French president advised to return looted African art treasures

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the inauguration of the Beaux-Arts Museum of Besancon on Nov. 16. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2018
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French president advised to return looted African art treasures

  • Calls have been growing in Africa for the restitution of their cultural treasures
  • Britain too has faced numerous calls to return artefacts to the countries they originate from

PARIS: Experts appointed by President Emmanuel Macron will advise him on Friday to allow the return of thousands of African artworks held in French museums, a radical shift in policy which could put pressure on other former colonial powers.
Calls have been growing in Africa for the restitution of their cultural treasures, but French law strictly forbids the government from ceding state property, even in well-documented cases of pillaging.
But in a speech in Burkina Faso in November last year, Macron said “Africa’s heritage cannot just be in European private collections and museums.”
He later asked French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr to study the matter, and they are to present Macron with their report on Friday.
According to a copy seen by AFP, they recommend amending French law to allow the restitution of cultural works if bilateral accords are struck between France and African states.
The change would apply in particular to works held in museums which were “transferred from their original territory during the French colonial period,” the report said.
“We propose changing heritage laws so that all types of cases can be taken into account, and the criteria of consentment can be invoked,” Sarr told French daily Liberation in an article posted late Tuesday.
Of the estimated 90,000 African artworks in French museum collections, around 70,000 are at Paris’ Quai Branly museum, created by ex-president Jacques Chirac, a keen admirer of African and Asian arts.
In order to proceed with any restitutions, “a request would have to be lodged by an African country, based on inventory lists which we will have sent them,” according to the report.
The prospect has raised hackles among some curators and art dealers who say it would eventually empty museums and galleries in some Western countries.
Critics also say the move could prompt private French collectors to move their works out of the country for fear of seizure.
European conservationists have also raised practical concerns, worrying artefacts could be stolen or handled improperly if given to inexperienced museums in politically unstable countries.
Britain too has faced numerous calls to return artefacts to the countries they originate from, including the Elgin Marbles to Greece and the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.
On Tuesday, the governor of Easter Island in the Pacific tearfully begged the British Museum to return one of its famous statues.
The London museum has held the Hoa Hakananai’a, one of the most spiritually important of the Chilean island’s stone monoliths, for 150 years.


Abu Dhabi Festival reveals exciting 2019 lineup

Updated 10 December 2018
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Abu Dhabi Festival reveals exciting 2019 lineup

  •  Dubbed ADF19, the festival will feature more than 100 events across 25 venues in Abu Dhabi, including 18 productions, two co-productions and two commissioned artworks
  • The festival will also shed light on artists with disabilities, with the central theme announced as “Culture of Determination”

The month-long Abu Dhabi Festival, set to be held in March 2019, announced its art-and-culture filled lineup in a press conference at the Emirates Palace hotel on Monday, with the packed itinerary set to entertain culture vultures in the capital in what will be the festival’s 16th edition.

Dubbed ADF19, the festival will feature more than 100 events across 25 venues in Abu Dhabi, including 18 productions, two co-productions and two commissioned artworks. If that isn’t enough, the festival will also feature more than 500 artists from 17 different countries.

The festival’s headline program includes performances by the Korean National Ballet — set to perform “Giselle,” a romantic ballet about a peasant girl with a passion for dance — and the Korean Symphony Orchestra. Korea has been singled out as ASF19’s “Country of Honor” and organizers are focusing on sharing its classical talent with audiences in the Middle East.

“Abu Dhabi Festival… has been contributing enormously to the region’s intercultural competence, so I’m very happy that Korea could be a part of the wonderful celebration,” the Republic of Korea’s Ambassador to the UAE Kang-ho Park told the press via video link on Monday.  

The festival will also shed light on artists with disabilities, with the central theme announced as “Culture of Determination.”

Festival founder Huda I. Alkhamis-Kanoo took to the stage alongside Peter Wheeler, CEO of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi, to sign a cooperation agreement at Monday’s press conference and a March 16 concert titled “Stand Up For Inclusion” was announced as one of the main events during next year’s festival.

The festival will also host an exhibition called “Distant Prospects,” presenting the history of European landscape painting through renowned pieces by key figures in the Late Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Other highlights include a performance by award-winning US jazz pianist Justin Kauflin on March 11, a dance show by the Sara Baras Flamenco Ballet Company on March 21 and a full-length, three-act plotless performance by the Paris Opera Ballet, backed by the Pasdeloup Orchestra — the oldest symphony orchestra in France — on March 29 and 30.