Looted artefacts, imperialist statues: is repatriation and removal the answer?

Carmen Fishwick and Guardian readersMonday 22 February 2016 13.29 GMT

Cambridge University students have voted that a bronze cockerel looted from Benin in 1897 is to be repatriated from Jesus hall, Cambridge University, to Nigeria.

Ore Ogunbiyi, the JCSU racial equalities officer behind the campaign, wrote on her blog: “It’s quite nice to see Jesus setting a precedent and taking steps in the right direction to weed out the colonial legacies that exist in bits of the university … but how exciting and momentous and revolutionary is this?”

As well as looting art, the British killed thousands of people and set the city at the centre of the Benin empire, in modern-day Nigeria, on fire during the expedition in which the bronze cockerel was obtained. Nigeria has repeatedly asked for all Benin bronzes to be repatriated.

The cockerel is the latest art piece to cause controversy, forcing difficult conversations over the suitability of art pieces in their current context. A plaque dedicated to the imperialist Cecil Rhodes was removed from Oriel college at Oxford University last December after a successful student campaign by the UK-based supporters of the South African Rhodes Must Fall campaign. Yet a campaign to remove a statue of the British imperialist from the college last month failed to find enough support.

Source: Looted artefacts, imperialist statues: is repatriation and removal the answer? | Community | The Guardian

February 23rd, 2016

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October 14th, 2013

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May 5th, 2013

Posted In: African Affairs, ICOM Red List, looting and illegal art traffickers

BENIN PLAN OF ACTION: WILL THIS MISERABLE DOCUMENT BE THE LAST WORD ON THE LOOTED BENIN ARTEFACTS

http://www.museum-security.org/BENIN_PLAN_OF_ACTION(2)_WILL_THIS_MISERABLE_PROJECT_BE_THE_LAST_WORD_ON_THE_LOOTED_BENIN_ARTEFACTS.htm

March 11, 2013
“BENIN PLAN OF ACTION” (2): WILL THIS MISERABLE PROJECT BE THE LAST WORD ON THE LOOTED BENIN ARTEFACTS?

“There was a dim grandeur about it all, and also
these seemed to a fate. Here was this head center
of iniqiuty, spared by us from its suitable end of
burning for the sake of holding the new seat of
justice where barbarism had held away, given into
our hands with the brand of Blood soaked into
every corner and …….. fire only could purge it, and
here on our last day we were to see its legitimate fate overtake it

(1)

R. H. Bacon, the Punitive Expedition’s Intelligence Officer wrote on the burning of the Benin Royal Palace.

 

We have just read a detailed report from Tajudeen Sowole on the so called Benin Plan of Action for Restitution (2)and would like to make a few comments on some of the issues arising that we did not deal with in our previous article on this subject. (3)

 

The meeting at which this miserable document was prepared on February 19, 2013, happened to be the same date on which the British carried on their nefarious attack on Benin in 1897. Was this a mere coincidence? We can only hope that at least a minute’s silence was observed in the honour of all those who lost their lives in one of the most egregious acts of British imperialist aggressions in Africa. (4)

 

                                                                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

                                      Members of the British Punitive Expedition which invaded Benin in 1897 posing proudly with the Benin artefacts they looted

.

 

We learn from the report that the British Museum was invited but could not attend because of unresolved travel difficulties. Can anyone believe this? Or were the officials of the venerable museum playing again a game similar to the one they played with the notorious Declaration on the Importance and Value of the Universal Museums which they inspired and engineered for support against Greece but did not eventually sign?(5)

 

 

Regarding the 1970 UNESCO CONVENTION (

Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970

)

which the meeting hoped to discuss and review next time, Prof. Folarin Shyllon, an expert on the Convention, pointed out that the Convention has no retroactive effect and that no State would enter into a treaty with retroactive effect. It is not clear to me which side raised the issue of the Convention but the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National is reported to have pleaded with the visitors and noted “the hurdles placed on our way by the various Conventions and applicable international laws that govern repatriation of heritage objects”. This suggests to me that some participant must have created the misleading impression that the UNESCO Convention and other rules of International Law place obstacles on the way to restitution. Nothing could be further from the truth than this myth deliberately and knowingly entertained and spread by some Westerners.

 

Plaque of Oba Ozolua with warrior attendants, Benin, Nigeria,

 

Ethnology Museum, Vienna.

 

That the UNESCO Convention has no retroactive effect is accepted by all and is indeed common knowledge. This means that the Convention does not affect acts done before its entry into force. It neither approves nor disapproves of past events. That is all. From this, some Westerners have developed the notion that the looting and other wrongful acts done before the entry into force of the Convention are saved by the Convention and one is prohibited  by the Convention from reclaiming artefacts looted or stolen before 1970. They thus give the Convention a retroactive effect in their favour. But this is surely wrong.

 

That the Convention does not provide a basis for reclaiming acts done before its entry into force clearly does not mean it prevents or prohibits reclaiming artefacts looted before 1970. The various restitution to Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Peru show that no international law prevents restitution if States are willing to do so. (6)

 

 

The Convention itself provides in its article 15 that

 

Nothing in this Convention shall prevent States Parties thereto from concluding special agreements among themselves or from continuing to implement agreements already concluded regarding the restitution of cultural property removed, whatever the reason, from its territory of origin, before the entry into force of this Convention for the States concerned.”

 

States are thus free to enter into bilateral agreements to effect restitution. They may also bring legal action on the basis of International Law or Municipal Law, independent of the Convention.

 

 

 

 

We hope that the legal experts at the meeting pointed out some of the difficulties involved in trying to revise a convention and the time it would take to reach an agreement concerning the text of a convention on a subject where there are great divergences of views. The 1970 UNESCO was ratified by many major European States only 30 years after its entry into force and many African States have not yet ratified it.

