Dutch museum for ethnology to give back art stolen from other cultures

The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam
The Tropenmuseum in AmsterdamPhoto: GerardM/Wikimedia Commons

The Netherlands' national museum for world cultures NMVW will generously return art taken through colonial theft to their countries of origin. The museum will not wait for claims, but is actively searching its own collections for objects that qualify for restitution, Trouw and NRC report.

"We know that part of our collection was acquired during the colonial period, a period of great power differences and injustice",  NMVW director Stijn Schoonderwoerd said to NRC. How many objects will possibly be returned and to which countries, he can not yet say. An example of objects that may be returned are the so-called Benin bronzes, a collection of several thousand bronze and brass statutes taken from present-day Nigeria by the British at the end of the 19th century. 139 of these statues are in the Netherlands. 

The NMVW was created in 2014 by a merger between the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, the Leiden Museum of Ethnology, and the Africa Museum in Berg en Dal. The NMVW manages the national ethnological collections. Its collection consists of 375 thousand objects, some of which are hundreds of years old. The largest part of the collection comes from Indonesia.

If an art piece is returned to its country of origin, there will be no requirements for the way the piece is managed. As this involves government property, the final decision to return something will be made by the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. Schoonderwoerd expects that this approach will eventually be adopted throughout the museum world.