Liberia Launches Campaign to Retrieve Stolen Artifacts

Front view of the renovated National Museum

Culture Minister Joyce Kenkpen has launched a campaign titled “Let’s Save our Museum,” aimed at reclaiming stolen Liberian artifacts and the voluntary donation of new ones from artists.

Min. Kenkpen said the campaign comes at a time when the museum currently lacks enough artifacts for display, “therefore, there is an urgent need that Liberian artworks stolen during the civil war be collected, as well as the attraction of new ones.”

She added that due to the fact that the museum is almost empty, they are finding it difficult to reopen it now that the museum has been renovated to a state-of-the-art structure.

Culture Minister, Joyce Kenkpen

“We don’t want to open a museum with just handful of artifacts on display. It will be bad and this will not attract the visitors we expect. We need to fill the three floors of the museum with requisite artifacts, and this is what this campaign is about.

“The first tiers of the building contain memoirs of past presidents and cartographic materials related to Liberia’s cultural artifacts; and the second and third tiers of the museum that contain art galleries that illustrate Liberia’s artists does not have much pieces, and we need to fill them,” added Minister Joyce Kenkpen. The campaign, she stated, also includes rewards for those who willingly hand in any art piece.

Erected in 1862, and once housing the House of Legislature and Supreme Court of Liberia, the Liberia National Museum, the 154-year old building, is a national heritage structure standing at the corner of Broad and Buchanan Streets. It is one of the few remaining landmark structures that represent Liberia during “normal days,” as well as possessing important historical and cultural artifacts good for education and research.

Although the minister didn’t disclose the kinds of stolen artifacts the campaign will be focusing on, she said the heart of this vision is to collect half of the reported 5,800 pieces of arts and artifacts that were looted during the Liberian civil war from the museum, which now lies in American and European museums, and in the hands of private collectors in and out of Liberia.

“Right now, we have written these museums we know have Liberia’s artworks about the need for them to return them. And the discussion is ongoing fruitfully. Private collectors have also been written and local artists had been asked to voluntarily donate new pieces as well,” she said.

Meanwhile, the minister said the roof of the building, which used to leak so badly that several artifacts were damaged, has been changed, along with the broken wall running parallel to Buchanan Street. She added that the second and third tiers of the museum, which contain art galleries showcasing Liberian works of art, were badly damaged, but have now been transformed into modern structures.

In addition, Min. Kenkpen said the lack of electricity and pipe-borne water that hampered the smooth operation of the museum for years has been resolved.