French president Emmanuel Macron has appointed two experts to formulate a strategy for the repatriation of African artifacts.
Macron announced the appointments of art historian Bénédicte Savoy and the Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr on Monday. This decision marks the most concrete step yet in the long process of fulfilling Macron’s bold pledge that the “temporary or permanent” restitution of African artifacts held in France would be a top priority for his administration—a pronouncement he made during a speech in Africa in November. The promise, a major reversal from previous French administrations, was generally met with cautious enthusiasm. Some, however, were doubtful that Macron would (or could) follow through. Savoy and Saar will present their plan in November. Curator Simon Njami, who is critical of restituting artifacts and skeptical it will ever occur, told the New York Times it would be difficult to decide which nation should receive the restituted work, considering the haphazard manner in which colonial powers divided up Africa in the 19th century. Others have read Macron’s actions as a bit of deft cultural diplomacy, an effort to increase goodwill on a continent where China is becoming increasingly influential. For her part, Savoy praised Macron’s pledge in a piece written shortly after the president’s November speech. “It suggests that sharing is possible,” she wrote, adding that the decision represents a generational shift towards the issue.