Twenty-six bronze artifacts taken from Benin during the colonial era will be returned from France to their country of origin. The news comes on the heels of a dramatic report presented at the Élysée palace on Friday, advising French President Emmanuel Macron to enact a permanent restitution agenda for all art taken “without consent” from Africa during the colonial era.
The report, titled “Towards a new relational ethics,” has been met with horror by some French museum and gallery directors, who fear this will open a “Pandora’s Box” of restitution claims that will empty French museums of their treasures.
Macron commissioned the report in March following the French president’s now famous declaration in Ouagadougou last year, in which he stated that he wanted to see the conditions set for a repatriation of African heritage within the next five years. He tasked art historian Bénédicte Savoy and economist Felwine Sarr, the authors of the report, with recommending a path toward this goal.
At the presentation on Friday, Macron called on French museums to identify African partners and begin organizing returns. He also called for the rapid establishment of an online inventory of museums’ African collections, including systematic provenance research, according to a statement from the presidential palace.
The Benin Bronzes
Based on a proposal from the Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac Museum and the French ministry of culture, Macron has ordered the return of 26 works requested by Benin authorities “without delay.” The artifacts in question, which include three statues of the kings of Abomey, thrones and ornamental doors, and a statue of the god Gou, were looted during General Dodd’s bloody siege on the Béhanzin palace in 1892. In Benin, they will be shared with the public in the context of an ambitious new museums project.
France’s former minister of foreign affairs, Jean-Marc Ayrault, previously rejected an official request for restitution in 2016 on the grounds of the “inalienability” of its national collections.
But Macron’s recent statement at the Élysée implies that there could be a change to French law on the inalienability of objects in the national collection. “Operational and, where appropriate, legislative, measures will be taken to allow these works to return to Benin, accompanied by the know-how of the museum which has preserved them until now,” Macron said.
Benin will now be offered access to the 26 objects on a temporary basis while officials study how to implement the restitution into French law, a spokesperson for the Élysée told artnet News, adding that it’s up to the French ministry of culture to decide how to proceed.
France is beginning with objects from Benin because, to date, it is the only country from which France has received a formal request. But the objects are among some 90,000 works from sub-Saharan Africa in French public collections, according to the report, including nearly 70,000 in the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum alone.
in fact, the 26 artifacts returning to Benin have been in the works for nearly a year. “It is a little bit unfortunate that it appears as the sudden decision of Emmanuel Macron,” Felicity Bodenstein, a historian of ethnographic collections at Berlin’s Technical University, told artnet News. “It is not. Curators at the quai Branly have been engaged in this dialogue for quite some time now.”
The French president called on his ministries of culture and foreign affairs to take steps to ensure “African youth has access in Africa and not just in Europe to their own heritage and the common heritage of humanity.”
Looking Beyond France
Other European nations holding African collections acquired under comparable circumstances should also engage in the conversation, Macron urged on Friday. He invited African and European partners to meet in Paris in the first three months of 2019 to “build together this new relationship and policy of exchange.” The consultation will bring together African states and former European colonial powers such as Germany, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.
The UK’s British Museum, in particular, holds a number of colonial-era artifacts. Contacted by artnet News, a spokesperson for the museum said that it is barred from deaccessioning objects in its collection under the British Museum Act, but that the trustees welcome Macron’s advocacy for the circulation of objects.
“These are complicated histories and a transparent focus on the provenance of objects is indispensable,” the museum’s trustees wrote in a statement. They pointed out that the British Museum has already committed to lending objects to Benin City’s planned new Royal Museum on a rotating basis, and that it is part of their mission to make the collection as widely accessible as possible to a global public.
“We need to use the extraordinary collections in museums to re-write the narrative of a one-sided history to a shared equitable and collaborative one. The British Museum is ready to play its part in that.”
The topic is of particular interest to Germany, too. Most of the objects headed for a show planned at the new cultural center in Berlin, the Humboldt Forum, date from the colonial era. “German museums will certainly follow suit,” said Felicity Bodenstein. But the debate there is different than in France because Germany cannot pass one law to apply to all of its museums, which are under the jurisdiction of various regional governments. “Decisions get made very differently in these countries so the timing and form of restitution will not be the same,” Bodenstein said.
“The looted art must be returned, this also applies to cultural assets from colonial contexts,” a spokesperson for the German minister of culture Monika Grütters told Monopol. “This presupposes provenance research, which Germany has clearly intensified in recent years and is continuing to expand.”
Savoy and Sarr’s 190-page report is currently available to read online and will be released in book form tomorrow from publishing house Philippe Rey-Seuil.
Three Rwanda Genocide Survivors Inspire Next Generation Of Camera Kids
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda led to the death of about 500,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis. However, 25 years on, some of the genocide survivors are making a difference using the art of photography. Mussa Uwitonze, Gadi Habumugisha, and Jean Bizimana lost their parents during the genocide. While at the Imbabazi Orphanage in 2000, they were introduced to photography at ages eight and nine when nonprofit, Through the Eyes of Children, partnered with the orphanage.