 

 

 

 

Ivory hip mask.

Benin, Nigeria, now in Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

 

.

What the representatives of Western museums tend to omit in their statements on restitution is the fact that the United Nations and UNESCO as well as several international conferences have urged the return of cultural artefacts to their countries of origin. (7) These museums are also required by the Code of Conduct of ICOM (International Council on Museums) to take the initiative in starting discussions with the owners of the looted artefacts.

 

 

 

Some of the statements attributed to Dr. Peter Junge, Director of the Etnologisches Museum, Berlin, are remarkable. ”Between 160 years ago and now, nothing has been done, but the dialogue has started now.”

 

 

 

It should be recalled that after the defeat of Benin in 1897, following the notorious British invasion, the Kingdom of Benin became part of the British colony of Nigeria which gained its independence in 1960. Thus for most of the period Dr. Junge is talking about, only the British could have done anything about the looted Benin artefacts. They should indeed have returned the objects at the Independence of Nigeria. Nothing of the sort happened. According to the great Ekpo Eyo, after Independence, when a museum was to be opened in Benin City, a request was sent to all the holders of Benin bronzes, including Dr, Junge’s own country, Germany, asking for the return of some of the Benin bronzes. Not a single item was returned.

 

 

 

 

Commemorative head, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnology Museum, Leipzig, Germany

.

 

 

 

In the last decades several demands have been made to the holders for the return of the artefacts. The late Bernie Grant, a Member of the British Parliament, requested several times the return of the Benin Bronzes but his appeal fell on deaf ears; Nigerian Government, Parliament and other constituted bodies have also called for the return of artefacts but to no avail.

 

 

 

 

We recall the request made for FESTAC 77 by the Nigerian Government for the loan/return of the hip-mask of Queen-Mother Idia which was last worn by Oba Owonramwen. Nothing came out of this. It was said by the British that the mask could not travel and were also asking for a horrendous amount of money for insurance. Prof. Tunde Balewale renewed this request and got an answer from Neil MacGregor who did not even mention the hip mask. (8) We recall also that the Oba of Benin presented a petition to the British Parliament, known as

 

Appendix 21

That also received a negative answer. Above all, in the last decades, the holders of the Benin Bronzes developed all kinds of arguments to resist claims for the artefacts. They developed a strategy of denying that there has been any demand for the artefacts at the very moment the demands were being made.

 

There have also been several Benin exhibitions, for example,

 

Benin: Kings and Rituals – Court Arts from Nigeria, 

2006 in Vienna, which went to Paris, Berlin and Chicago as well as an exhibition in Stockholm. The Oba of Benin, as owner of the looted artefacts, has on these occasions requested the return of the artefacts. These facts must be borne in mind when one looks back at the last 100 or more years. The unwillingness of those holding the looted artefacts even to discuss the issue was much evident in the last decades. Much time was also spent in insulting the original owners of the artefacts by arguing that they are or were unable to protect the artefacts. This is difficult to counter-attack, coming from the States that stole or connived at the stealing of the objects. The very acts of invasion and looting appear to be irrefutable evidence of our inability to protect our artefacts. This argument would also apply to Ethiopia (Maqdala) and Ghana (Asante) where similar acts of invasion and plunder were committed by the British Army.

 

 

 

It is therefore not entirely correct to say nothing was done in all those years since the notorious invasion. Benin tried to regain its stolen property but to no avail because of the resistance of the holders of the illegal property.

 

 

 

Further statements are attributed to Dr. Junge:

 

The idea of Benin objects will change in our minds”, he assured. “I am sure, you will see the objects in Nigeria.” He however cautioned that “I am not saying in three days, next month or next year, but it will happen.”

According to report, Junge’s idea of bringing the works to Nigeria was on the understanding that they would be returned to the current holding museums

 

What Junge means by “the idea of Benin objects will change in our minds” is not clear to me but I wonder what that has to do with restitution. Was he trying to heighten the interest of Nigerians in their own artefacts? Or was he reminding them that they had not seen the excellent 580 artefacts that his museum has been keeping for more than 100 years since the Germans acquired them in the same year of the notorious invasion in 1897?

 

 

But what is clear is the statement, regarding when the objects will be seen in Nigeria:

 

“I am not saying in three days, next month or next year, but it will happen.”

 This can be interpreted as “never” or that this could happen in some years or decades. Thus you have a plan of action with no time framework. In other words one makes promises or raises hope which need not be realized within a specific time limitation hence it may never be fulfilled. Worse, if the objects ever come to Nigeria, they will be returned to the illegal possessors. What then do the peoples of Benin and Nigeria gain from this plan which merely hopes to show them their looted cultural objects at a distant future and then return them to the Western museums? The whole performance here could be part of an absurd theatre piece or from children’s book.

 

Oba Esigie on horseback with retainers.Benin, Nigeria, now in

 

 

Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany

 

.

 

Prince Edun Egharese Akenzua, Enogie of Obazuwa, representative of the Oba at the meeting which discussed the so-called Benin Plan of Action, is reported to have declared that:”there is nothing in the Plan of Action that really addresses restitution“. It is difficult not to agree with the opinion of the prince who is well versed in the issue of restitution of the Benin artefacts, having represented the Oba at various places where the matter was discussed.

 

 

 

It is remarkable that the demand for the return of the Benin bronzes is met with such resistance whereas Egypt, Italy, Greece and Turkey have received a considerable number of artefacts without much difficulty. Why is Nigeria having so much trouble in getting anything back? What is the difference between Nigeria and the other States? Could racism and colour be an important factor here?

