taíno civilizations of the Greater Antilles (present-day Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico) and the coastal societies in countries such as Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras before the 16th century. Highlights include rarely seen sculptures created in ancient Puerto Rico.

“Early Caribbean civilizations developed a rich cultural legacy that was fueled by the interplay of ideas and influences across the region,” said Max Hollein, the Director of The Met. “This exhibition celebrates the artistic traditions of these ancestral communities while honoring the enduring power of the objects.”

Organized into three primary sections focused on ritual knowledge, ceremonial performance, and political power, Arte del mar (art of/from the sea) highlights the sculptural achievements of the diverse island societies known today as the Taínos. Featured works on view include four rare wooden sculptures, such as the 10th- to 11th-century Deity Figure (Zemí) from The Met collection, a masterpiece that intertwines spirituality, ceremony, and politics.

Another spectacular wooden figure from the 14th century, on loan from the Saint Louis Art Museum, illustrates how special trees inspired sculptors to reveal specific deity or ancestor forms in collaboration with leaders and ritual specialists. An exceptional group of three-pointed stones (trigonolitos), on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, highlights the extraordinary range of materials and imagery used by Taino sculptors to create spiritually charged ritual objects.

Alongside works of art created by their better-known Taíno peers, the exhibition presents objects created by the artists of the Tairona in northern Colombia, the diverse kingdoms in the Isthmus of Panama and Costa Rica, and the networks of sculptor communities in the Ulúa Valley, Honduras. Objects created from luxury materials including greenstone, shell, gold, and marble underscore the range of trade connections between Caribbean peoples. In a fourth section, the exhibition explores the ancestral legacies into the 20th century and today by incorporating Rumblings of the Earth (Rumor de la tierra), 1950, by painter Wifredo Lam (Cuban, 1902–1982), on loan from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.



Posted on November 22, 2019

As more and more museums in Europe and the United States begin to return objects looted from indigenous peoples during moments of colonization, the Manchester Museum in England has become the first one to do so in the United Kingdom.

The museum has repatriated a group of 43 objects considered sacred to four different indigenous groups in Australia: the Aranda people of Central Australia, the Gangalidda Garawa peoples of northwest Queensland in the northeast of the continent, the Nyamal people of the Pilbara, and the Yawuru people of Broome, both in Western Australian, according to the Art Newspaper.

Many of these objects, which have not been on display for several decades, are believed to have arrived in the country over a century ago, and the official return was completed as part of a series of ceremonies held this week in Manchester, which is part of an ongoing project that marks the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Captain James Cook to Australia.

In an interview, the Manchester Museum’s director, Esme Ward, told the Guardian, “Very often people will say, ‘Is it a slippery slope?’ No, I really don’t think it is. I think some museums, or even the museum sector, is in a bit of an existential crisis—particularly museums that are born of empire. The conversation about where collections belong is getting louder and louder and museums are out of kilter with the public sentiment.”

The 43 objects are a small fraction of the over 32,000 Indigenous Australian objects currently held in British institutions, as identified by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Many of these are held by the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, both in London. The institute has also identified more than 100,000 across 220 institutions worldwide, with many of these objects sitting in storage, according to the Guardian.

Mangubadijarri Yanner, who received the objects in Manchester for the Gangalidda Garawa people, told the Guardian, “We’ve always known that during the process of colonization, which is continuing today in various respects, that our cultural heritage items were removed from us, were stolen from us and taken from us. With these specific items, I can say with authority that they were taken without permission.”

Yanner added, “They were taken from us, stolen from us, but it’s important now that we’re here to take them home.”

Source: November 21, 2019


Posted on November 22, 2020

In 1897, 1,200 British troops captured and burned Benin City. It marked the end of independence for the Kingdom of Benin, which was in the modern-day Edo state in southern Nigeria. In addition to razing the city, British troops looted thousands of pieces of priceless and culturally significant art, known as the Benin bronzes.

