On February 8, 2022, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) reached an agreement with the Republic of Mali, transferring ownership of two objects of Malian origin that are believed to have been the subject of illicit excavation and trafficking.
The two Djenné terracotta figures are archaeological materials known to be at high risk for theft and looting. Fragments of one—the Figure of a Ewe—were probably discovered at the village of Dary, Mali, around 1986 or 1987. The other, a Kneeling Figure, is said to come from a tumulus near Djenné, Mali, in the late 1980s. The MFA exhibited both objects in the 1990s, at which time they were on loan from collector William Teel. He acquired the objects in good faith in the United States and bequeathed them to the MFA in 2012.
Recognizing that these objects might have been illegally removed from Mali, and that their ownership and export would be regulated by Mali’s Law No. 85-40/AN-RM Concerning the Protection and Promotion of the National Cultural Heritage of 1985, the MFA contacted the Ministry of Culture in 2013 to seek its authorization before proceeding with their acquisition. The Ministry of Culture responded that the export of these figures had not been approved. Upon receipt of this information, the MFA began to arrange for the return of the objects to Mali. Discussions continued from that time until 2022, when the agreement between Mali and the MFA was finalized, allowing for the restitution of the figures.