 

 

 

A meeting that was awaited with some hope that it would contribute to bringing back the Benin bronzes looted by the British in 1897, has by all accounts, sought to confirm the loot by the British: the meeting proposed keeping the artefacts in Western museums where they are now.

 

 

 

After very careful consideration of the so-called Benin Plan of Action for Restitution, I have come to the conclusion that the plan, which has no time frame-work or concrete restitution proposals, is not in the interest of Benin, nor of Nigeria nor of Africa.

 

 

 

It would be advisable for the Oba of Benin and his people to avoid participation in such meetings unless they have the following:

 

 

 

a) Firm commitments that the objective of the meeting is to secure the return of a considerable number of the more than 3000 objects that the British looted in 1897. The British kept part for themselves and sold the rest to Germans, Austrians, Americans and others.

 

 

 

b) Concrete time frame-work within which the artefacts are to be returned.

 

 

 

The Ethnology Museum, Berlin, which has some 580 Benin artefacts and the Ethnology Museum, Vienna, which has some 167 Benin objects could have made a start and set a good example by bringing or promising to return some of the objects. Or do they believe they need these objects more than the people of Benin? Western museums do not show much sensitivity towards Africans who have been deprived of their artefacts. They could have taken advantage of the occasion of the meeting in Benin City, from where the objects were taken and meeting on the same date as the invasion in 1897, they could have returned some of the artefacts, in a symbolic gesture that could have earned them great sympathy. But concrete symbolism is not part of the strategies of Western museums that have unlimited and uncontrolled appetite for the cultural artefacts of other peoples, especially Africans and Asians.

 

 

 

We often have the impression that it is in discussions on such issues as restitution of cultural artefacts that Westerners show their deep contempt for Africans. Much of what is heard here would not be heard in discussions with other peoples. We would not hear any of this in discussions between Western museums and Italians or Turks, Much of what is said would not be said in discussions with successors to victims of Nazi plunders. Care would have been exercised to avoid any remarks or words that could be perceived as insulting. But with Africans, such museum officials are less inhibited or worried. But are the Westerners alone to be blamed? When have we heard African officials react strongly to remarks by Westerners?

 

 

 

On hearing the statements attributed to Dr. Junge, an innocent bystander might well believe that the Nigerians were asking for a loan of some of the icons of German culture and that Queen-Mother Idia and the others were ancient Germans whose memory is of more importance to German history than to Nigerian history. The hesitation to bring those artefacts soon and at definite dates then become understandable. Alas, we are here dealing with evidence and records of Benin culture and history which the Europeans have stolen and are reluctant to return.

 

 

 

 

Female figure, Benin, now in Ethnology Museum, Berlin, Germany.

 

 

 

What is equally remarkable is that Westerners appear not to have any feelings of regret or remorse for what their predecessors did in violently dispossessing Africans of their cultural artefacts. On the contrary, many appear to be specialized in defending the past imperialist and colonial atrocities. Expressions such as “regret” or “sorry” are hardly heard.

 

 

 

There must be limits to the extent that a people can suffer indignity and humiliation, even for African peoples who have suffered colonial aggression, defeat, humiliation, slavery and colonial domination. That we could not resist imperialist aggression and slavery is painful enough but must we accept that successors to those who have looted/stolen our artefacts come to our cities to inform us that they will show us what was stolen but would not return them? Where then is our dignity? Would they dare to tell a meeting on restitution of Nazi looted artefacts such stories, advancing irrelevant arguments?

 

 

 

Those representing Nigeria in such meetings must bear in mind that they are also representing the rest of the African peoples who have claims to looted/stolen artefacts still in Western museums. A bad precedent set with the help of some Nigerians would be a disservice to our Continent that has suffered enough and has been robbed of its rich cultural heritage by the very colonialists who said we were primitive and had no culture.

 

 

 

One of a pair of leopard figures, now in the Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, London, UK. The commanders of the British Punitive Expedition force sent a pair of leopards to the British Monarch, Queen Victoria soon after the looting and burning of Benin City

 

 

 

 

After revealing the miserable project titled “Benin Plan of Action for Restitution”, which is no plan of action and does not deal with restitution, can anyone continue to affirm that Nigeria’s approach to restitution is working?

 

 

We have defined restitution to mean the return for good, not for display, of a contested artefact such as the hip-mask of Queen-Mother Idia. Has Nigeria received in the last 50 years or so any such artefact from the illegal holders?

 

 

Or is the mere fact of meeting face to face with representatives of the illegal holders in itself a success?

 

 

 

 

If an approach has not been successful for 50 years, surely we must change it. We must look at those who have been successful and learn from them. Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey have achieved considerable success and should serve as examples. Nigeria cannot continue to persist in an unsuccessful approach for another 50 years. We owe it to future generations, Nigeria, Africa and ourselves to look at reality in face and take the necessary consequential decisions and steps.

 

 

 

 

“As for the ownership status of the works, who does not know that Benin is the true owner despite the semantics and legalese by the international community? 

 

We have had enough of these meetings which only end as academic exercise.”

 

 

Prince Edun Egharese, Enogie of Obazuwa.

 

(9)

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES

 

 

1.

R. H. Bacon, Benin: City of Blood (pp. 107-108) cited by the great Ekpo Eyo, “Benin; The Sack that was”,http://www.edo-nation.net/eyo.htm

 

 

 

2. http://africanartswithtaj

 

 

3. www.museum-security.org

 

 

4.

