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Podcast / May 30 2023

Culture theft: Should museums return disputed artifacts?

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Who does art belong to? Where should it live? And how can—or should—it be shared with the world? These are some of the questions at the heart of this week’s debate.

Recently, museums like the Smithsonian in the US and the Horniman Museum and Gardens in the UK have made headlines by returning stolen and disputed artifacts to Nigeria, the country they were taken from centuries ago. Should more museums be doing this? And if so, what should that repatriation look like?

Chidi Nwaubani, founder of digital art repatriation site Looty, says much of the damage is done and that we should focus on decolonizing our future. He proposes using technology like NFTs to digitally loot the stolen artwork and restore ownership. Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK, debates that artifacts in museums are valuable tools of education and cultural diffusion. Rather than returning all disputed artifacts, he says that we should find a more equitable way to house art in museums in both the global north and global south. Sofia Carreira-Wham, a curator and art advisor, says we must look beyond the museum walls and find meaningful ways to restore wider cultural benefits to the people and communities whose art has been taken from them. Listen to the Doha Debates Podcast as these guests dissect questions about ownership, reparations, colonial legacy, looting and who has the right to care for the world’s treasures.

Doha Debates Podcast is a production of Doha Debates and FP Studios. This episode is hosted by Afia Pokua. Thoughts on this conversation? Let us know! Follow us everywhere @DohaDebates and join the post-episode discussion in our YouTube comments.