National Museum of Ireland forges plan to return looted Benin bronzes

Queen from Benin kingdom
Queen from Benin kingdom, exposed at the MET

The National Museum of Ireland has now forged plans to return the looted Benin bronzes. I hope their plans actually take form! Wen I hear of all these museums planning to return all these African artifacts, I cannot help but notice that the loot was a general or rather an international concerted affair… remember how we always hear about the international community? As you can see the distribution of the loot, in the case at hand, that of Benin City (Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground), was done among all those European countries! This brings shivers! Moreover, when I see this, I cannot help but wonder why these museums are now so conscientious and are all talking about repatriation of these bronzes, particularly when these looted artifacts have generated millions upon millions of euros each year to their museums as part of tourism. Why will they be so happy to forfeit millions of euros in revenues for our poor African souls who not long ago were deemed too backward to take care of our very own artifacts? Also, with 3D printing being so ‘hip’ these days, I wonder if Africans will be getting the original artifacts? How will we know? Enjoy! Excerpts below are from the Sunday Times.

=====

The National Museum of Ireland (NMI) intends to return 21 historical artefacts looted from Nigeria in the 1890s. The Benin bronzes, which were stolen by British soldiers, have been the subject of renewed focus in recent months, with growing pressure on cultural institutions to return them.

While there is no formal plan for when the Benin bronzes will be returned, the NMI said it was committed to progressing “a restitution process” for the artefacts.

Calls for full inventory of world artefacts held by Church of England

Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century)
Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century), exposed at the MET

The call for the repatriation of Benin artifacts, and African artifacts as a whole, has been gaining more attention. As you an imagine, it is news to think of churches being involved in this, or having these looted treasures. Well, as the excerpts below show, the Church of England has been urged to open up its books on all the world artifacts in its possession, after it agreed to return two Benin kingdom artifacts [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground, Europe’s Largest Museums to “Loan” Looted Benin (Nigerian) Artifacts back to Nigeria, Bronze Cockerel from Benin Kingdom to be returned to Nigeria]. Will the Church of England agree to it? Can you imagine the number of artifacts held in the coffers of other churches in Europe or the Vatican? Thousands! Excerpts below are from The Guardian.

====

Promise to repatriate Benin bronzes comes as momentum grows at other institutions on returning works

The Church of England has been urged to open up its books on the full range of world artefacts in its possession after promising this week to repatriate two Benin bronzes.

The move came amid a gathering sense of momentum around the issue of the disputed bronzes – most of which were looted by British forces in 1897.

Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century)
Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century), exposed at the MET

While the British government has said UK institutions should “retain and explain” contested artefacts, the University of Aberdeen announced last month it would repatriate a bust of an Oba, or king of Benin, which it has had since the 1950s. The Horniman Museum in London also confirmed it was taking steps to return artefacts.

It’s clear that this is now a Nigerian-led exercise,” said Dan Hicks, the curator of world archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and author of The Brutish Museums: the Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution.

Arguments put forward in the past that Nigeria was somehow unready to receive repatriated artefacts no longer held waterafter the formation of Legacy Restoration Trust, a Nigerian organisation facilitating restitution, said Hicks, describing it as a “game changing”.

It’s also no longer just about the British Museum, which holds only a fraction of these artefacts. They are increasingly marginal to this conversation, which is more and more about regional and international museums.”

….

Bronze Cockerel from Benin Kingdom to be returned to Nigeria

Benin Kingdom_Okukor2
Bronze cockerel ‘Okukor’ at Jesus College in Cambridge (Source: The Guardian)

Another return of an artifact from a Western institution to an African country, which I applaud… but I remain guarded. Why am I skeptical? Well, because if over 50% of artifacts in the great museums of this world (Louvre, British Museum, MET, Tervuren, etc) which generate a lot of money, and knowledge to western schools, researchers, etc, is made up of looted treasures… will the benefactors of the loot willingly return these? And if they return these, who is to say that it is the real thing? One should not expect a thief not to cheat you again! Below are excerpts from the article in The Guardian. Enjoy!

====

Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century)
Rooster from Benin Kingdom (18th century) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET)

A bronze cockerel taken by British colonial forces and donated to Jesus College Cambridge is to be returned to Nigeria in an unprecedented step that adds momentum to the growing repatriations movement.

The Okukor, described by the college as a “royal ancestral heirloom”, will be one of the first Benin bronzes to be returned to Nigeria by a major British institution since the punitive expedition in 1897 when thousands of bronzes were stolen from Benin City by British forces.

No specific date for return has been released but the college stated that the bronze cockerel “belongs with the current Oba at the Court of Benin”. The return was recommended by Jesus College’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP), a group dedicated to looking at the institution’s connections to slavery, which confirmed the piece was donated in 1905 by the father of a student.

[…] Victor Ehikhamenor, a Nigerian artist and member of the Benin Dialogue Group, said: “No matter how small the gesture may look, it is a huge step towards the realisation of restitution of the works from the Benin Kingdom that were looted by the British. This is very important example, which I hope other Europeans, especially British institutions, will follow without any excuses or delays.”

Dan Hicks, a professor of archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and a representative of the Benin Dialogue Group, said: … In the past, our attention on this matter was focused on national collections like the British Museum and the V&A – but in reality such loot is held in dozens of institutions across the regions: city museums, art galleries and the collections of universities.”

[…] The Jesus College announcement comes almost exactly 12 months after the release of a report commissioned by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, which recommended the return of colonial-era artefacts by France.

Queen from Benin kingdom
Queen from Benin kingdom (at the MET)

The report’s authors, the Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr and the French art historian Bénédicte Savoy, told the Guardian that the British Museum, which houses a huge collection of the Benin bronzes, was acting like “an ostrich with its head in the sand” by not acting faster on repatriations.

[…] Since the release of the report, Ivory Coast, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have made formal requests for the return of artefacts. European countries including France and Germany have committed to handing back objects, with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam opening talks with Sri Lanka and Indonesia and describing the Netherlands’ failure to return stolen artefacts as a “disgrace”.

The news comes a week after Open Society Foundations (OSF) announced a $15m initiative aimed at strengthening efforts to “restore cultural objects looted from the African continent”. …