February 6, 2019

Germany Allocates $2.17 Million for Colonial-Era Provenance Research

BERLIN, GERMANY—The German government has announced that $2.17 million in state funds have been secured for researching artifacts that entered the nation’s museum collections during the colonial era. The French art historian Bénédicte Savoy, cowriter of the groundbreaking 108-page report published last November that recommended the permanent restitution of African art and artifacts acquired through “theft, looting, despoilment, trickery, and forced consent,” will sit on the eight-person committee that will select grant recipients for the funds. Other panel members include Albert Gouaffo of the University of Dschang in Cameroon, Barbara Plankensteiner of the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology, and Ulrike Lindner of Cologne University.

The announcement by German culture minister Monika Grüttersfollows her pledge last May to provide funding for museums to investigate the provenance of colonial-era collections. It also comes in the wake of an appeal by over eighty scholars working in art history, ethnology, and history, who called on the German government to found an institute that would develop policy, research, and initiatives to address the nation’s colonial history and the inclusion of colonial-era objects in public collections.

Savoy and the Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr wrote in their November report: “Behind the mask of beauty, the question of restitution invites us to go right to the heart of a system of appropriation and alienation, the colonial system, of which some European museums are today, in their own right, public archives.”

The funds will be administered by the German Lost Art Foundation, which was founded by the German federal government in 2015 in an effort to assist with the restoration of Nazi-looted artworks after World War II.

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