The story of Benin has been told several times but I found the short account by Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie very useful: “In February 1897, an elite British force of about 1200 men (supported by several hundred African auxiliary troops and thousands of African porters) besieged Benin City, capital of the Edo Kingdom of Benin, whose ruler, the Oba Ovonramwen sat on a throne that was a thousand years old. The British Punitive Expedition used Maxim machine guns to mow down most of the Oba’s 130,000 soldiers and secure control of the capital city. They set fire to the city and looted the palace of 500 years worth of bronze objects that constituted the royal archive of Benin’s history, an irreplaceable national treasure. The king and his principal chiefs fled into the countryside, pursued by British forces that lay waste to the countryside as a strategy to force the people of Benin to give up their fugitive king. According to Richard Gott, for a further six months, a small British force harried the countryside in search of the Oba and his chiefs who had fled. Cattle were seized and villages destroyed. Not until August was the Oba cornered and brought back to his ruined city. An immense throng was assembled to witness the ritual humiliation that the British imposed on their subject peoples. The Oba was required to kneel down in front of the British military “resident” the town and to literally bite the dust. Supported by two chiefs, the king made obeisance three times, rubbing his forehead on the ground three times. He was told that he had been deposed. Oba Ovonramwen finally surrendered to stem the slaughter of his people. Many of his soldiers considered his surrender an unbearable catastrophe and committed suicide rather than see the king humiliated. A significant number, led by some chiefs, maintained guerrilla warfare against the British for almost two years until their leaders were captured and executed. The remaining arms of the resistance thereafter gave up their arms and merged back into the general population.”

http://aachronym.blogspot.com

 

 

5. K. Opoku,

 “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project”

http://www.modernghana.com/news/441891/1/declaration-on-the-importance-and-value-of-univers.html

6. I reproduce here an opinion I gave with regard to China’s claim for artefacts looted in the Franco-Britannic invasion of the Summer Palace, Beijing, in 1860.

 

 

That there are difficulties on the way to recovery of the stolen/looted artefacts cannot be denied but the non-retroactivity of the 1970 UNESCO Convention or the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention is no argument against pursuing the case for restitution. Non-retroactivity does not mean or imply approval. The real question here is whether this atrocious act of aggression and looting was ever approved by International Law and not by a few powerful States, notorious for acts of aggression and spoliation. I would encourage the Chinese to pursue vigorously their claim which would give us also a recent judicial view of a shameful, aggressive practice of a few States. The judges must eventually decide whether there were no rules of law, in Chinese, English and French Laws, as well as in International Law which prohibited the unlawful destruction and taking away of the property of others. Whether the laws of any particular country do or do not prohibit such wrongful dealings with property is not a matter to be settled with reference to the 1970 Convention.
There may be eventual questions of statute of limitation but that is an issue which must be determined by the judges as a preliminary issue. Above all, they must determine whether the ordinary rules of limitation, enacted for the usual domestic situations apply at all in such cases.

 

 

The judges would have to consider very carefully the meaning and extent of the provision of Article 10(3) of the UNIDROIT Convention which reads as follows: “This Convention does not in any way legitimise any illegal transaction of whatever which has taken place before the entry into force of this Convention or which is excluded under paragraphs (1) or (2) of this article, nor limit any right of a State or other person to make a claim under remedies available outside the framework of this Convention for the restitution or return of a cultural object stolen or illegally exported before the entry into force of this Convention.”
Lyndel Prott comments on this provision as follows: “This paragraph was the result, again, of the working group’s compromise and provides that the UNIDROIT Convention does not legitimise any prior illegal transaction, nor restrict a State from claiming back such items, in private law, by bilateral negotiation, inter-institutional arrangements or through the UNESCO Committee mentioned above”. Lyndel V. Prott, Commentary on the UNIDROIT Convention, Institute of Art and Law, 1997, p.82.

 

Most Westerners, including lawyers are allergic to any claims for restitution from the colonial past. They must ask themselves about their instinctive negative reactions to such claims without subjecting the claim to rigorous examination of the law and all the background to such claims. Laws must be interpreted in accordance with the objectives of the law and not necessarily in the interest of the powerful.

Would we accept a conclusion that the laws of France, Britain and United States permitted the wrongful treatment of the property of others before the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention

 ?

 

7. 

General Assembly resolution, A/RES/67/80, titled “Return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin.” https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/67/PV.53

 

 

 

8. K.Opoku, Reflections on the Abortive Queen-Mother Idia Mask Auction: Tactical Withdrawal or Decision of Principle? 

http://www.modernghana.com

 

9.

 Prince Edun Egharese, Enogie of Obazuwa, on the socalled Benin Plan of Action,

 

 

http://africanartswithtaj

 

 

 

BENIN PLAN OF ACTION: WILL THIS MISERABLE DOCUMENT BE THE LAST WORD ON THE LOOTED BENIN ARTEFACTS.

March 11th, 2013

Posted In: African Affairs, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects

WILL BOSTON MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS RETURN LOOTED BENIN BRONZES

http://www.museum-security.org/opoku_boston_return.htm

January 6, 2013

 

 

 

 

The public interest must surely be in upholding the rule of law, rather than promoting an international free-for-all through the unrestricted circulation of tainted works of art. Do we really wish to educate our children to have no respect for history, legality and ethical values by providing museums with the opportunity freely to exhibit stolen property?

 

Extract from a letter by several members of the British House of Lords. (1)

 

 

Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.

 

 

Readers may recall that when the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA, recently acquired by donation a number of looted Benin artefacts, there was a large public outcry against this acquisition of blood antiquities by a leading and respected American museum(2) The Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments demanded the immediate return of the looted objects(3) Other writers also urged the return of these precious artefacts that the British had looted in a violent invasion of the flourishing Benin Kingdom in 1897(4) Ligali, a Pan-Africanist activist group, wrote to the Boston museum requesting the return of the objects to their rightful owners. In his response to Ligali, the director of the Boston museum mentioned that his institution had informed the Oba of Benin of the acquisition. (5) An impression was thus created that the Benin Royal Family had acquiesced in the acquisition, and in any case, had not protested against it.

