“We have decided with Benin not to make the returns of royal objects on the sly”

The Quai Branly Museum is organizing the return to Benin of 26 works from the royal treasures of Abomey, stolen during the French colonial conquests in the 19th century.e century, and exhibits them from October 26 to 31, before their transfer. Emmanuel Kasarhérou, president of the Quai Branly Museum, explains the work carried out by his institution around objects acquired in a violent manner.

In what political context do these renditions in Benin take place?

In a context that has always been appeased. As soon as the law on the restitution of cultural property in Benin was passed in December 2020, we have multiplied our contacts to build something together. It is not always easy for questions of temporality and agenda, but a museum must know how to adapt, to be attentive to and at the interface of cultural requests which can be thought of differently from one place to another. other. Two curators, one from the Abomey museum and another from the Ouidah museum, came to familiarize themselves with these objects. We are setting up the exhibition together, they will dismantle it and transport the works to Benin.

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What is the meaning of the exhibition which will be held from October 26 to 31 at the Musée du Quai Branly?

We have decided with Benin to set up an exhibition, not to do these returns on the sly, with only boxes in transit. We wanted to show these works which have a history: they have been in the collections of France for almost 130 years. In the same way that we cannot take away their ancient history, we cannot erase their French history. We had to tell the complexity of this story. A new era is opening for these works. They return to Benin no longer as objects of worship and power, but as heritage objects, which is new. Each culture must build its heritage, define its perimeter, the grammar, the way in which it is spoken of.

When will the works leave France?

An official act will be signed, under the authority of the two French and Benin presidents, at the beginning of November. The 26 objects will then be under the responsibility of Benin. They will come to reinsert themselves into a space that has evolved without them. A new story will be written.

Do these renditions mark the start of a larger movement?

We have to see with the State because we are talking about national collections. But yes, in the future, groups of objects could be the subject of a law. For three years, we have been working on the identification of objects acquired without consent, in a violent manner. Our role is to better inform the origin of the parts. Requests received by the State relate either to specific cases or to all collections. They have been formulated by countries such as Mali, Chad and Côte d’Ivoire, with which we have a common research program.

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