France officially signs over artworks taken from ex-colony Benin

Benin’s President Patrice Talon signed an agreement on Tuesday to take back from France 26 artworks seized from the former French colony in the 19th century. He says he hopes the agreement paves the way for more cultural treasures to be returned.

The 26 artworks were stolen in 1892 from Benin’s Palaces of Abomey, today a UNESCO World Heritage site, and have been on display in a museum in Paris, alongside thousands of other artifacts taken from Africa during colonial rule.

They will now be handed back, but they are only some of the 5,000 works whose return Benin is seeking.

“You’ll agree with me that the restitution of 26 artworks we are celebrating today is only a step in the ambitious process of equity and of restitution of heritage extorted from the territory of the Benin kingdom by France,” Talon said, speaking to French President Emmanuel Macron after a signing ceremony at the Elysee Palace.

The handover marks a milestone in the years-long fight by African countries to recover works taken by Western explorers and colonizers, at a time when numerous European institutions are grappling with the cultural legacies of colonialism.

The Quai Branly Museum in Paris alone holds some 70,000 African objects.

The process of handing back the artworks that France had taken from the Palaces of Abomey was first promised by Macron in 2017.

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