Today the trio are working as professional photographers. Bizimana is a photojournalist with Reuters Africa while Uwitonze and Habumugisha are documentary photographers. In the past few months, the trio are exploring Rwanda, interviewing genocide perpetrator and survivors to document the forgiveness so far.
A Twist Of Fate For This Genocide Survivors
The fate of the trio changed when a photographer visited the country. Each time he took pictures children will flock around in excitement to see. So the photographer was curious at the type of pictures the children would take if given the opportunity. Explaining their unlikely twist of fate, Habumugisha said,
“He came to our orphanage and chose a group of 19 out the 100 kids, taught us some basics of photography and gave us disposable cameras. We went out to the community to take pictures and what surprised him is that the images we took were images of life and development of Rwanda.”
Soon after, the project leaders began promoting their pictures around the neighborhood, museums, universities, and Kigali. However, their works got the attention of international photographers because they took rare images. This was because they were part of the community, therefore free to take pictures foreigners couldn’t.
Early Years In Photography
After the close of the orphanage, the three became professional photographers. They began documenting activities at conferences and non-profit organizations. Consequently, they also decided to share their photography skills for the benefit of other kids. The trio are taking the Through the Eyes of Children project global by teaching other vulnerable children and genocide survivors around the world photography.
The trio have shared their skills with young refugees in Boston and New Jersey. They have also reached out to children in foster homes as well as disabled students and genocide survivors. Reacting to their expanded Through the Eyes of Children project, Habumugisha said,
“Photography changed our lives because people got to learn about Rwanda through photography and they gave donations to the orphanage. Also, people appreciating our photos gave us hope that even though we were orphans, we had value in society and so we [want] to pass it forward to children in formidable states, so we came up with some workshops to teach children in school and later thought of going beyond to help vulnerable children so photography could help them too.”
The trio is now GroundTruth Film Fellows working on a documentary titled ‘Camera Kids’. Their amazing story will be part of the feature-length film. They are looking forward to opening a photography training center to give young people (including genocide survivors) the chance of making a decent livelihood.
Check Out The Song That Took ‘Song Of The Year’ At The 2019 NAMA
It was a night of glitz and glamor on Saturday 13th April 2019 at the Harare International Conference Center for the 18th National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA). Celebrities and dignitaries were spotted at the center in scintillating outfits. There were musical performances by music stars like Enzo. However, the climax of the event was the award of plaques in different categories for outstanding works.
The music category always draws the most attention. However, this year had lots of surprise entries. The gospel sensation, Mai Patai was voted the best in the People’s Choice category. Patai recently broke the jinx in the Coca-Cola Radio Zimbabwe Top 50 by becoming the first woman to make it to the top three. Another female gospel musician whose hard work continues to pay off is Janet Manyowa. Manyowa won the Outstanding Female Musician award.
A Battle For Experience And Fame
One of the keenly contested categories at NAMA is the Outstanding Male Musician. Three superstars Baba Harare, Enzo Ishall and ExQ contended the award. However, many believe the ‘Nzenza’ crooner ExQ’s longevity and experience set him apart from his competitors. It was double honors for ExQ as his album ‘Tseu Tseu’ won the Outstanding Album. Although losing out of this category, Enzo’s hit track, ‘Kanjiva’ won the ‘Song of the Year’. Speaking to NewsDay Life & Style Enzo said,
“It is such a great honor to receive this award which I dedicate to my son and I would like to thank friends, family, and my fans as well as my producers for supporting me.”
Surprise Name On The Award List
One of the surprise names on the NAMA Award list was Long John, a rib-cracking comedian. Not many saw this coming. From John’s reactions, it is obvious he did not see it coming too. The vibrant comedian took to his Facebook to share his joy.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m in shock. I’ve never won anything in my life. But today I am so happy to announce that I’ve just Won the Outstanding Comedian Award. This is so unreal. I even have a certificate and everything. Thank you so much, everyone, for your support #VillageBoy.”
