The Congolese restitution activist Mwazulu Diyabanza has been sentenced to a fine and a deferred prison term in Paris for removing an object from a display case at the Louvre in what he called a political action to cast light on restitution issues.
Diyabanza tells Artnet News he must pay the Louvre €5,000 for having “tarnished its image because my action had an international and world-media echo.” He says he will appeal the verdict.
Diyabanza has undertaken similar actions at museums across Europe, targeting ethnographic collections taken from former colonies. His acts, he says, cannot be considered theft because the objects are already stolen property.
He has faced charges for acts this year at the Museum of African, Oceanic, and Amerindian Arts in Marseille and the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris.
He was acquitted by a Marseille court in November and ordered to pay a fine of €1,000 for his action at the Quai Branly Museum.
In his action at the Louvre on October 22, which was filmed and posted to Facebook, Diyabanza lifted a sculpture from its mount shortly before guards intervened. He was immediately arrested at the museum and jailed as he awaited trial.
The piece, a late 18th-century guardian spirit figure from the island of Florès in Eastern Indonesia, was on loan from the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and was not damaged in the incident. As a part of his sentencing, he must also pay €2,000 to the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac.
The Louvre declined to comment on the verdict. The Paris Tribunal, which oversaw the verdict, did not respond to requests for comment.
In a curiously timed sequence of events, yesterday, the French government managed to push through an unprecedented bill that would see the full restitution of 27 objects to its source countries by the end of 2021. The French senate tried to block the bill before it was forced through by the National Assembly.
Diyabanza tells Artnet News that the bill is “a sleepy and dilatory political measure” and “an insult and a provocation.”
He says he is determined to see “that our heritage may be returned to us unconditionally.”
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