AvoinGLAM/Cultural restitution in Benin

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Royal throne of Cana at Musée du Quai Branly.

A discussion in the AvoinGLAM discussion series on 4 February 2021


In December 2020 the French Parliament passed a bill to return 26 looted cultural heritage objects to Benin from French museums. Returning objects raises questions about their digital reproductions, who gets to decide what is digitized, and how the digital reproductions can be shared online?

In this discussion Andrea Wallace, Mahuton Possoupe, Fawaz Taïrou, Heikki Kastemaa, and Brigitte Vézina discuss how volunteer activities can be initiated to preserve and share open cultural heritage in the best interest of the originating culture. In 2021, Heikki Kastemaa will work in Benin on the history of Grand-Popo and continue his collaboration with Wikimédiens du Bénin. Andrea Wallace has written about the challenges of Open Access in regard to restitution in sub-Saharan Africa as a response to the French government’s report on restitution. Brigitte Vézina investigates questions of Traditional Knowledge in Creative Commons. The event is in English.


  1. What do we mean by digitization? From a legal standpoint, what are the differences between 2D scanning and 3D modeling?
  2. Are these objects protected by copyright? Why? Are they protected under any other law? Are there different rights attaching to the physical object and their digital surrogate?
  3. Who should make decisions around questions of cultural restitution and digitization and making available online for access and reuse?
  4. Should we distinguish between objects with spiritual/sacred meaning and others?
  5. What are the benefits/risks of making the digitized image available to the public for reuse? Are there differences between noncommercial (e.g. research, personal use) reuse and commercial reuse?
  6. Is digitization an end or a means to an end (provide information and share knowledge about cultural heritage)?
  7. How do we circumvent the barriers to access?
  8. How can we communicate the access and reuse permissions online? How do Creative Commons licenses and  tools work?
  9. What could we do to address this specific case? Could we provide recommendations on the way forward? Could it be in a Wikipedia article? Or a project in meta?
  10. What would ideal sharing of these objects on site and online look like?


  1. Wikipedia article on 26 objects (French): https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trésor_de_Béhanzin
  2. Response to the Sarr-Savoy Report (Pavis and Wallace)
  3. Rapport sur la restitution du patrimoine culturel africain (Sarr-Savoy Report)
  4. Artist who “stole” from Louvre: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/mwazulu-diyabanza-louvre-sentenced-1932638
  5. 1709 Blog: http://the1709blog.blogspot.com/2017/03/no-photographs-please-we-are-french.html
  6. Pierre Noual guide: https://fotoloco.fr/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Photographier_au_musee_2017.pdf


What actions can follow? Let’s follow up on them! Write below. Continue discussion on the talk page.

  • Articles on stolen objects, and all symbology related to them
  • Wikimedian in Residence programs in institutions hosting looted art
  • Wikidata inventory of looted art in collections
  • Prepare a policy together
  • Case studies, collaborative projects