A case for Repatriation

On October, 2021 the University of Aberdeen in Scotland participated in the repatriation movement after returning a bronze head statue to Nigeria, stating that its acquisition was “extremely immoral” . Among States/Countries like Scotland who support repatriation, it is believed that not only are these artifacts are a crucial part of the identity of the people they where taken from, but are also a representation of the cultural heritage (history) of these individuals, which serves to consolidate their existence as a group of people. While there are many events like this, whereby a country returns ancient artifacts to their parent countries, there are many other countries like Britain who push back on the idea of repatriation. They hold the position that not only are these countries economically incapable of maintaining these artifacts, but their motivation is an attempt to cling on to the past glories of their respected countries. They believe that their purpose as encyclopedic museums to represent the grand history of the human race as a whole far outweighs such ‘superficial’ motivations.

When we take a look the issue of the repatriation of the Parthenon marbles, the people of Greece have every right to push for the return of such an integral part of their culture. One the other side, the British can argue that the global impact of the Parthenon on Architecture transcends the boarders of Greece and should be represented as such. Legally, the can also argue that Lord Elgin “successfully petitioned the authorities to be able to draw, measure and remove figures.” While this is true, there are also many situations where these artifacts are forcefully taken/looted from their parents countries through war or under the pretext of the country in question being a colony. According to the BBC, the bronze head statue was described as “having been looted by British soldiers in Benin City in 1897”.The underlining problem of all this is that a part of the identity of these people are being ripped out. According to Senegalese Scholar Felwine Sarr, the significance of these cultural artifacts in “restoring memory through reclaiming heritage” greatly contribute to the “process of “self-reinvention” that connects reclaimed artifacts to present-day societies and their challenges.”

No matter how noble the idea of an encyclopedic museum is, an idea rooted in Colonialism shouldn’t be the primary medium through which the culture of the entire human race is be represented. While it is true that some of some countries are not adequately equipped enough to cater for these artifacts, ripping away the cultural heritage of a society is not the answer. Instead, both parties must have a conversation with an end goal of finding a way to not only preserve these cultural artifacts, but also keeping them among their people. In todays world, technology like 3D prints should be utilized to its full extent, especially when dealing with situations like this. While portraying the history of the whole world in relation to each other does not necessarily require the actual artifacts, these artifacts are a representation of the history of these people and serve to validate their way of life as a group of people. These art pieces hold way more significance to their people than the rest of the world combined.

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