France and Germany Forge Joint Fund for Colonial-Era Research

On Tuesday, government officials from Germany and France’s culture ministries forged an agreement for the two countries to jointly launch a fund centered on researching the provenance records of museum artifacts deriving from formerly colonized African regions.

During a meeting that took place in Hamburg, the German and French culture ministers, Claudia Roth and Rima Abdul-Malak, respectively, met to officially sign the agreement, which stipulates that each government put €360,000 annually towards the initiative. Set to be established over the course of a three-year pilot phase, the project will begin in February 2024, the German culture ministry said in a statement. Plans to begin structuring the initiative were first announced jointly by both countries in January 2023.

Officials of both European nations have publicly pledged to return art objects uprooted from former colonized African territories, with each restituted objects flagged as having been looted from their museums. In 2021, France returned more than 20 objects looted by the British military from the Republic of Benin. Last year, Germany returned more than 1,000 Benin bronzes to Nigeria.

In a statement German culture minister Claudia Roth said the dual initiative, dubbed the German-French Provenance Research Fund, allows the countries to enter “a new phase in confronting this historical injustice.”

Moves to correct colonial-era pasts within European museum walls have been ongoing. In 2019, the German government announced that it would put $2.2 million state funds towards researching artifacts in public museum collections that had been acquired in a colonial context. It followed appeals from historians and ethnographers for German officials to launch a research hub dedicated to the research and restitution of African artifacts with links to German occupation.

The agreement, Roth said, will comprise a panel of academic advisors hailing from the European continent, as well as representatives from sub-Saharan Africa.