In June, while the world was following America into widespread protests about racial discrimination in justice and treatment, Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza and two other activists made a pointed speech about the plunder, still ongoing, of art from African nations by their European colonizers. While he streamed his speech from the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, Diyabanza and his cohorts took down a 19th-century African funeral pole from its wall mounting. Guards stopped them and the police were called. All three men were charged with attempted theft, though they stated that they never intended to leave with the artifact, only to call attentions to its origins and how it came to be on a wall in a Paris museum, stripped of all context and even of a precise origin. It is estimated to come from somewhere in current-day Chad, but could belong to any of several dozen tribal traditions.
On Wednesday, October 14, Diyabanza and his two companions were each convicted of attempted theft. The crime carries a potential sentence of 10 years in prison and up to 150,000 euros in fines, but the three were given a very light slap on the wrist – each man was fined 2,000 euros ($2320). The light sentence makes it plain that the court does not feel they intended any harm, and perhaps agrees with his message. Even so, Diyabanza intends to appeal the fine, to push the point that the artifact did not belong the museum in the first place.
France is currently in the midst of ongoing negotiations with a number of African countries over art and artifact repatriations, but zero pieces have left Paris since the negotiations began in 2018.
Diyabanza has staged similar actions in the Netherlands and other French cities. This is his first conviction, but he is not deterred.
“We get our legitimacy from the perpetual idea of trying to recover our heritage and giving our people access to it,” he said to reporters.
Source: Associated Press
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