 

 

Members of the notorious British Punitive Expedition of 1897 against Benin, posing proudly with looted Benin ivories and bronze objects.

 

 

The Benin Royal Palace was surprised to hear that the museum was claiming the acquisition met all legal standards and that no claim had been made against it. The Oba has always made it very clear that the looted Benin artefacts belong to the people of Benin and the Oba. The statement by the Boston museum did not reflect the truth. The Oba of Benin is against any form of donation, auction or exhibition of stolen Benin spiritual, traditional, cultural and decorative art works in Europe and in America. The stolen Benin artefacts should be returned to the original owners. Attempts should not be made to throw doubts on the position of the Oba of Benin as regards the looted Benin objects. The Oba and the people of Benin demand their return(6)

Similarly, the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments(NCMM), the organ charged with preservation of Nigerias culture and cultural objects, has also made its position clear in a statement issued by Yusuf Abdallah Usman,Director General of NCMM:

For the avoidance of doubt we hereby place it on record that we demand, as we have always done, the return of these looted works and all stolen, removed or looted artefacts from Nigeria under whatever guise.

 

 

We wish to call on the management of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA, to as a matter of self-respect, return the 32 works Nigeria, the rightful owners forthwith(7)

What will the venerable Museum of Fine Arts, Boston do? Will it act as most people have urged it to do? Would it follow the advice of a Western blogger who stated in an article titled The MFA’s new acquisition of Benin artifacts proving to be a tricky bitch already :

If the MFA was at all interested in joining the rest of us here in the 21stcentury, it might begin by repatriating the objects to Nigeria and hammering out a deal for exchanges between our countries. Then it might consider taking the initiative and acknowledging fishy or limited provenance in the history of all its objects, not just the ones on trial, and make a whole-hearted effort to discover their true origins. Then it might acknowledge that many of the objects in their collection may still hold significance for living cultures and be less stingy when those cultures come forward and ask for repatriations. Then it might do a much better job of educating its public about art crime, the modern commercial exploitation of archaeological sites, and the past and present war time looting that scatters artifacts and attempts to destroy cultures and ideologies. But instead, it will continue to drag its feet and deny a formerly occupied country the right it has to its stolen heritage.

Dont be that guy, MFA. Be brave(8)

 

 

Relief plaque depicting a battle scene. Benin, Nigeria, now in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, United States of America.

 

 

But will the museum management have the courage and strength of character to make a new beginning in its history of restitution unless some pressure is put on it as the Italians did and secured the return of their looted objects? (9) The Nigerians must consider what measures they could take to achieve the objective of return of the artefactsNigeria must learn from the experience of States such as Egypt, Italy and Turkey that have been successful in securing the return of their looted artefacts (10). These States have followed their demands with concrete measures that obliged holding museums to consider seriously their demands for restitution. The domination of the West over Nigeria as well as the persistence of neo-colonial ideology seem to weaken Nigerias attempts at restitution. Radical changes in the culture establishment and the prevailing mentality seem urgent if Nigeria is to become really independent in its cultural policies. Queen-Mother Idia, Oba Akenzua I, Oba Ewuakpe and the other icons that have been in forced Western detention for decades are highly unlikely to return if the current age-old quite diplomacy policy, suffering and smiling line, prevails.

 

 

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, cannot deny to Nigerians what it has admitted, albeit reluctantly, to Italians, the right of owners to claim their looted cultural objects. The museum must finally admit that the Age of Restitution has arrived and attempts to put obstacles in way of claimants or to offer bogus arguments would, in the long run, not stop the movement of humanity towards more justice and equity. The museum could also follow the example of the Dallas Museum of Art which recently returned voluntarily to Turkey the Orpheus Mosaic that it acquired in 1999 after evidence was provided that the object had been looted from Turkey. (11)

 

 

An innocent African might be forgiven for thinking that a museum in a city that played a very prominent role in the American Revolution, a museum in a

country that always speaks loudly about human rights, would easily understand the need of Africans for their looted cultural artefacts. But Western museums are said to be offspring of the European Enlightenment. When the Enlightenment philosophers talked of human beings they did not include us Africans. It seems some museums have inherited the European philosophers racist attitude that Africans are not really part of humanity and that the Europeans and Americans have a right, indeed a duty, to determine the location and utilization of our human, natural and cultural resources. How otherwise can we explain that Westerners whose religions and morality condemn roundly the stealing of other peoples property can still in our days defend the indefensible keeping of looted artefacts? They do so without any shame and advance completely baseless arguments.

 

 

The people of Boston and indeed the whole Western world now know that Boston is keeping looted Nigerian artefacts in its Museum of Fine Arts and that the owners have been demanding their return without success.  Will the venerable museum pay any attention to the recent unanimous resolution of the United Nations, A/Res/67/80 which was sponsored by a large number of Member States including the United States? (12) Will Bostonians and indeed US Americans be proud of such an institution that acts in violation of United Nations resolutions and UNESCO principles? Would they not demand from the museum management an explanation and possible correction of such a shameful situation?

 

 

Do the museum officials and their trustees believe in freedom to develop and practice freely ones religion and culture? Are they not worried as a rich city, to be seen as robbing the poor of their cultural property? Those unwilling or unable to condemn the evil imperialist aggression and looting of the past are not very likely to condemn looting of the present. These are some of the issues that need to be discussed. If the museum retains the looted Benin artefacts, it will be acting against the will of the Benin people, the Oba and against the request of the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments, the organ charged with the preservation and conservation of Nigerian cultural objects.

