When French President Emmanuel Macron commissioned a report on the restitution of African art objects and cultural artefacts stolen from France’s former colonies — and subsequently kept in its museums — he turned to an art historian, Bénédicte Savoy, and an economist, Felwine Sarr. He got more than he bargained for.

Since it was published in 2018, Sarr and Savoy’s report, “On the Restitution of African Cultural Heritage: Towards a New Relational Ethics”, has exposed the assumptions of curators, politicians and cultural practitioners in various European and African countries. It proposes a profound shift in the way that former colonisers and postcolonial states understand one another: the “new relational ethics” to which the report’s subtitle refers.

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