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A 2018 report commissioned by French president Emmanuel Macron and written by French historian Bénédicte Savoy and Senegalese economist and writer Felwine Sarr, recommended with unprecedented firmness that all art objects in French public museums that had been taken from Africa should be returned permanently. In recent months, prominent barrister Geoffrey Robertson has demanded the British Museum apologize for the crimes of empire and return the Hoa Hakananai’a, a moai statue, to Easter Island and the Benin bronzes to Nigeria, among other popular objects in its collection.

While protests, reports, and demonstrations aimed at institutions and benefactors have brought more candid political conversations into museum spaces, daily audiences tend not to be implicated in these conflicts; instead they are mostly encouraged to enjoy the work by whatever measures they can access. But if museums encouraged visitors to feel shame around objects carrying the legacies of colonization, slavery, theft, and discrimination, what might those exhibitions look like?

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