PUP acquires World English rights to Bénédicte Savoy’s Africa’s Struggle for Its Art

Michelle Komie, Publisher for Art, Architecture, and Urban History, has acquired World English rights, including audio, to Africa’s Struggle for Its Art: History of a Post-Colonial Defeat by art historian Bénédicte Savoy.

A major new history of how African nations sought the restitution of works of art stolen during the colonial period, Africa’s Struggle for Its Art promises to shape conversations and policy for years to come. Savoy addresses the extent to which European museum collections comprise looted art work, tells the long history of African nations’ efforts to secure the return of stolen cultural objects, and shows how extensively these stories have been silenced and suppressed by European cultural leaders.

Focusing on the two decades immediately after 18 former colonies across the African continent gained independence from France, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom, Africa’s Struggle for Its Art follows the ultimately unsuccessful efforts by cultural and political leaders politicians across Africa, in the diasporas, and in Europe itself, to demand the return of art and address the power dynamics and ideologies of racism and Western chauvinism—still prevalent in contemporary repatriation discussions—that prevented these myriad objects’ return to their countries of origin. As Savoy notes in the book, “Almost every conversation we have today about the restitution of cultural goods to Africa took place forty years ago.” Savoy makes it clear that the question of restitution cannot be isolated, and that the return of cultural property is an integral part of larger social and political relations between European and African countries.

Published in German by C.H. Beck in March 2021, the book ties in with an ongoing discussion and records a history of advocacy that may finally see tangible results. Shortly after publication, the German government announced its intent to return the “Benin Bronzes,” looted during an 1897 British raid on Benin City, to Nigeria, starting in 2022.

Africa’s Struggle for Its Art follows a groundbreaking report on repatriation from French museums commissioned by French president Emmanuel Macron and prepared by Savoy and Senegalese author and academic Felwine Sarr. The Restitution of Africa Cultural Heritage report made public in 2018, included a detailed review of the composition of European museum collections and established a set of procedural recommendations for the return of African cultural objects.

Africa’s Struggle for Its Art is scheduled to publish in early 2022.

About the Author

Bénédicte Savoy is a foremost expert voice in debates about the return of looted art works in Western museum collections. A professor of art history at the Technical University of Berlin and, through 2021, at the Collège de France in Paris, she is a recipient of the Leibniz Prize from the German Research Foundation and has published widely on the translocation of cultural property. In 2020, she co-curated an exhibition on the brothers Wilhelm and Alexander von Humboldtat the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. Savoy is coeditor of Acquiring Cultures: Histories of World Art on Western Markets (De Gruyter, 2018) and The Museum Is Open: Towards a Transnational History of Museums (De Gruyter, 2013). A multi-volume publication by her research team at Technical University Berlin on the historical displacement of cultural assets, entitled “Beute” (Loot) has just been published by Verlag Matthes and Seitz.