OFFICIALS at the country’s main art gallery in Harare have said six artefacts stolen in 2006 are back on display after a "sting" operation in Poland by FBI and CIA law enforcement agents.
National Art Gallery curator Lillian Chaonwa said Friday a suspect tried to sell the art to an unnamed American buyer who alerted U.S. authorities.
Doreen Sibanda, the director of the National Gallery, added: “We received calls from the FBI and CIA in America reporting that the stolen items had been located in Poland and they were preparing to conduct a sting operation in order to catch the thief.”
She said a man convicted of the theft has since been jailed.
The artefacts included two tribal face masks and four intricately carved wooden headrests from the early 20th Century believed to have had mystical properties during sleep.
Chaonwa said African museums were being targeted by thieves knowing the value and rarity of the continent's works of art to collectors.
She had posted images of the missing works on the Internet.
The artefacts arrived in the country from Germany on the 3rd of this month.
Meanwhile, speaking at a ceremony Thursday when the artefacts were unveiled to the public, Rapahel Chikukwa, chief curator of the National Gallery, said there was an urgent need to lobby the repatriation other objects stole from the country and the rest of the continent.
“We need to use our governments to lobby the international community because this is where some of these objects are you have the so-called British museum. There is nothing British in that British museum so these were taken during the colonial era,” Chikukwa said.
“The only way we can do that is to speak with one voice. The African Museums Association is one body which we need to work with to lobby because they (Europeans) have a colonial excuse that we don’t have the knowhow and means to look after these objects which is a myth and an excuse for them to keep those objects.
“This is part of our heritage- our heritage is our inheritance because there is no future without a past. A past can really educate you about who you are.”
Sibanda added: “It’s a victory for small museums in Africa who have long been the victims of plunder of our heritage and material culture.
“By celebrating their return we are increasing the awareness to our local audience to their importance to the nation.”