French museums face a cultural change over restitution of colonial objects

03 Nov 2014 12:28 PM | Anonymous

French museums face a cultural change over restitution of colonial objects

Curators confront demands to return artefacts from collections reflecting an evolving attitude to the appropriation of items    

Ever since explorers, scientists and soldiers started travelling the world and bringing back treasures, France has upheld the principle of the “inalienability” of public heritage. The works that are now in French museums and collections will, supposedly, remain a part of national heritage for ever. This principle was established in 1566, when the edict of Moulins proclaimed that the royal domain was inalienable and imprescriptible. In simpler terms: the sovereign could not give away the assets he or she inherited. Two centuries later, the French revolution based its definition of the public domain on the same principle. It was the only point of reference for explorers sailing round the world in search of possessions and learning.

But in the past few years, changes in the international balance of political and economic power have upset this way of thinking. Demands for restitution have targeted anything from works of art to human remains and archaeological finds. Particularly odd examples include a fossil Mosasaurus (Meuse lizard), which was unearthed at Maastricht in the 18th century and brought back to France by the army, and Baba Merzoug, a 12-tonne cannon that defended the port of Algiers for 200 years, then was shipped to Brest in 1834 where it has braved the drizzle ever since.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/03/france-museums-restitution-colonial-objects