Artifacts that adorn the halls and walls of museums in the Western world are not always acquired through reputable means. Some of the most famous museum exhibits and objects on display at places like the British Museum in London were taken from other countries.
From Africa to Iraq to India, leaders from these nations continue to speak out and request the return of their cultural heritage.
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Kingdom of Dahomey Anthropomorphic Statues
Current Museum: Musée du quai Branly, Paris
Region Of Origin: Benin, Africa
Exhibit History: The French government under President Emmanuel Macron has made a pledge to repatriate artifacts and artworks taken during colonization. Among many objects from Africa are 26 pieces taken during the looting of the Abomey Palace in 1892. These anthropomorphic wooden statues, elaborately detailed and painted, include royal crests that represent different rulers from the Kingdom of Dahomey, which thrived between the 17th and 19th centuries in modern-day Benin.
In 2019, France and Benin signed a deal that ensures both the return of these artifacts and the French government's financial support to build or remodel museums in Benin. Macron's promise to return all 26 pieces by the beginning of 2021, however, was not fulfilled. Patrick Mudekereza, a museum professional in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doubts Macron's commitment to restitution. Mudekereza said he believes Macron is "not keeping his word."
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Burial Mask Of Ka-Nefer-Nefer
Current Museum: Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis
Region Of Origin: Saqqara, Egypt
Exhibit History: In 1951, archaeologist Mohammed Zakaria Goneim excavated the funeral mask of long-deceased Egyptian noblewoman Ka-Nefer-Nefer. Also known as "The Twice-Beautiful Ka," Ka-Nefer-Nefer lived during the 19th Dynasty in Ancient Egypt. Made of plaster, linen, resin, glass, wood, gold, and pigment, the funerary mask is an example of New Kingdom sculpture.
In the 1970s, the Egyptian government discovered the Ka-Nefer-Nefer Mask was missing. Fast-forward two decades, and the Saint Louis Art Museum in America purchased the mask from the gallery Phoenix Ancient Art of New York for just under $500,000. When the mask became part of the museum's permanent exhibits, Egypt cried foul, claiming it had obviously been transported out of the country under felonious circumstances and needed to be returned.
The United States government, in an unprecedented move, sued the Saint Louis Art Museum in 2011 in hopes the mask would be repatriated to Egypt. The case fell apart when US attorneys didn't meet a filing deadline. It remains in St. Louis to this day.
- Photo: Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock.com31,327 VOTES
Current Museum: British Museum, London
Region Of Origin: Athens, Ancient Greece
Exhibit History: "They symbolize the very foundation of Greek and European culture, one which is of universal significance. The dismembered sculptures offend our common European heritage and its perception worldwide," Greek EU member Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou shared during a discussion about the fate of the Elgin Marbles, which were taken from the grounds of the Acropolis between 1801 and 1812.
Named after the British diplomat who oversaw their seizure and eventually sold them to his government, the Elgin Marbles date back 2,500 years to a time of great prosperity for Ancient Athens. Many of the marble friezes were taken from the Parthenon, leading some to refer to the British Museum exhibit where they now reside as the Parthenon Marbles.
Attempts to broker a deal between the British Museum and the Greeks have gone nowhere. Both UNESCO and the EU have gotten involved in the mediation, but the friezes remain on British soil for now.
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Beard Of The Sphinx
Current Museum: British Museum, London
Region Of Origin: Giza, Egypt
Exhibition History: Constructed during ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom as the living image of Fourth-Dynasty Pharaoh Khafre, the mystical and cherished Great Sphinx of Giza is missing an important element: its beard. Fragments of the limestone Beard of the Sphinx are actually scattered around the world, and the British Museum houses what it claims to be a "small fragment" of the iconic sculpture. According to the museum, the beard was likely added to the mythical creature later, during the 18th Dynasty.
The museum purportedly acquired the piece from Giovanni Battista Caviglia, who excavated it in 1817. Theories abound about how the beard fell off. While some contend Napoleon's troops damaged the monument, records dating back to the 15th century mention the Great Sphinx's missing beard. No matter how it ended up detached from its head, Egyptians want the Beard of the Sphinx returned to its original spot, where it serves as a buttress for the "somewhat unstable head."