No single government-commissioned report in recent decades has had such a dramatic impact on cultural debates as that written by economist Sarr and art historian Savoy for French president Emmanuel Macron in 2018. By proposing the unconditional restitution of any object in national collections obtained through colonial-era ‘theft, looting, despoilment, trickery, and forced consent’, the two reignited long-smouldering arguments over the role of Western museums and the artefacts they hold. The repatriation debate has only become more heated in the last year. Savoy has become a de facto spokesperson for repatriation, speaking up for Congolese activist Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza – arrested for symbolically reclaiming an artefact from the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris – while embarking on a £700k academic research project into the provenance of European cultural treasures. Sarr, meanwhile, has turned his attention to the urgent issue of Africa’s political and economic response to COVID-19 and after. And in October France confirmed that it would return 27 colonial-era artefacts to Benin and Senegal.
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