Activist Seeking The Restitution Of African Art Strikes Again In Paris

A Congolese restitution activist attempted to take an Indonesian sculpture from the Louvre. Two weeks ago, he had received a fine for similar actions at the Quai Branly Museum.

Oct 26, 2020By Antonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc Museum Studies, BA History & Archaeology
Yombe sculpture as the head of a scepter from Congo, 19th century, The Louvre, via Wikimedia Commons. Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza speaks after his October 14 Paris trial, photo by Lewis Joly via Associated Press. Mask by Punu people from Gabon, 19th century, Musée du Quai Branly, via Wikimedia Commons.


On October 22, restitution activist Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza attempted to take an Indonesian sculpture from the Louvre, before getting arrested. Diyabanza has received a lot of attention for similar stunts in other museums in Paris, Marseille, and the Netherlands. Through his action, he hopes to pressure European governments into repatriating African artworks in European museums.

On October 14, a court in Paris fined Diyabanza for attempting to remove a 19th-century African artwork from Quai Branly Museum. Nevertheless, the African activist was not discouraged from staging another action, this time at the Louvre.

Diyabanza is now banned from entering any museum in France and awaits his trial set for December 3.

Restitution Activism At The Louvre

Yombe sculpture as the head of a scepter from Congo, 19th century, The Louvre, via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to a video published on Twitter, we can watch Diyabanza’s political stunt. In the video, we observe the Congo-born activist removing a sculpture from its base. At the same time, he announces:

“We have come to recover what belongs to us. I came to take back what was stolen, what was stolen from Africa, in the name of our people, in the name of our motherland Africa”.

The moment someone attempts to stop him, Diyabanza says: “Where is your conscience?”

According to the Art Newspaper, the Louvre confirmed that the event took place on Thursday at the Pavillon des Sessions, where the museum exhibits African artworks from the Quai Branly museum.

Diyabanza’s target was an 18th-century Guardian Spirit sculpture, from the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia. However, it seems that the African activist did not realize the Indonesian origin of the object. In the video, he appeared confident that he was removing an African artwork.

In any case, the Louvre claims that the object suffered no damage and that their security team responded swiftly to the attempted theft.

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How did Diyabanza not realize that he was taking an Indonesian instead of an African artifact? An article at the Connaissance des Arts offers a possible answer. African art at the museum is well-protected behind glass. Indonesian art, however, is easily accessible. It is possible that Diyabanza was aware of his mistake. Nonetheless, he proceeded to take the Indonesian artifact for two reasons: it was easier to reach and had the advantage of looking similar to African artifacts.

Diyabanza is now awaiting his trial which will take place on December 3. He is also forbidden from entering any museum.

Who Is Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza?

Diyabanza speaks after his October 14 Paris trial, photo by Lewis Joly via Associated Press

Diyabanza is a Congolese activist with a history of anti-colonial action. He is wearing a black beret as a tribute to the American Black Panthers and a pendant with the map of Africa. He consistently propagates the unification of Africa and denounces the crimes of the colonial era asking for the restitution of stolen African art.

According to Le Figaro, the activist is also the founder of the Unity, Dignity and Courage (UDC) movement founded in 2014. Diyabanza claims that his movement has a following of 700,000, but on Facebook, it has 30,000 followers.

The protest at the Louvre is Diyabanza’s fourth museum action. Previously he had attempted to seize African artifacts from Quai Branly in Paris, the Museum of African, Oceanic, and Native American Arts in the southern French city of Marseille, and the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal, Netherlands. Diyabanza live-streamed all of his protests on Facebook.

On October 14, 2020, Diyabanza avoided a sentence of 10 years and fines of 150,000 euros. Instead, the Paris court judged him and his associates guilty of aggravated assault and presented them with a fine of 2,000 euros.

The judge had also advised Diyabanza to find alternative ways of attracting public attention. It seems, however, that he did not make up his mind.

Restitution And French Museums

Mask by Punu people from Gabon, 19th century, Musée du Quai Branly, via Wikimedia Commons

Diyabanza’s protests are a small part of a larger conversation currently taking place in France regarding the repatriation of looted African art.

This conversation opened officially after President Macron’s 2017 speech which promised to repatriate stolen cultural heritage within five years.

Earlier this month, the National Assembly of France unanimously voted the return of 27 colonial-era artifacts to Benin and Senegal. This decision came after years where almost no actual restitutions had taken place.

Bénédicte Savoy who co-authored the 2017 Sarr-Savoy report, that recommended France should return its African artifacts, presented an interesting opinion at the Art Newspaper. She argued that repatriation efforts in France are speeding up. That is because of recent events like the Black Lives Matter movement and Diyabanza’s museum protests.


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By Antonis ChaliakopoulosMSc Museum Studies, BA History & ArchaeologyAntonis is an archaeologist with a passion for museums and heritage and a keen interest in aesthetics and the reception of classical art. He holds an MSc in Museum Studies from the University of Glasgow and a BA in History and Archaeology from the University of Athens (NKUA) where he is currently working on his PhD.