Restitution Activist Mwazulu Diyabanza Was Arrested After He Tried to Remove an Indonesian Sculpture From the Louvre [UPDATED]

The Congolese activist says he is “afraid” after taking his fight to France's most beloved museum.

The Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Photo by Michael Jacobs/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images.
The Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Photo by Michael Jacobs/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images.

The Congolese activist Mwazulu Diyabanza was arrested at the Louvre on Thursday evening following a political protest during which the restitution advocate attempted to remove a sculpture from the museum. The action was part of the activist’s ongoing campaign for European museums to repatriate African heritage taken during the colonial era. He is currently in prison awaiting trial.

In a video that was posted to Facebook, Diyabanza is seen lifting a sculpture from its mount at the Paris museum before the Louvre guards intervene. He was arrested and brought to a police precinct before being transferred to a prison outside the city. He was released today after a hearing at the Paris Judicial Court.

According to his lawyer, the judge cited the “complexity” of the case and adjourned the trail until December 3. In the meantime, Diyabanza is forbidden from entering any museums.

The Louvre confirmed the incident to Artnet News. The work Diyabanza attempted to remove was one of a pair of late-18th-century guardian spirit figures from the island of Florès in Eastern Indonesia, which was on loan from the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac. The museum says the work does not appear to have suffered any significant damage.

Less than two weeks ago, Diyabanza avoided a ten-year prison sentence and a €150,000 fine for a similar action he took in June at the Musee quai Branly. His lawyers argued during his trial that the incident was not an attempted theft but a political protest, and the court issued him a €1,000 fine to discourage copycat protests. The activist has so far carried out actions in Paris, Marseille, and in the Netherlands amid growing calls within Europe for former colonizers to atone for their colonial-era crimes, which include looting or acquiring objects for their national collections through violent measures.

“To say that I am not afraid would be to lie to you,” Diyabanza wrote on his Facebook after the arrest at the Louvre on Thursday. “I gathered all of my courage to carry the voice of my ancestors who, by their intelligence and skills, have produced these works.” He added that he was also speaking for European and Western peoples who want to “purge” their memories of centuries of “lies” and disgraceful acts. Artnet News was not able to reach Diyabanza for this story.

Activist Egountchi Behanzin from the Black African Defense League, of which Diyabanza is a member, told Artnet News that the police had deleted Diyabanza’s video post of the action at the Louvre, which Behanzin says provides evidence that the incident was non-violent. In a reposted video, Diyabanza removes the work from its mount and walks away slowly as he delivers a speech. A visitor tries to intervene, and eventually, guards arrive and the person recording the video is removed from the galleries.

Diyabanza was held at Fresnes prison, France’s second largest jail, on Sunday night after a judge deemed there was a risk that he might return to carry out the offence before his hearing the next day. (In a video on Facebook, Diyabanza’s lawyer Calvin Job pointed out that there was little risk of this, given that all the museums were closed). Diyabanza carried out the action with a collaborator who was also detained at the precinct before being released in the days following the incident.

Artnet News did hear back from the prosecutor’s office by press time.

[This story was updated at 15:37 CET to reflect the outcome of the hearing.]


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