Absent Treasure

A Ghanaian moment in Africa’s struggle to repatriate its art. 

Gold mask of Kofi Karikari, 19th century. Photo 12/Alamy.
Gold mask of Kofi Karikari, 19th century. Photo 12/Alamy.

A game-changing exhibition has been on view in Cotonou in Benin since February of this year. Titled Restitution – Revelation, the display includes ancient and monumental royal statues and thrones, removed by the French in the course of a military raid on Dahomey in 1892 and carried off to Paris. Benin is the first African country south of the Sahara to get substantial elements of its material culture restituted after being displaced during the colonial era. In turn, France was the first colonial power in Europe to undertake such a restitution. The return process began with a speech by the French president Emanuel Macron at the end of 2017 in Ouagadougou. 

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