Are African Artifacts Safer in Europe? Museum Conditions Revive Debate

Items in the storage depot of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. A German newspaper’s investigation found less-than-ideal conditions in another storage facility.

BERLIN — Is Africa’s cultural heritage better off in Europe or in Africa?

That is the question at the heart of a yearslong debate that has gripped museums in Europe, where many officials say they support the idea of repatriating artifacts, but worry that African museums cannot compare to state-of-the-art facilities in Britain, France or Germany.

That debate has been given new life in recent months after an investigation by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper found that many of the artifacts that will be on display in the Humboldt Forum, a huge new museum under construction in a rebuilt Berlin palace, had for years been stored in less-than-ideal conditions. The report featured searing depictions of flooded storage rooms and depots choked with toxic dust.

“They complain that they do not have enough money to do research on these objects to take proper care of them,” said Tahir Della, a postcolonial activist based in Berlin, “but they had enough money to build a castle in the middle of Berlin.” Continue reading…

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