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In Benin, the 26 works returned by France exhibited in Cotonou

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Three months after their return by France to Benin, 26 works are exhibited for the first time in the presidential palace of Cotonou. These treasures had been looted in 1892 by French colonial troops from the palace of Abomey, capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

One hundred and twenty-nine years after being looted, they are once again exhibited in Cotonou. The President of Benin, Patrice Talon, inaugurates on Saturday February 19, a historical exhibition where the 26 royal treasures returned in November by France will be presented for the first time in the country.

Within the presidential palace in Cotonou, a museum space of more than 2,000 m2 has been set up to host this exhibition entitled “Art of Benin yesterday and today, from restitution to revelation”, which will open on Sunday. morning to the public until May 22.

These 26 works returned by France, after more than two years of negotiations between Paris and Cotonou, are the first major return of objects from public collections to an African country.

“With this exhibition, we are giving back to the people of Benin, part of their soul, part of their history, and their dignity,” Benin’s Minister of Culture, Jean-Michel Abimbola, told AFP.

President Patrice Talon presented, on Saturday morning, these 26 treasures, formerly exhibited at the Quai Branly museum in Paris, to the French Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot, on a trip to Cotonou. “It’s an absolutely magnificent exhibition and it perhaps renders even better the majesty, the creativity, the incredible historical, political and aesthetic heritage that these 26 works represent,” the minister told AFP.

These treasures had been looted in 1892 by French colonial troops in the palace of Abomey, capital of the Kingdom of Dahomey, in the center-south of present-day Benin.

“The leaven of national unity”

These works “have left a kingdom, but they are returning to a republic, and we want this to be the ferment of national unity,” said the Beninese minister.

Before its unification, Benin was made up of several kingdoms, including that of Dahomey, well known for the artistic vitality of its court. Be careful, therefore, it is no longer just the “treasures of Dahomey”, but “the treasures of Benin, of all Beninese” insist the authorities.

The first room of the exhibition, whose huge walls painted black give it a solemn character, honors the thrones of the sovereigns of Dahomey. And in particular, that of King Ghézo (1797-1818), a majestic wooden sculpture with Afro-Brazilian motifs nearly two meters tall, surmounted by a curved tablet.

“Since the beginning of the installation, I have not stopped contemplating it”, explains to AFP Théo Atrokpo, one of the mediators of the exhibition, who quivers with impatience “to explain its history” to his compatriots. . “I had already seen it in France, but to see it here, at home, is to rediscover a part of our soul, it is to connect us to our history”, adds this cultural guide, aged 42.

contemporary artists

Alongside the treasures, 34 contemporary Beninese artists have been selected to present more than a hundred works.

A desire of the government to link “history to the present”, and show that the “Beninese artistic genius has endured”, despite the dispossession of part of its heritage.

From the monumental tapestries by Yves Appollinaire Pèdé honoring voodoo, to the installation made from hair by Dimitri Fagbohoun, via the Afro-futurist robots of Emo de Medeiros and the monumental and colorful paintings of Moufouli Bello, this second part shows the artistic vitality of the Beninese contemporary scene.

Several international gallery owners and actors from the art world who came to attend this historic exhibition confided that they were amazed by the scripting, which, according to them, has nothing to envy to those of the major European museums.

A snub to the argument long put forward by certain institutions, which refuse to return works, of a lack of training and funding to exhibit and preserve them on the continent.

France, but also other European countries, still have a large number of works looted during colonization. Benin requests the restitution of other works, in particular the sculpture of the God Gou, held by the Louvre museum in Paris.

“This work of restitution continues”, assured; Saturday; Roselyne Bachelot. “We are working on a framework law to facilitate these restitutions,” she added, adding that the legislative work could take at least two years.

With AFP

France 24-Trans

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