‘It Still Belongs to Africa’: Trevor Noah of ‘The Daily Show’ Says Colonial-Era Art Should be Returned—With Interest

The show's host says European countries owe African nations not only the art that was stolen, but also some great European paintings and sculptures.

On last night’s episode of The Daily Show, host Trevor Noah, who is South African, took on the unlikely topic of art restitution, weighing in on Europe’s ongoing debate about “what to do with all the art that they borrowed permanently by force from Africa.”

Skewering the former colonialist powers of Europe as “the OG of racism,” Noah neatly summarized the arguments for and against restitution, coming down firmly in favor of returning cultural objects to their native lands.

According to a report issued last month that was commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron, 90 to 95 percent of the continent’s artistic heritage is housed outside Africa. Macron has recommended that French law be changed to allow the repatriation of African art.

Although Noah praised the effort, he thinks France can do more.

“I think France should give the art back with interest. I think Africa should chose some European art,” Noah joked, suggesting that African nations should have their pick of European masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s David—aka “that creepy white lady and the guy with the tiny penis.”

And while France might be on the right track, other countries are still off target. Belgium’s revamped Africa Museum, recently renovated with an eye toward contextualizing the institution and its collection by acknowledging its colonialist legacy, threw Noah into a rage. “Get the fuck outta here man!” he complained. “How’s that supposed to make us feel better?”

Museum of Central Africa (RMCA) in Tervuren in the suburbs of Brussels on October 9, 2013. It has since been renamed the Africa Museum. Photo by Georges Gobet /AFP/Getty Images.

Museum of Central Africa (RMCA) in Tervuren in the suburbs of Brussels on October 9, 2013. It has since been renamed the Africa Museum. Photo by Georges Gobet /AFP/Getty Images.

Noah was also incredulous that “some Europeans in the art world believe they did Africa a favor by stealing our shit,” ridiculing the suggestion that the Africans who made the works now on display in Western museums somehow were unaware of their artistic value.

“And then you have the Europeans who say they wish they could return the art to Africa, they really do, but they just don’t think Africa’s ready for that kind of responsibility,” Noah added, showing clips of art collector Adam Lindemann and gallery owner Julien Flak explaining that while restitution sounds good on paper, it isn’t practical in reality. “Their argument is basically ‘you Africans cannot protect your art. We know that because we stole it from you!'”

The Ato ceremony of the Kingdom of Dahomey (circa 1934) at the Quai Branly Museum-Jacques Chirac in Paris. Benin is demanding restitution of its national treasures that were taken from the former French colony of Dahomey and currently are on display at Quai Branly, a museum featuring the indigenous art and cultures of Africa. Photo: GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images.

After joking that Africa’s museums are safer than their European counterparts by virtue of their lion security guards, Noah ended with a revolutionary suggestion.

“It is true Africa’s museums might not be as modern as Europe’s. But if you’re that concerned about it, how about just making the museums in Africa better?” he asked. “Take a tiny piece of that sweet colonialism money and build a museum in Africa that you feel confident in.”

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