The process of decolonization of museums with the restoration of works of art to their original locations has had an uneven trajectory, with intent announced by some European states and slower than desired by various governments in Africa and the Americas seeking their return. requests.
Egypt, Peru or Mexico, on behalf of the countries that claim their wealth, and the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Portugal and Italy, whose museums hold many of these cultural objects of colonialism, have a different view of this project. Let’s face it, Southern European countries are least likely to return.
Egypt – Officials have been seeking to return thousands of antiquities for decades – close to a century in the case of the statue of Nefertiti – and Egypt has an antiquities repatriation department.
The government assures that over the past five years it has recovered more than 30,000 pieces, although many of them are coins that officials personally count.
Peru.- Peru maintains an agreement and negotiation position in the presence of pieces of national heritage abroad and in recent years has signed bilateral agreements and conventions with the United States and Chile for the protection of that heritage.
This allowed pre-Hispanic pieces such as the “Sol de Echenik,” a symbol of Cuzco, to return to the country last June after being delivered by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington.
The most infamous return occurred in 2011 to mark the centenary of North American explorer Hiram Bingham’s arrival at Machu Picchu. Yale University sent three lots to 2019 with a total of 4,849 cultural properties.
MEXICO.- Under Andres Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican government has recovered nearly 9,000 pieces it considers national heritage, mostly from pre-Hispanic times.
Although not always successfully, the government has contested auctions in cities such as New York, Paris and Rome that featured stolen items or objects belonging to Mexico’s heritage, and lawsuits against foreign governments to recover archaeological and artistic pieces. has been accelerated.
In Austro-Austria, the main dispute refers to the legend that it is Austrian state property belonging to Moctezuma and preserved in a museum in Vienna, and whose return Mexico is demanding.
Austria argues that any transfer involves considerable risk and could damage a piece in delicate position.
United Kingdom.- The largest concrete large-scale commitment by a British museum in relation to the decolonization of its collection is that of the Horniman Museum in south-east London, which has begun the return of 72 pieces, mostly bronze, to Nigeria. In 1897 the old African kingdom of Benin was captured by British forces.
The British Museum has about 900 pieces from the same archaeological collection and has not specified at this time whether it will return them – as other institutions in the United Kingdom and the world have done – although, unlike Horniman’s, it is subject to some Legal restrictions…
France. – President Emmanuel Macron was a pioneer when he promised, during a visit to Burkina Faso in 2017, that his country would make a temporary or permanent return of its collection of African art – encrypted on some 100,000 objects, most of them looted during the colonial Time – a priority.
Since then, France has staged symbolic restorations such as the return to Benin in 2021, of 26 works from the royal treasury of the former kingdom of Dahomey (located in the present-day city of Abomey and known for its army of female soldiers), the The sovereign’s saber to Hadj Omar Talla for Senegal in 2020 or the loan of the crown to Ranavalona III of Madagascar from the same year.
Germany. According to the most recent data from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), German museums are faced with the restoration of approximately one thousand artifacts looted during the colonial period and which are spread across twenty German museums.
The process is moving slowly, as it requires clarification of museum holdings, legal issues, and eventually, diplomatic negotiations with the countries that claim the pieces.
Portugal – The socialist government of Portugal, where the debate on the return of art from colonialism has been limited to date, recently announced that it is going to create an inventory of the cultural heritage that exists in the country that originated in the East . colonies and raises “possible withdrawal” if necessary.
The Ministry of Culture is the portfolio that will manage the process, but has stated that it will be “discretionary” and avoid “polarised public debate”.
ITALY.- Italy is not currently considering the dissolution of many of its museums, despite the fact that some of the collections are rich in art from other cultures, particularly from Africa, where the country until World War II held its “imperial” expanded claims.
For example, Turin (North) has the oldest Egyptian Museum in the world from 1824 and the most important after Cairo, while the Vatican Museums protect some 80,000 pieces of culture from all over the planet, certainly also from the East. Colombian America.
This is no obstacle to Italy returning foreign artistic pieces from time to time, such as the “Fagan piece”, a piece of the western frieze of the Parthenon that was returned to Athens last January from the Sicilian city of Palermo, where it was made. For more than two centuries..
Spain.- The government warns that it is one thing to “end the colonialism of museums” and another thing to update museum discourses and a joint reading of past history, as agreed at the September Ibermuseum meeting in Mexico was done.
“We are not non-colonial, but we want to strengthen our relations with Latin American countries on the basis of respect and equality, fraternity,” they explain, trying to ensure that that the museums “present a global and diverse vision.”