French President Emmanuel Macron, left, watches the 19th-century royal statue of a half-man half-bird, left, of King Ghezo, at the Quai Branly museum on Oct. 27, 2021, in Paris. The next month, France handed over 26 looted colonial-era artifacts to the government of Benin – some of the estimated 90,000 African artworks held in French museums.(AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

By AFRO Staff

Season 14, episode four of AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange focuses on issues surrounding the ownership of African Art, stolen over centuries of colonialism.

Directed by French filmmaker Nora Philippe, “Restitution: Africa’s Fight for Its Art” recounts the true and troubling history of the theft of African artwork and sacred artifacts by European nations during the colonial period. The episode also discusses the contemporary demand for the return of the artifacts to their rightful countries of origin.

“In this long exile, more than three-fourths of sub-Saharan heritage was taken away,” Philippe said. “It’s also about resistance because from the start voices have demanded restitution of the stolen work from the exiled objects.”

In 2017, for the first time in history, the President of France officially promised to return artifacts on request

“Within 5 years, I want conditions in place for temporary or permanent restitution of African artifacts to Africa,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. 

In 2021, the country made good on its promise with the return of 26 statues to their native African nation of Benin.

The repatriation was made official through legislation that was signed on Nov. 9, 2021, at the Élysée Palace by Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Patrice Talon.

The next day, Benin had their bronze statues returned and welcomed them with an official reception ceremony.

The 19th century Throne of King Ghezo, left, and Throne of King Glele, from Benin, are pictured at the Quai Branly Jacques Chirac Museum, Oct. 25, 2021, in Paris. France displayed 26 looted colonial-era artifacts for one last time before returning them home to Benin in November 2021. The wooden anthropomorphic statues, royal thrones and sacred altars were pilfered by the French army in the 19th century from Western Africa. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

France is just one example of the successful repatriation of African Art.

Through archival footage and present-day conversations with African and European art historians and cultural experts including Hamady Bocoum, Bénédicte Savoy, Felwine Sarr, Ben Okri and more, Philippe’s film explores the lasting cultural trauma that still reverberates throughout Africa.

Even as the African people and cultures were denigrated and oppressed, their art was used to curate museums and private collections in England, France, Germany and other countries in the Western world.

From the Benin Bronzes to priceless statues to the remains of Africans exploited as part of human exhibitions such as Sarah Baartman, activists, art experts and heads of state are pushing to repatriate the art and ancestors to their homelands. Will their efforts be enough to bring lasting change?

The film can be streamed in its entirety on PBS.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit or

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