CIHA World Congress

Participation to the Patrimonializations panel at the 36th CIHA (International Congress on Art History)

  • Date:
  • Venue: Lyon



Repatriation, repossession, patrimonialization: memory contradictions surrounding Benin’s “Royal Treasures”

On November 10, 2021, Benin received with great pomp, the 26 artifacts or “Treasures of Behanzin”, in the garden of the presidential palace. Benin’s President, Patrice Talon, seized that opportunity to launch the patrimonialization process of the 26 artifacts. It was meant to help Beninese construct a “new” post-colonial identity.

There is a clear political will to fabricate a unified Beninese identity stemming from the material culture of the Dahomey kingdom. Though the latter clashes with other memory representations of populations who do not consider the Dahomey kingdom as a unifying element. The resentments inherited from the pre-colonial period between populations, some of whom were victims of Dahomeyan raids, making it difficult to imagine a national unity. Particularly when it is linked to objects supposedly belonging to an oppressive “state”.

Consequently, one may ask how, under such circumstances, one can think of a new patrimonialization that unites and enables to rebuild a common cultural ideal. Can top-down patrimonialization, as promoted by the Beninese government, bring together the nation around a common identity? Our paper will focus on the limits of the process of patrimonializing emblematic objects as part of the repatriation of Benin’s heritage.