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A platform for the repatriation of African cultural heritage?


Set to open on the 7th June 2018 at the Hague – City of Peace and Justice, the Court of Arbitration for Art (CAfA) will function as a specialized arbitration and mediation tribunal exclusively dedicated to resolving art law disputes.

Developed by the not-for-profit organisation, Authentication in Art (AiA), in conjunction with the Netherlands Arbitration Institute (NAI) and art, intellectual property and real estate litigator, William Charron – CAfA will facilitate all areas of the cultural world, including music and design rights, looted art and authentication issues.


Th Hague – City of Peace and Justice – opens new Court of Arbitration for Art on June 7th 2018The Hague – City of Peace and Justice – opens new Court of Arbitration for Art on June 7th, 2018.

Considering the recent dialogues around the repatriation of art and artefacts to the African continent, CAfA presents itself as a platform to facilitate these contentious issues – working accurately, privately and with a specialized pool of both art and law experts to ensure the successful return of artworks to their rightful place of belonging.

When asked about Africa’s place in CAfA and AiA’s upcoming congress – and whether there are any conversations currently happening around the repatriation of African art at AiA – Founder and Congress Associate, Milko den Leeuw stated that “they are looking for close relations with all the continents” and “that the looting of African art through the centuries is a drama that deserves renewed study in our time”.

William Charron reiterated this, commenting that “The CAfA will exist to resolve all manners of art disputes. That would include African art and artefact repatriation claims.”


Milko den Leeuw, Founder and Congress Associate of Authentication in Art  Milko den Leeuw, Founder and Congress Associate of Authentication in Art


However, at the Dak’Art Biennale 2018, Dr Felwine Sarr recently addressed “the capacity of African countries to create appropriate storage facilities, environmental changes and infrastructure” to house repatriated artworks and artefacts – invariably posing the question, ‘is Africa ready to preserve and protect these works of cultural heritage?’.

And yet, institutions for art – MACAAL, the Norval Foundation, Sindika Dokolo Foundation, the Zeitz MOCAA, Fábrica de Sabão (to name a few) –  have been opening their doors across the continent, disputing the notion that Africa is not ready, and not prepared, for the return of its cultural heritage artefacts.

AiA’s Congress 2018 – which falls in line with the launch of CAfA at the Hague – will feature presentations on issues such as the international trade of looted cultural heritage artefacts sold in exchange for drugs and weapons; copyright issues that impact creators, traders and consumers of art, while touching on the seminal differences in protection under US and European law; the authenticity and liability of art experts and dealers; and the introduction of Artificial Intelligence tools for art recognition at both macro and micro levels.

The Court of Arbitration for Art looks set to establish new ground for the art world, and will almost certainly provide answers around the repatriation of art and artefacts to Africa. For den Leeuw, “it is time to open up the discussion and rewrite histories – not only from the perspective of the western world.”


Ellen Agnew is a writer on ART AFRICA‘s editorial team.

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