Nigeria and Benin win back stolen colonial-era art


Nigerians celebrate the return of two Benin bronzes that were looted by the British 125 years ago, and Benin opens an exhibition with pieces returned by France. Africa is pressing for the return of more artifacts. Two Benin bronzes have been returned to their homeland, 125 years after they were stolen from West Africa by British soldiers. This Saturday (19/02) a ceremony celebrated the return of two objects of art, one representing a rooster and the other a king’s head, in the palace of Oba, in the city of Benin, which is in Nigeria. “They are not just art, but objects that enhance the meaning of our spirituality,” said Charles Edosonmwan, a spokesman for the palace of Oba. Benin Bronze is a collection of thousands of pieces made since the 16th century that were in the royal palace of the city of Benin when it was looted by the British army in 1897. Today, they are scattered in museums in Europe and the United States. The pieces distributed at Oba’s palace were at the University of Aberdeen in the UK and Jesus College Cambridge, the first institutions in the world to return the Benin Bronze to Nigeria last year – the ceremony was held only this year. At the time, Professor Abba Isa Tijani, Director General of Nigeria’s National Museums and Monuments Commission, urged “other museums and institutions around the world to seize this opportunity and follow suit”. Many pieces remain outside Africa. During the colonial era, many pieces of African art were obtained illegally and ended up in European collections. As a result, an estimated 80% to 90% of the cultural heritage of sub-Saharan Africa is in Western museums. There are about 70,000 African objects in the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris alone, and tens of thousands more in the British Museum in London. Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have all received requests from African countries to return treasures looted in the colonial era. In April 2021, Germany announced plans to send hundreds of Benin bronzes back to Nigeria starting this year. Benin displays pieces returned by France While Nigerians welcomed the return of two bronzes to the Nigerian city of Benin, neighboring Benin’s president opened an exhibition of historical works of art returned by France in 2021. 26 pieces were stolen in 1892. by French colonial forces from the former Kingdom of Dahomey in southern present-day Benin. Culture Minister Jean-Michel Abimbola said the exhibition “Art of Benin Tomorrow and Today” was giving back to the Beninese people part of their soul, part of their history and their dignity. Abimbola said talks are underway for the return of other items, including a statue of the god Gau, which is still in the Louvre in Paris. BL (Reuters, AFP)

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