 

 

Portuguese soldier, Benin, Nigeria, now in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, United States of America

 

 

Should the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, decide not to return the looted Benin artefacts and go on to organize its Benin exhibition without the people of Benin, without the Nigerians and against the will of Oba Erediauwa, the gread-grandson of Oba Ovonramwen from whose palace the British looted the artefacts, this will constitute a great insult to Nigerians and by implication, to all Africans. The damage done would be considerable. Future co-operation with the museum would be difficult for all African governments and museums. The African Council of Museums (AFRICOM) will no doubt have to take a stand on this matter as Nigeria is a member of the council. The Boston museum must ask itself what the purpose of the Benin exhibition will be. The African people will note how much or little respect American and Western institutions have for our freedoms of religion and culture. We would also know how to assess loud statements and claims about human rights.

 

 

R.H. Bacon, the Punitive Expeditions Intelligence Officer wrote on the burning of the Benin Royal Palace:

There was a dim grandeur about it all, and also

these seemed to a fate. Here was this head center

of iniqiuty, spared by us from its suitable end of

burning for the sake of holding the new seat of

justice where barbarism had held away, given into

our hands with the brand of Blood soaked into

every corner and …….. fire only could purge it, and

here on our lassa day we were to see its legitimate fate

overtake it.” (13):

 

 

 

 

                                                                                     K. Opoku, 1 January, 2013.

 

 

NOTES

 

 

1. Extract from a letter by several members of the British House of Lords (1)

http://www.timesonline.co.uk

 

 

2. K. Opoku, Blood Antiquities in Respectable Havens: Looted Benin Artefacts

Donated to American Museum, http://www.modernghana.com

3. Statement of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, reproduced in K.OpokuNigeria Reacts to Donation of Looted Benin Artefacts to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, http://www.modernghana.com

4. Tajudeen Sowole, After Sotheby’s controversial sales, great-grandson of another beneficiary discloses over thirty of 1897 looted Benin art pieces, http://africanartswithtaj.blogspot.co.at/

5. Ligali, Boston Museum opens dialogue over looted Benin artefacts. www.ligali.org

6. Akenzua, Edun (2000). “The Case of Benin”Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix 21, House of Commons, The United Kingdom Parliament, March2000http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmcumeds/371/371ap27.htm 

7. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, Statement of the Director General, titled, Controversial Donation of Looted Benin Art, reproduced in K. Opoku, Nigeria Reacts to Donation of Looted Benin Artefacts to Museum of Fine Arts,Boston,http://www.modernghana.com

8. http://www.thingsyoucanttakeback.com/2012/07/the-mfas-new-acquisition of-benin.html

9 MFA agrees to return disputed art to Italy, www.boston.com

10. Chasing the Aphroditehttp://chasingaphrodite.com/2013/01/04/chasing-aphrodite-2012-the-year-in-review/

 

 

11. Dallas Museum of Art returns to Turkey artefacts, ir acquired in 1999, Orpheus Mosaic, after evidence was provided that object was apparently looted from Turkey.

http://www.dallasnews.com

http://lootingmatters.blogspotMuseum returns stolen artefactshttp://www.iol.co.za/scitech/science/discovery/museum-returns-stolen-artefacts-1.1436435

 

 

12. See the latest General Assembly resolution, A/RES/67/80, titled Return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin, which was adopted unanimously on 12 December, 2012. The resolution had been co-sponsored by 98 Member States including Canada, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and the United States of America.

13. R. H. Bacon, Benin: City of Blood (pp. 107-108) cited by the great Ekpo Eyo, Benin; The Sack that was, http://www.edo-nation.net/eyo.htm

Oba Ovonramwen, during whose reign the British looted the Benin Bronzes with guards on board ship on his way to exile in Calabar in 1897. The gown he is wearing hides his shackles. Photograph by the Ibani Ijo photographer J A Green. From the Howie photo album in the archives of the Merseyside Maritime Museum

WILL BOSTON MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS RETURN LOOTED BENIN BRONZES.

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August 29th, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs, religious artifact theft, theft religious objects

HORNIMAN MUSEUM AND THE RESTITUTION OF BENIN BRONZES

http://www.museum-security.org/opoku_horniman.htm

August 29, 2011

LOOTED NIGERIAN BENIN BRONZES IN HORNIMAN MUSEUM, LONDON.

The exhibition is showcasing some of the works that made Benin (Nigeria) famous. It once again, reminds the world of a civilization truncated by the imperial forces of the colonialist. The works on show at this exhibition are some of the 3000 odd pieces of bronze and ivory works forcibly removed from my great grandfathers palace by some Britons who invaded Benin in 1897. The British kept some of the loot for themselves and sold the rest to European and American buyers. These works now adorn public museums and private collectors galleries, all over the world.

Omo NOba ErediauwaCFR. Oba of Benin (1)

Chief Owangue, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The name of the Horniman Museum does not figure prominently in the discussions relating to the ongoing restitution attempts by the people of Benin to recover their artefacts that were brutally looted by the British in their notorious invasion of the African kingdom in 1897.

An English friend of mine, a well-known art historian, had drawn my attention to the existence of the Benin collection in this museum, adding that although the collection was small, the quality of the objects was high and suggested that I add the Horniman Museum to my list of holders of Benin Bronzes. (2) I had forgotten about the suggestion to look at the Horniman Benin collection until my recent visit to London.

Perhaps this museum may have escaped the attention of many because it is not located in central London like the British Museum and also because its Benin and African collections are not as large as those of the museum in Bloomsbury. Of course, we never know what number of artefacts the museums have since they refuse to tell us. We do not know if the Horniman has other Benin artefacts in its depositary. In any case the Benin collection of the museum does not appear to be very large.  However, Annie E. Coombes states in her excellent book, Reinventing Africa, with reference to the founder of the museum, Frederick Horniman, that In 1897, he was quick to buy up a considerable amount of Benin material from established commercial sources and private collections.(3) We did not get the impression that there were lots of Benin materials. It would be interesting to know where most of the original material has gone. Incidentally, the museum does not provide any guide to its collections for visitors. My questions in this regard seemed to have embarrassed the museum employees.

