In a recent interview with Keme Nzerem from Channel News 4, British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Benin bronzes “properly reside in the British Museum”.
The comments of the British Culture Secretary contrast sharply with those of the German Culture Minister, Monika Gruetters, with regard to the stolen Benin Bronzes. Gruetters said Benin’s bronzes were a key test for how the country treats its colonial past.
“We are faced with our historical and moral responsibility,” said Gruetters.
The Associated Press estimates that about 440 bronzes are kept in the Ethnological Museum in Berlin and 900 others in the English museum.
Nzerem intervened amid Dowden’s comments to remind him that the Benin bronzes were in fact stolen from Benin, present-day Nigeria, in 1897. He asked Dowden if the artifacts should belong to the people to whom they were. stolen in the first place. .
“Well, I think the problem with that is that if we go back to things that happened in the 19th century and judge them by our values today, that’s completely unacceptable,” Dowden said. . “My concern about this is where do you actually draw the line with this? “
Pressure from activists around the world has increased for countries to recognize and reconcile their colonial past. The British Museum has come under increasing pressure to return the bronzes in their possession following last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
The British Museum has told the BBC that he “pledged to facilitate a permanent exhibition of Beninese material” in Edo, but did not specify how many items would be returned, adding that “the selection of items will be determined by discussing with our Nigerian colleagues”.
Professor of world history at the University of Hamburg Juergen Zimmerer has carried out extensive historical research on the bronzes of Benin. He said Germany’s decision would likely affect the wider debate on how institutions in former colonial countries should deal with these artifacts.
“The pressure will increase because the British stance of not simply addressing the issue of restitution is no longer tenable,” Zimmerer said.