Art Market

Benin received a $22.5-million loan to build a museum for the royal statues being restituted from France.

Benjamin Sutton
Jul 19, 2019 5:34PM, via AFP

The Royal Palaces of Abomey. Photo by Karalyn Monteil, © UNESCO.

Benin has received a €20 million ($22.5 million) loan from the French Development Agency to help fund the construction of a new museum to house 26 royal statues being restituted by France. The museum is slated to open in 2021 in the city of Abomey, where the historic Royal Palaces of Abomey—a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985—are located.

Gabin Djimasse, a tourism official in Dahomey, told the AFP:

These objects are a chance for the survival of the site. [. . .] They will allow us to build a new museum and make the royal palaces more economically sustainable.

He added that plans for the new museum have gone through multiple iterations, and that the current project is more attuned to the historic aspects of the site than some earlier, more high-tech mock-ups. In the original plans, “it was all 3D videos, and you would have thought you were at a theme park or in Dubai,” he told the AFP.

The new museum will showcase the 26 sculptures, which were taken from the Abomey palaces by French troops in 1892 and have been in the collection of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in recent years. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the objects from Benin would be repatriated last November, just as a report he commissioned on the restitution of artifacts stolen under colonialism was completed. (France had refused a restitution request from Benin the year before.)

The Kingdom of Dahomey lasted from 1625 to 1900, thriving under 12 successive kings and becoming one of the most powerful kingdoms on Africa’s west coast. Its royal complex includes 10 palaces spread over 116 acres.

Benjamin Sutton