Ekpenede, Iyase of Benin, Benin, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The Horniman Museum is located in very beautiful gardens that are in themselves worth visiting. The museum seems to be a perfect place for a day out for mothers with children. Its aquarium attracts a lot of attention. After a short walk through the gardens, we entered the museum itself and headed for the African Worlds of which the Benin bronzes form part.

The displayed  magnificent Benin bronzes undoubtedly come from the nefarious British invasion of 1897 as stated in publications of the museum. Indeed, it is stated that they were purchased in 1897 from W. J. Wider of the Punitive Expedition. The founder of the Horniman Museum, Frederick

Horniman, did not seem to have had any compunction about purchasing these blood artefacts that came directly from a member of the British invasion force that with fire and gun laid waste to Benin City and massacred its inhabitants:

The African collections contain important historical and archaeological collections, including extensive Egyptian burial material, some superb examples of 19th century high status Aymara metalwork and primitivist paintings from Ethiopia, and Benin brasses and ivories, purchased from W.J. Wider of the British Punitive Expedition of 1897. (4)

We do not know how many requests for restitution of the Benin bronzes have been made to the Horniman museum and by whom. The legendary Bernie Grant must have corresponded with the Horniman Museum as he contacted many museums on this issue. (5) The Benin Memorandum submitted to the British House of Commons by the Benin Royal Family   applied to museums in Britain, including  the Horniman Museum.(6) The museum officials however seem to believe they have developed a solution or partial solution to the issue of restitution. Anthony Alan Shelton, then Director, Horniman Museum, declared:

If the original acquisition was not contentious at the time, the ensuing history of European and American rights over the legal ownership of Benin artefacts has been a continuous source of friction with Nigeria, which we felt an ethical incumbency to confront. The partial and more equitable resolution we devised involved returning the voice of interpretation, if not the disputed objects, to the Bini people themselves. The response of Joseph [Eboreime] and the team he put together with the co-operation of the National Commission on Museums and Monuments was, to say the least, gracious and immensely rewarding. For over two years Joseph tirelessly directed research on the iconography and history of the bronzes in our collection, using written, archival, and  most important, oral sources from within the Royal Palace itself. Furthermore, by recording royal ceremonies he was able to relate historically situated events to their contemporary ritual re-enactments. (7)

This is a very remarkable statement. Until reading this declaration, I had assumed that each people had the right to interpret their own culture the way they saw fit. But Anthony Alan Shelton states that the Horniman Museum gave to Nigerians the right to interpret their own culture. Could he have been joking? The context of his statement in the Preface of a book published by the museum does not seem to indicate joke or irony. But can one give what one does not possess? Where does the Horniman Museum derive the right or duty to determine who can interpret Nigerian artefacts? Did the Nigerians not have this right before the museum generously granted them such a right? So what have the Nigerians obtained in this solution or partial solution which means in effect that the museum keeps the Benin artefacts but the Nigerians can provide the explanation of functions of the objects and their significance? Nothing.  In any case, any solution that ends with the present holders of the looted artefacts keeping them, without even envisaging the eventual possibility that some of the artefacts may be returned, is surely invalidab initio.

 

Edogun, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

How can one say If the original acquisition was not contentious at the time with regard to objects which were acquired through a bloody invasion? What form of action indicates contention more dramatically and forcefully than the very act of actively resisting foreign aggression? Or is the phrase not contentious confined to the circle of Western dealers who generally do not care about the means used in obtaining artefacts and are not worried that these are blood artefacts for which many Benin people have paid with their lives? Certainly, the people of Benin and Africans generally did not accept brutal invasions and the accompanying looting of their precious artefacts. Even in rapacious Europe, there were some voices that objected to such imperialist acts as the aggressive action of the British invasion. Victor Hugo had already condemned the Anglo-French attack on the Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860. (8) The seizure of the Benin artefacts in 1897 was contrary to the general legal opinion in Europe at that time that works of science and art should be protected from plunder in wartime. Some Western scholars are unwilling to recognize that after the Napoleonic spoliations and the restitutions that followed, it was no longer acceptable to deprive defeated States and their people of their artworks. Prof. Neil Brodie has recently stated, It should be recognised internationally that the Benin artworks were taken forcibly by an imperial power and, following the precedents of 1815 and 1945, that they should be returned.(9)

 

Chief Priest of the River Deity, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

We learn from  Anthony  Alan Shelton that: The Horniman Museum is committed to working towards developing new, equitable and respectful relationships not only with the peoples of Africa, but with the rest of the world. In attempting to contribute to balancing the one way flow of information from the southern to the northern hemisphere, we put exhibitions and collections on the world wide web, and, in the case of Benin, have supplied the  National Museum with computer facilities to enable school children and researchers to access the exhibition to which the Benin people have themselves contributed so much. (10)

If the Horniman Museum intended to develop new, equitable and respectful relationships not only with the peoples of Africa, they could have started by a clear apology for the 1897 brutal invasion of Benin that made it possible to loot the artefacts they are now holding and as a mark of their sincerity, they could have offered to return some of the artefacts. No matter how many computers they offer, keeping looted objects leaves intact, as it were, the original offence and liability. Have they ever considered the alternative of returning the originals to the owners and viewing them from their computers in London? The museum officials also know that Benin children and, I may add artists and others seeing Benin artefacts via internet is in no way comparable to seeing the original objects directly.  What is easily available to children and adults in London is denied to children and adults in Benin.

