Places such as The Louvre or The British Museum are seen by many as centers for cultural appreciation and allow us to view art from around the world preserved for public display. Objections have arisen surrounding how the artwork was acquired and whether or not ownership of these pieces belongs to the museums that display them, or the countries where they were created.
The argument made by many supporters of repatriation is that these works were taken through conflict or stolen without consent of the people who created the art. An article on the History website lists multiple examples, like sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin and the Gwaegal shield, which were taken by the British through force.
Their stance is this: how can a country "own" something it obtained through forceful means against the will of the people who lived there?
In an article posted by Artnet News, the removal of Parthenon sculptures by Lord Elgon, a British aristocrat, is called into question. He originally made a deal with the Ottoman Empire to remove these sculptures from the neglected Parthenon. The issue is that the Ottoman Empire was there because of their violent occupation of Greece meaning the permission to take these sculptures wasn't given by the native people, but outsiders that conquered them. Another position is that art is many times split into pieces, as shown in the National Geographic video regarding the Parthenon Frieze, which isn't the way it was meant to be displayed.
The other side of this argument is that art should be shared around the world so people can learn more about the many different world cultures.
To many art historians, preserving the art is of the utmost importance. The majority feel that pieces should only be returned to countries that are able to preserve them. An article by the New York Times states that although it's risky transporting ancient art and splitting up pieces, "[...] it can also be risky to leave everything in one place, particularly if the country is in turmoil or can't afford to excavate or guard all its treasures." People who support keeping art in the museums housing it currently, are worried that unstable countries riddled with war would jeopardize the safety of these artifacts. The Parthenon itself was damaged by a bombing during the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Venice.
When considering whether pieces should be returned, it's important to discern whether the art is a part of a bigger piece.
Regarding the Parthenon Frieze, Greek representatives think that it should be displayed together because the missing pieces take away from the artist's intention. There is always the idea that art should be shared, carefully, around the world, and that museums should loan pieces to other countries in a free exchange of knowledge and culture. Neither side is ready to concede just yet but hopefully in the future art can be appreciated from around the world for the sake of the art itself-not as a piece of stolen property.