The Nkisi Nkonde, a traditional Congolese sculpture, had actually been brutally stolen in the 19th century, De Morgen published this morning. The figurine is visible in the temporary exhibition “Unparalleled Art”, open since the end of last year at the AfricaMuseum (royal museum for Central Africa) in Tervuren.
This Nkisi Nkonde had been the subject of an article published by an Africa Museum historian Maarten Couttenier, who had learned that the sculpture had been taken during a colonial army attack of a village near Boma in 1878. Shortly after the attack, local leaders had offered to buy back the Nkisi Nkonde, but this was refused.
Restitution claims for the sculpture had been filed three times, without success, De Morgen added. The results of Couttenier’s research is not mentioned in the exhibition.
The exhibition curator Julien Volper said that this is a temporary exhibition, with “its own specific theme.” He added that the decolonization context is addressed in other parts of the museum. He also said that there cannot be question of restitution.
The Africa Museum has taken no official position on restitution of works stolen during the colonial period. Director Bruno Verbergt, who spoke on behalf of the museum, admitted that the statue’s history could have been better presented.