BOSTON (February 8, 2022)—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has reached an agreement with the Republic of Mali to transfer ownership of two objects of Djenné origin that are believed to have been the subject of illicit excavation and trafficking. The agreement was signed at the MFA on February 8, with the following representatives from the Government of Mali in attendance: His Excellency Issa Konfourou, Permanent Representative of Mali to the United Nations; Mr. Moussa Dollo, Counsellor at the Mission of Mali to the United Nations; and Mr. Mohamed Traore, Counsellor at the Mission of Mali to the United Nations.
“Restituting these two antiquities to their country of origin ensures not only that trafficked materials do not find a home in the Museum’s collection, but, equally important, that in the future the people of Mali will be able to enjoy these examples of their cultural heritage,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “It is our great honor to work with Ambassador Konfourou and Counsellors Dollo and Traore to return these objects to their home.”
The two terracotta figures, both dating from the 13th to the 15th centuries, are archeological materials of a type 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 have come from a burial site near Djenné, Mali in the late 1980s. The MFA first displayed both objects in the exhibition African and Oceanic Art: Treasures from a Private Collection (1993–1994), at which time they were on loan from collector William Teel. He acquired both objects in good faith in the U.S. in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and bequeathed them to the Museum upon his death 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 objects had not been approved. Upon receipt of this information, the MFA began to arrange for the return of the objects to Mali. Conversations to finalize the details of the return have been taking place, off and on, since that time.
“The excellent partnership with the MFA permitted the finalization of the administrative process leading to the restitution and the repatriation of two Djenné antiquities back to their original location,” said Konfourou. “A strong part of Mali’s cultural identity and heritage is captured by these kinds of artifacts that define daily lifestyles, engagement with others and singularities of whole tribes”.
The MFA is a leader in the field of provenance research, employing a full-time Curator for Provenance, who works with curators throughout the Museum to research and document the MFA’s collection on an ongoing basis. Findings are included in the Museum’s online collections database. The MFA follows the highest standards of professional practice in regards to issues of ownership and in its response to claims for works in the collection. If research demonstrates that a work of art has been stolen, confiscated or unlawfully appropriated without subsequent restitution, then the Museum will notify potential claimants, and seek to resolve the matter in an equitable, appropriate and mutually agreeable manner. A list of ownership resolutions at the Museum since the late 1990s can be found in Ownership Resolutions.