More than a century later, the museums that house these pieces are grappling with the legacy of colonialism. Leaders in Africa have continued their call to get the Benin bronzes and other works of art taken by colonists back, at the same time as new museums open up across Africa. (In 2017, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art organized its first traveling exhibition in Africa showcasing the work of the Nigerian photographer Chief S. O. Alonge. The show, catalogue and educational program were organized and produced in partnership with Nigeria’s national museum in Benin City. Alonge was the official photographer to the Royal Court of Benin.)

The British Museum, which has the largest collection of Benin bronzes, is in communication with Nigeria about returning the bronzes. They’re waiting for the completion of the Benin Royal Museum, a project planned for Benin City. Edo state officials recently tapped architect David Adjaye, who designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to do a feasibility study on the site.

Additionally, Nigeria’s first privately funded university museum opened at the Pan-Atlantic University east of Lagos in October thanks to a large donation from Yoruba Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Smithsonian’s Charlotte Ashamu pointed out at a panel on the problems facing Africa’s museum sector last month.

Ashamu grew up in Lagos and is now an associate director at the African Art Museum. The panel was part of a Global Consortium for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage symposium co-hosted by Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution and organized by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Ashamu says the opening of new museums in Africa, like Shyllon’s, is of significant importance.

“It’s changing the narrative that I hear often in the United States, and that’s the narrative that Africans can’t pay or don’t have resources to support their own cultural sector,” Ashamu says. “There are plenty of resources. There is wealth, and it is being invested in the museum and cultural sector.”

Ashamu says Shyllon’s museum is just one example of many new, similar projects across Africa where personal wealth is being invested in the arts.

But Athman Hussein, the assistant director of the National Museums of Kenya, says that private investments alone won’t get many of the public museums in Kenya to the place they need to be to handle large collections of repatriated objects.

He says a lack of funding from the state has made it hard to even keep lights and air conditioning on in some museums.

Plus, Hussein says there are other obstacles facing the continent’s cultural heritage sector, like security. He says in Kenya, increasing security threats mean dwindling tourism numbers, which further impacts attendance at museums. Several panelists at the event expressed the importance of not sticking solely to traditional, Western models of museums. Ashamu says African museums need to start looking into “innovative business models.”

That’s just what Uganda’s Kampala Biennale is aiming to do. The group pairs emerging Ugandan artists with experienced artists for mentorships to empower and teach a new generation of artists in the country. They also host arts festivals around Uganda.

The Biennale’s director, Daudi Karungi, says that the idea of brick-and-mortar museums are less important to him than arts education and creating culturally relevant spaces for art and history. In fact, he says the museum of the future he’d like to see in Uganda wouldn’t look much like what museum-goers in the West are used to.

“Our museum, if it ever happens … it will be one of free entrance, it’ll have no opening or closing times, the community where it is will be the guides and the keepers of the objects, it should be in rooms, outdoors, in homes, on the streets,” Karungi says. “It should not be called a museum, because of course a museum is what we know. So this new thing has to be something else.”

Michael Atwood Mason, director of the Smithsonian Folklife and Cultural Heritage, points out that the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology is also making short-term loans so pieces of indigenous art can spend time closer to the communities where they’re from.

“Many of us recognize that there is a historical imbalance in relationships, and we’re seeking ways to ameliorate that,” Mason says.

“There is a huge territory for us to explore in terms of potential collaboration,” says Gus Casely-Hayford, director of the African Art Museum. But for now, he says their first goal is on other kinds of partnerships to benefit Africa’s museum sector, like conservation and curation training.

Some panelists say it might be a long road for many of Africa’s museums before they’re ready to get back some of the larger or more delicate collections. Casely-Hayford says one Smithsonian study found that the vast majority of museums in Africa don’t feel they have the resources to tell their own stories in the way they’d like.

“Culture is essentially defining what we are, where we’ve been and where we might be going,” he says. “And I just think in Africa, the continent in this very moment is on the cusp of true greatness. Culture must be absolutely part of its nations’ narratives.”

Source: November 19, 2019


Posted on July 19, 2019

France’s president pledged to return 26 items seized in the 19th century by the French military

Benin is preparing a new home in the city of Abomey for 26 objects of art and cultural heritage looted by French troops in 1894, which France’s president Emmanuel Macron pledged last November to return to the West African country. The institution is due to open in 2021, on the 116-acre Unesco World Heritage site of the royal palaces of the former Kingdom of Dahomey, the AFP reports. The French Development Agency, the public funding group that supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, will loan €20m towards construction.

