Just as the market for African art was gaining momentum, a new set of doubts is being raised by one of Africa’s richest men, Sindika Dokolo, about works that have been looted from Africa’s museums:
“Works that used to be clearly in African museums must absolutely return to Africa,” Mr. Dokolo said in an interview while in town for an exhibition showcasing some of the works in his collection. “There are works that disappeared from Africa and are now circulating on the world market based on obvious lies about how they got there.”
To forward his cause, Mr. Dokolo’s foundation has set up a network of researchers and dealers to comb through archives and monitor the art market in search of stolen African art. Any time such artwork can be identified, Mr. Dokolo said, its owner will be offered a simple choice: Either sell him the work for the price at which it was acquired or face a lawsuit for theft.
Mr. Dokolo, 43, has the financial wherewithal to turn such a threat into action. Besides his own family wealth, he and his wife are one of Africa’s richest couples: She is Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, the president of Angola since 1979.
[…]Mr. Dokolo asserts that some African museums have been looted by Westerners, citing the national museum in Kinshasa for one. He has been trying to locate 6,000 pieces made by the Chowke people of Central Africa that were in the Dundo Museum of Angola and that disappeared during the Angolan civil war. So far, Mr. Dokolo said that he has managed to recover a few masks, including one of the masks missing from the Dundo Museum, which he bought from a private Dutch collection.
Mr. Dokolo would not give details about other works he wanted to recover. He said that he was being helped by a network of private dealers and galleries, which were overseen by Tao Kereffof, a dealer in Paris, and Didier Claes, the owner of a gallery in Brussels. Mr. Dokolo and this team were monitoring art fairs and auctions, including ones at Christie’s and Sotheby’s.