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Germany to return 19th century looted art to Benin City

The Benin Bronzes have long stood as a symbol of the vast amount of art looted from Africa during colonization. Debates have been going on for years about their restitution, and now, Germany is set to return the precious artifacts looted by British soldiers in the 19th century to their rightful home.

The announcement was made by the country’s culture minister, Monika Grütters, who said Germany will start the restitution of a “substantial” part of the artifacts held in its museums to Nigeria, starting next year.

“We face up to our historic and moral responsibility to shine a light and work on Germany’s historic past,” Grütters said after museum experts and political leaders struck an agreement at a summit last week. “The treatment of the Benin Bronzes is a touchstone [of this process]”.

Most of the art pieces were looted by British forces in 1897 during a punitive expedition to Benin City, located in southern Nigeria. The stolen artifacts were then sold to museums in Europe and North America, with as many as 1,100 artifacts ending up in German museums.

As part of the restitution process, Germany will present a roadmap for the legal and logistical aspects of the return by end of June, with the first objects to be handed over in 2022. In the future, the Benin Bronzes are scheduled to be displayed at a new museum in Benin City, which is expected to be completed in 2025. In the meantime, Germany said it will help fund a pavilion to hold some of the restituted artifacts.

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