After a Promise to Return African Artifacts, France Moves Toward a Plan

After a Promise to Return African Artifacts, France Moves Toward a Plan

In an editorial first published in the French newspaper Le Monde in January, Ms. Savoy wrote that Macron’s speech in Ouagadougou constituted a “revolution.” She wrote, “It draws strength from a generational shift, it suggests that sharing is possible, it presupposes the specificity of the African case and — contrary to expectations — it has not sparked the institutional outcry that we have been used to in recent years.”

Ms. Savoy added that Stéphane Martin, the director of the ethnographic Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum in Paris, which holds some 70,000 artworks from sub-Saharan Africa, was an unexpected voice of support, saying, “nowadays we cannot have an entire continent deprived of its history and artistic genius.”

The French government has historically been hostile to the idea of restitution, claiming that once artifacts were put in museums, they were the property of the public.

Mr. Macron’s pledge is “a foolish promise,” said Simon Njami, editor of the Paris-based African art magazine Revue Noire and head curator of the 2016 Dakar Biennale. “How would one define what belongs to whom?”

Mr. Njami said that because African borders were drawn by European powers during the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 without reference to the boundaries that existed at the time, it would be hard to decide where older artifacts belong. He suggested France should fund exhibitions of the objects across Africa, but as for restitution, he said, “We can talk about it in seven years. Nothing will have moved.”

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