white saviours?

Did French dealers sack or save Mali’s Dogon art?

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This article is part of the dossier:

Who owns Mali’s Dogon cultural heritage?

By Nicolas Michel

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Posted on June 27, 2023 13:48

With the restitution of artworks more topical than ever, certain dealers who took advantage of the absence of heritage laws at the start of independence are trying to blame Africans for the misdeeds of a few traffickers. And they are posing as the “white saviours” of animist works.


– Thousands of works of African art were looted during and after colonisation. But some of the dealers who buy and sell these objects see things differently, insisting instead that some works have actually been saved from destruction.

– Although Dogon art is covered by the Sarr-Savoy report on the restitution of artworks, the recommended list contains only masks, even though the statues are the emblematic works.

On 28 November 2017, in Ouagadougou, President Emmanuel Macron gave a long speech in which he spoke of the restitution of works of art looted during French colonisation.

Dogon 2 © French President Emmanuel Macron in Ouagadougou on 28 November 2017. ©AFP

Stung to the quick, art merchant Hélène Leloup replied a year later in a virulent article published in Le Point on 19 November 2018. In it, she asserted that art dealers had saved many African masterpieces.

“As one of the last living people to have acquired

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