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President Macron, Universal Museums & Cultural Reparations

British colonialism is alive and thriving in the art world. The museums of the UK and of the Western world, are filled with objects of uncertain provenance. Museum culture ignores the realities and sensitivities of the centuries of illicit trade as they are largely self-regulated - they justify retaining their collections by claiming they are ‘universal museums’ that serve the citizens of every nations, not just one nation. This theoretical global access is a western luxury as the citizens of London, Paris, and New York may benefit, but not those of countries like Benin - access is not a global reality.

The British Museum was one of 18 museums who, in 2002, signed a ‘Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums,’ as providers of “a valid and valuable context for objects that were long ago displaced from their original source”. This ‘displacement’ is a contested term used by mainly Western museums instead of looting, uncertain provenance, plunder, theft, and extortion. The use of the umbrella term, ‘universal museums’ provides institutions with a defence against the discussion of cultural reparation of objects to the countries of origin.