Senegal’s culture minister wants former colonial powers to return thousands of African art pieces that are in European museums and private collections returned to where they belong, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
“It’s entirely logical that Africans should get back their artworks. These works were taken in conditions that were perhaps legitimate at the time but illegitimate today,” Abdou Latif Coulibaly said.
The Museum of Black Civilizations was envisioned in 1966 by former Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor, the West African country’s first head of state when French colonization ended. He died in 2001 before his dream became a reality on Dec. 6 when the museum finally opened its doors in Dakar, the country’s capital.
China provided $34 million of the funding that enabled Senegal to open the 150,000-square-foot, circular structure, according to the BBC.
It houses “ambitious displays spanning both centuries and continents,” Artnet News said. The first temporary exhibits include works by artists from Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as from Cuba and Haiti.
One of the exhibitions, “Cradle of Humankind,” looks back to human origins in Africa and features early stone tools. Another one, titled “African Civilizations: Continuous Creation of Humanity,” explores the history of masks in African cultures. Another exhibit, “The Caravan and Caravel,” looks at how African communities in the Americas grew out of the slave trade.
Despite all the celebrations, there’s a sense that a huge portion of African art history is missing. French President Emmanuel Macron opened the door to the possible return of African artworks from France.
Macron commissioned a report that calls for the repatriation of the pieces taken from its colonies, according to the Guardian. He wanted it to begin within five years.
“I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France,” Macron said during a 2017 visit to the African country of Burkina Faso. “There are historical explanations for this but there is no valid, lasting and unconditional justification.
Many are also calling on Britain and Germany to follow France’s example, the New York Times reported.
It’s unknown exactly how many artefacts Britain, Germany and France looted from Africa. About 90 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage is housed outside the African continent, according to some estimates.