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Museums Are Filled With Stolen African Art. Is It Time To Return It?

Plaques that form part of the Benin Bronzes are displayed at The British Museum in London. The Bronzes were stolen from the African country of Benin by British troops in 1897.
Plaques that form part of the Benin Bronzes are displayed at The British Museum in London. The Bronzes were stolen from the African country of Benin by British troops in 1897.

Earlier this summer, as protesters in the U.S. marched against police brutality and racism, activists in France seized artifacts from African countries on display at a museum. The activists, who were subsequently arrested and charged with theft, called on France to return the items to their places of origin after being stolen under the conditions of colonialism.

While the activists were largely condemned by the French Minister of Culture and currently await trial, their actions come nearly two years after a report commissioned by the French president recommended that stolen artifacts be repatriated to their country of origin.

Now, many more are pushing for the return of African artifacts that were stolen during colonization, including those housed in American museums. But the British Museum in London, which is estimated to hold at least 73,000 artifacts from sub-Saharan Africa has largely ignored any petitions for returning the looted objects. Meanwhile, private auction houses have sold artifacts thought to have been taken at the height of Nigeria’s deadly civil war in the 1960s.

We talk about the controversy facing museums around the world.

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