Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy

Academics arguing the case for decolonising Western museum collections

When President Macron commissioned two academics to produce an advisory report on art and antiquities added to France’s national collection during the colonial era, few expected such wide-ranging consequences. Published this year, their document proposed the unconditional restitution of any object gained through ‘theft, looting, despoilment, trickery, and forced consent’. Their conclusions might not have surprised those in the know – Savoy has form, having resigned as adviser to the Humboldt Forum over the handling of its ethnographic collection, while Sarr is editor of the Journal of African Transformation – but the scale of its impact might have. Several countries have since requested the return of artefacts, while European institutions have been forced onto the defensive. In June the pair accused the British Museum of having its ‘head in the sand’, and in October signed an open letter condemning the ‘scandalous’ situation in Germany. As debate rages over representation and ownership in the artworld, Sarr and Savoy are resetting the terms of the discussion.