Humboldt Forum to Return Benin Bronzes
March 23, 2021
Berlin’s Humboldt Forum will not exhibit its renowned collection of Benin Bronzes and instead will begin the process of repatriating them. According to Humboldt Forum director Hartmut Dorgerloh, the museum will instead display replicas of the works or—in some instances, empty spaces—and will seek the counsel of Nigerian authorities in doing so.
The bronzes were brought to Europe from Nigeria, then known as Benin, in 1897 by British soldiers and are currently scattered around the continent. Activists have for decades sought the repatriation of the objects, which are held by London’s British Museum and Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, among other institutions.
The recently completed Humboldt Forum, which houses the Ethnological Museum, home to roughly 530 of the bronzes, had been planning an exhibition of the treasures. Last week, however, Andreas Görgen, director general of cultural affairs for Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is said to have met with Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, to discuss Germany’s sending back the bronzes in its possession, with the objects to be rehomed at the Edo Museum of West African Art, slated to open in Benin City in 2025.
Whether the exhibition schedule at the Humboldt Forum—which has generated controversy on points ranging from its $787 million cost to its ability to address Berlin’s colonial history in a socially responsible manner—will be altered to hasten the objects’ presentation, and what form the exhibition will ultimately take remains to be seen. Dorgleroh has said he expects the board of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages Berlin’s public museums, to rule on the potential return by the autumn. “What consequences these decisions will ultimately have for the planned presentation of Benin Bronzes at the Humboldt Forum is currently being discussed and will decided in consultation with the partners in Nigeria,” Dorgerloh said in a statement, adding, “One thing is certain, the exhibition will address the injustices.”