List OF NAMA Award Winners
Spoken Words Award
- Outstanding Poet: Likhwa Ncube
- Outstanding Comedian: Learnmore “Long John” Mwanyenyeka
Literary Arts Awards
- Outstanding First Creative Published Book: Gather the Children by Batsirai Chigama (Ntombekhaya Poetry)
- Outstanding Children’s Book: The City Girl by Elisha July and Tendai K. Rudanda (Pass-Point Publishers)
- Outstanding Fiction: Mazai Emheni by Daniel Mutendi (DanTs Media Publishing)
- Outstanding Actor: Teddy Mangawa in Ukama
- Actress: Qeqeshiwe M’thembo in The Hostel
- Outstanding Theatrical Production: Ukama by Savanna Trust
- Outstanding Director: Lloyd Nyikadzino for Zandezi
- Outstanding Female Dancer: Vein N Alfazema in Black Sheep
- Male Dancer: Martin Chabuka in 100% Afro
- Outstanding Dance Group: Real Flex Dance Group directed by Martin Chabuka
- Outstanding Choreographer: Macintosh Jerahuni and Chaleen Chimara – Iwe Neni Tinebasa
- Outstanding 2 Dimensional Work: The Demolition by John Kotze
- 3 Dimensional Work: Zvirimudombo by Shelton Mubayi
- Outstanding Mix Media Work: The Watchman and the Fence by Greg Shaw
- Outstanding Exhibition: The Grotesque by Alan Sibanda and Talent Kapadza
Film and Television Awards
- Outstanding Actor: Eddie Sandifolo as Clive in Bhachi
- Special Mention: Admire Kuzhangaira – in Death and Other Complications
- Outstanding Actress: Tendaishe Chitima as Anesu in Cook Off
- Outstanding Music Video: Dzamutsana ft. Jah Prayzah produced by Vusa Hlatshayo (aka Blaq)
- Outstanding Screen Production (Television Series): Kuchina The Genesis directed by Blessing Gatsi
- Special Mention: Gaza directed by Ben Mahaka
- Outstanding Screen Production – Short Film: Bhachi directed by Shupai Kamunyaru
- Outstanding Screen Production – Full-Length Film: Cook Off directed by Thomas Brickhill
- Outstanding Journalist – Print: Fred Zindi – The Standard
- Television: Patience Nyagato – ZTV
- Radio: Babongile Sikhonjwa (aka uMrifiti) – Sky Metro FM
- Outstanding Online Media: Capitalk
- Outstanding Female Musician: Janet Manyowa
- Male Musician: Enoch “ExQ” Munhenga
- Outstanding Album: Tseu Tseu by ExQ
- Outstanding Song: Kanjiva by Stephen “Enzo Ishall” Mamhere
- People’s Choice Award Winner: Mai Patai
- Artist in the Diaspora: Danai J. Gurira
- Outstanding Promoter: Unplugged Zimbabwe
- Arts Personality Award of the Year: Mokoomba
- Arts Service Award: The Standard Newspaper
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Charles Mungoshi
Hawi Is Ethiopia’s First Female Superhero Comic And Here Is A Sneak Peek At Her Story Line
In not too distant past, a black superhero was almost a myth. However, this changed recently with the screening of Black Panther. But still, there is an underrepresentation of black female superheroes. Beserat Debebe, the founder of Etan Comics hopes to make a difference with the introduction of Ethiopia’s female superhero comic, ‘Hawi’.
Prior to the coming of Hawi, Etan Comics made history with the ‘Jember’. According to records, Jember is the first indigenous superhero comic. According to Debebe, the drive for the comic stems from the need for better female representation. Speaking to OkayAfrica. Debebe said,
“The fact that Hawi is Ethiopian means a lot to me. I wish I had seen an Ethiopian superhero growing up. I would have embraced my ability to make a difference earlier and acted on it.”
A sneak peek into Hawi storyline
Hawi is described as a historical fantasy set in modern-day Ethiopia. The storyline of Hawi revolves around Ement Legesse, a young Ethiopian female superhero. Legesse lives with her mother in the US but desperately wants to visit her native country, Ethiopia. Her mother objects for many reasons including her inability to speak the native Amharic language. Her mother also fears for her safety because of the rampant abduction of young girls.
Subsequently, the two visit Ethiopia together. Her mother ends up being abducted. As the story progresses, Legesse gets some superpowers and fight her way to rescue her mother from her abductors.
According to Debebe, the 29-year-old creator, Legesse Ethiopian background shows Africans can also make an impact in the world. He said,
“Most of the time, the way we think about ourselves is the main barrier to our own progress.”
Hawi portrays the embedded culture and Ethiopian historical figures
Besides the suspense-filled storyline, Etan Comics subtly brings to limelight Ethiopian cultures and prominent historical figures through Hawi. The comic’s colorful visuals showcase Ethiopian vibrancy. Notwithstanding Hawi is set in modern-day Ethiopia, it brings back memories of certain key figures in Ethiopian’s history.
One of such figures is Queen Yodit Gudit. Queen Yodit was a famous feminine figure whose reign spanned the 10th century. Queen Yodit’s Amharic name ‘Esato’ translates to ‘Fire’. Memories of Queen Yodit are those of rage and destruction. As women demand balance in patriarchy society, Hawi reminds us of the often forgotten great female rulers.
Hawi is almost complete. Debebe has set up a Kickstarter crowdfunding to handle the remaining production cost. Hawi will be available in two languages; English and native Amharic.
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