Nigerians offer new bronze artwork looted at British museum


টার Reuters A newly created bronze plaque of historical events made in Benin, once a powerful state in West Africa, being presented as a gift to the British Museum, is on display in Benin City, Nigeria, July 1, 2021.


By Typh Olabi and Estelle Shirban

BENIN CITY, Nigeria (Reuters) – A new organization of artists in the Nigerian city of Benin has offered to donate works of art to the British Museum in London to encourage the British to return invaluable Benin bronze looted from the city’s royal palace. Soldiers in 1897.

Built in the once powerful kingdom of Benin from at least the sixteenth century, bronze and brass sculptures are among the best and culturally significant monuments in Africa. European museums that looted their homes and colonized have faced criticism year after year because of their status as symbols of colonial greed.

The Ahimwen Guild of Artists and Bronze Custers say it seeks to change the terms of the debate from Benin City’s modern culture to the history of looting to the unfamiliar British Museum with contemporary artwork.

“Even after they were stolen, we did not stop making bronze,” said Osarobo Jackner-Okoro, a founding member of the New Guild and a proponent of the proposed grant. “I think we make them better now.”

“The crime that was committed is not right, they were looted, it’s true that you portrayed our civilization as a dead civilization, you put us in ancient Egypt or something,” he said.

Among the artworks unveiled in the presence of a member of the royal court in the city of Benin are carved 2m by 2m bronze plaques representing historical events in Benin and from a fully made one-size ram spark plug.

Asked to comment on the offer, the British Museum said only that it was a matter of discussion between itself and the suppliers.

Jekner-Okoro, who traveled to London from Benin this month to partially advance his initiative, said he had a meeting with the curators of the museum’s Africa division.

Although Germany has said it wants to bring Benin Bronze back to Nigeria from its museum, the British Museum, which has the largest and most significant collection of items, has stopped making clear promises.

It said on its website that its director Hartwig Fischer had an audience with Benin’s Oba or King in 2018 “discussing new opportunities to share and display objects from the state of Benin”.

But many in Benin see no reason to plunder European museums.

“They must bring it back. It is not their father’s property. This property belongs to Oberoi in Benin,” said Bronze Caster Chief Nosa Ogiakhia.

Zickner-Okoro, who grew up in Britain before returning to Bekin, acknowledged that the presence of Benin Bronze in European museums has allowed them to reach a global audience. But he said they should return to that place now and to the people they created.

“Descendants of those who threw bronze, they never saw that work because most of them could not fly to London to come to the British Museum,” he said.

“They have this catalog, a PDF copy of the catalog from the British Museum, which they use to refer to the work of their ancestors and I think it’s very sad.”

(Typh Olabi reports from Benin City, Estelle Shirban reports from London; Giles Elgood edits)

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