Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Beautiful West African bronze sculptures and casts have long been on display in some of the world’s most august institutions, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced on Wednesday that it is returning three of these works of art to Nigeria. . They include two 16th century brass plaques created at the Court of Benin and a brass head produced in Ife around the 14th century.
“The… plaques produced at the Court of Benin, Warrior chief and Junior Field Official, were among the works removed from the royal palace in 1897 during the British military occupation of Benin, ”the Met said in a statement. (The borders have changed over the years and the ancient kingdom of Benin, from which these works originated, which is now southern Nigeria.)
“Following this military campaign, they entered the collection of the British Museum in London from 1898 to 1950,” the statement continued. “In 1950-1951, the British Museum transferred these two plaques (and 24 others) to the National Museum in Lagos. Although never ceded by the National Museum, both plaques entered the international art market on an unknown date and under unclear conditions. circumstances and were ultimately acquired by a New York collector.
The mysterious collector donated the works – and his other Beninese bronzes – to the Met in 1991. Over the past year, the Met has said it has researched their provenance, working with the Nigerian National Commission on Museums and Monuments. He decided to return the works to Nigeria. the Head of Ife, originally from the Wunmonije complex in Nigeria, was offered for sale at the Met and the museum has negotiated its return.
“The Met is do not saying that these items were stolen, so morally, legally, we decided to return them, ”noted journalist Barnaby Phillips, author of the recently published book LOOT: Britain and the Benin Bronzes. “They want to be seen as willing and helpful and good partners in Nigeria. And it was visible in the statement that they are also offering their support to the Edo Museum of West African Art, a museum that does not yet exist. “
One day, says Phillips, backers are hoping that the Edo West African Art Museum will be built in Benin City to house a collection of world-class Beninese bronzes, including those taken. illegally and exposed in the West for generations.
“We welcome the rapprochement that is developing in the museum world and appreciate the sense of justice displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” said Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture in the context of the Met’s statement. “Nigeria asks other museums to take inspiration from it. The art world can be a better place if every owner of cultural artifacts takes into account the rights and feelings of the dispossessed.