Who owns these Objects and who has a Right to them?

Sculpture of a Court Attendant, 16th-17th century, brass, 49 x 16 x 16 cm, British Museum, London

The so-called “Benin Bronzes” that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin (in modern-day Nigeria), are now part of a fundamental debate around questions of ownership. Mostly seized by British forces during the colonial period, these bronzes constitute for many European art museums a juridical, moral, and political challenge. In many cases it’s not possible to reconstruct if they reached Europe as stolen art or by regular sale. How can we in this case reconcile the right to ownership with the right to protection against expropriation, which is regulated by basic law? Is the existence of these artefacts in museum collections purely didactical, serving exclusively to divulge knowledge, or is displaying them to be understood as a perpetuation of colonial claims of ownership?


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