Gabin Djimass, Abomey’s tourism chief, told the AFP that the objects, which include a throne from the kingdom and bronzes, “are a chance for the survival of the site. They will allow us to build a new museum and make the royal palaces more economically sustainable.” France is still working with Benin on the restitution, the French minister of culture Franck Riester said recently, and there still is no set date for parliament to discuss and approve the iniative. The objects are currently in France’s national collection—which has around 5,000 objects from the Kingdom of Dahomey—and are held at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris.

Macron commissioned a report on the restitution of colonial-era art and artefacts held in European museums that recommended that French museums restitute objects in their collections that were taken from museums of objects seized “without consent” from former colonies in Africa. The controversial report, which sent shockwaves through the European museum world, was picked apart at a symposium in Paris earlier this month.

A new programme at the School for African Heritage in the capital city of Porto-Novo is training a dozen people, who are already involved in the cultural field, for the Abomey museum project. “At a museum there is more than just the curator,” the programme’s teacher Richard Sagan, a specialist at the National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and the Development of Tourism, told the AFP. “There is a whole chain of trades, from skilled technicians and craftsmen.”

One of the programme’s participants, Messie Boko, currently a guide at a museum in Porto-Novo, said to the AFP: “It is our duty to know how to spread this heritage.”


Posted on November 22, 2019

PARIS.- Precious Kota and Fang reliquaries, exceptional Baoulé, Bamana and Senufo pieces… Although the meteoric rise of Helena Rubinstein, the leading business woman of the 20th century, whom Cocteau called “The Empress of Beauty”, is familiar to all, her career as an intuitive collector and her pioneering role in the recognition of the arts of Africa and Oceania is probably less well known. Through sixty-five works from her collection, the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac pays tribute to her, and reveals Madame’s fascination for non-European arts.

Madame’s collection, built up mainly in Paris over the course of her encounters, and continually enriched thanks to her keen eye, comprises over 400 pieces of non-European art. In her apartments in Paris, New-York and London, this extraordinary collection sat alongside works by Modernist painters and sculptors such as Chagall, Braque, Brancusi, Modigliani, Picasso and Miró.

Her collection achieved mythical status through her participation in major exhibitions, such as African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art in 1935, and was dispersed in 1966 in New York in a series of remarkable sales, which marked a key stage in the recognition of African arts. Today her name still associated with the period of the first enthusiasts of “distant” arts, few of whom were women.

Helena Rubinstein was a pioneer. At that time, the market for non-European arts was just beginning to develop. By assiduously frequenting intellectual circles, art galleries and auctions, she had access to a wide range of diverse objects. Introduced to this field by the sculptor Jacob Epstein, Madame collected the most unexpected pieces, particularly from Nigeria, Cameroon, the Popular Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She liked the expressiveness and the power of these sculptures, which matched her avant-garde tastes. Her focus on the figurative aspects of utilitarian objects (heddle pulleys, doors, seats, musical instruments), and on the sculptural treatment of the face by African artists fits with a constant personal search for beauty and its many possible definitions.

A major research programme preceded this exhibition. Hélène Joubert, head of the museum’s African Heritage Collections and exhibition curator, conducted research over two years in national and international institutions as well as in major private collections and archives. A large iconography has been put together to illustrate the history of this collection. Guided by sales catalogues from 1966, various publications and references, and by a collection of testimonies and an analysis of photographs of Helena Rubinstein’s apartments, the curator highlights the construction of a collection, its history and its distinctive characteristics. Madame’s unusual sensibility is also revealed here, an aspect that has been little explored until now.

Helena Rubinstein’s collection shows that her artistic choices were bold in the eyes of her contemporaries. Her visionary approach and her curiosity drew her towards rare and powerful works that have come of age over time. A selection of sixty-five objects from Africa and Oceania, from Insulindia and the Americas to a lesser extent, evokes the choices of this major figure among the collectors in the first half of the 20th century.

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