Tuesday 11 May 2021

Colonial art activists fined for taking statue from Dutch museum

Photo: Ferry Herrenbrugh, Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen

Gelderland magistrates have fined five people from French and Belgium who took a statue from the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal last year €250 each and sentenced them to suspended prison terms of one and two months.

All have also been banned from the location of the Afrika Museum and three other museums in the Netherlands where art from Africa is on display, including the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam and Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden.

The fines are much lower than those demanded by the public prosecution department. The court said in a statement that it had taken into account the fact that the group’s action was aimed at generating publicity for their cause, and that the artifact would probably have been returned.

Mwazulu Diyabanza Siwa Lemba led the group of five in taking the statue from the museum last September while streaming a 22 minute video calling for the return of African art stolen by Europeans during the colonial era.

The activists were blocked from leaving the car park, departed with the statue on foot and were by the end of the video arrested and handcuffed by Dutch police.

Mwazulu told DutchNews.nl in an interview ahead of the hearing that it  was a political action aimed at provoking museums to actively start a process of returning colonial looted art rather than theft.


‘I am accused of having stolen a statue when I actually came to take back what belongs to us and what was taken from us from force,’ he said. ‘All we did was to access our cultural heritage. But we know there’s apparently a political desire in Europe to stay silent and to keep us quiet on this subject.’

The ‘pan-African’ group of activists based in Paris has carried out similar stunts in Marseille and Paris, aiming to speed up the rate of political change.

Last September, they appeared in court in Paris for trying to take an item from the Quai Branly Museum, sparking international media coverage on whether a 2017 pledge by president Emmanuel Macron to return colonial stolen art was happening fast enough.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch council for culture said last October that the country should return statues and other artifacts stolen during the colonial era to their countries of origin.

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