Many Western museums do not seem to appreciate the need to make concrete reconciliatory gestures by returning some of the artefacts looted or stolen in the colonial era. They seem to have become so accustomed to these artefacts in their museums that the very idea of parting with some of them appears unthinkable. Could this be due to residual colonialism and persistent racists attitudes? Fortunately, some Westerners, such as the former French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, are beginning to understand the absolute need to return some of the looted artefacts. Speaking to Le Monde about the return of looted Korean manuscripts by France to Korea, Lang expressed the view that those manuscripts have their place more in Korea than in France; they belonged to the memory, history and the soul of Korea. He suggested that the question of restitution could not be postponed forever and that an international conference should be called to settle the issue. (11)

 

Priest of Ugbor Village with dreadlocks, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The Horniman Museum seems convinced that it has no restitution problem as far as the Benin bronzes are concerned. The statement that the Nigerian scholar who helped the museum with the interpretation of the Benin bronzes even obtained the help of the Benin Royal Family, is intended to convey, without expressly saying so, that the Royal Family and the people of Benin have approved the possession of the Bronzes by the museum. This has led Maev Kennedy in a British newspaper, The Guardian, to state that:

While the African Restitution Movement website labels the British Museum’s bronzes as “stolen”, the Horniman museum in South London’s new African gallery, the first in a national museum in Britain, displays them with the full agreement of the Benin people(12)

Without further concrete documentary evidence, we cannot accept, merely on the basis of misleading declarations that the people of Benin approve of the Hornimans display of the looted Bronzes. It is to be noted, that the statement refers to displaying objects when in fact the main dispute is about possession and ownership. To be sure, how museums display the Benin bronzes must interest the Benin people and others but the main question relates to possession, control and ownership of the looted objects. Misleading statements on display of objects should not deflect from the main substantive question of ownership.

The Royal Family of Benin has always insisted on the return of the looted Benin artefacts and when they participate in exhibitions, they always make it very clear that their participation is in no way to be construed as approval of the notorious 1897 invasion.  The Royal delegation to the exhibition Benin Kings and Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria, September 2007 in Vienna   made it absolutely clear in their statement that they wanted their art objects back in Benin. Prince G.I. Akenzua, Enogie of Evbuobanosa, brother of the Oba   cautioned that the participation of the Royals in the exhibition should not be construed as condoning in any way the British aggression against Benin in 1897. Indeed, the brutal methods of the British in the invasion as well as their subsequent refusals to return at least some of the looted artefacts make it extremely difficult for any Benin person or African to forgive or forget this notorious aggression which is still being supported, directly or indirectly,  by some contemporary Westerners in their refusal even to envisage the return of some of the looted objects and by presenting baseless arguments to justify their retention in the Western world where they do not belong.

The people of Benin as well as other African peoples whose cultural artefacts have been looted by Western States are often faced with the question of assisting the museums of those very rapacious States in the interpretation of the looted artefacts. Many feel that, despite the contradictory situation, they must, in the interest of scholarship, assist in giving true and correct interpretation of the nature and functions of the artefacts. Does this assistance and cooperation imply approval of previous colonial aggressions?  A distinction must be made between such assistance in the interest of knowledge and enlightenment and the basic questions relating to the original aggression and loot under the colonial regime. We are no where near to finding solutions to the fundamental question because of Western refusal to acknowledge the wrongful and evil nature of colonial aggression and despoliation, and the necessity of returning some of the looted artefacts. There comes a point in time when one may question the legitimacy of such co-operation when Western States and museums seem to adopt a cooperative stance only when this serves their interests.

 

Priest Doctor of the Royal Army and Benin War Chief, Benin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum, London, United Kingdom.

If the Horniman Museum is really interested in equitable and respectful relationships not only with the peoples of Africa, but with the rest of the world,

the museum must take concrete steps such as returning a few of the Benin bronzes, in response to the long-standing request from the Benin Royal Family and in fulfilment of several UNESCO and United Nations resolutions.

We left the Horniman Museum and Gardens with the firm impression that the museum no longer aspires to be a place where people can learn about various cultures, including African and Benin cultures. The museum in Forest Hill appeared more to be an amusement and educative place for families with children. The gardens, the aquarium and the cafeteria all seem to have been made with families and children in mind.

Despite kids running around, we were able to concentrate our attention on the African Worlds and the Benin Bronzes. We concluded that we had seen better expositions of the African and Benin artefacts elsewhere. Our shock was all the greater as, in preparing this article, we read the opinion of others on the Horniman display of African artefacts. Jonathan Jones, writing in the Guardian states:

 

Oba OrhogbuaBenin, Nigeria, now in Horniman Museum London, United Kingdom

However, the Horniman’s real triumph is its African Worlds gallery. Here, an outstanding collection of African art, from Benin bronzes to Egyptian mummy cases, is displayed in a way that I’m afraid to say puts the British Museum‘s Africa gallery to shame. It’s more visual, more aesthetically responsive to continent and diaspora, art and social life, past and present. It’s less preachy, while at the same time being more Afro-centric. It’s brilliant and others should emulate it. (13)

Did The Guardian writer visit the same museum in Forest Hill as we did recently? It is not my brief to defend the British Museum but anyone who has visited the imperial and imperialist museum would agree that, despite its deficiencies and wrongful policy as regards restitution of looted artefacts such as the Benin Bronzes, it clearly does not have much to learn from the Horniman Museum both as regards content and exposition.(14)  To be sure, the African Gallery of the British Museum would be better placed in a larger hall, outside the subterranean cellar where it has been condemned. Moreover, space could be gained by returning some of the African artefacts to their country of origin as has been claimed by many Africans and recommended by the UNESCO and the United Nations. But this is different from recommending learning from the Horniman Museum where the African and Benin artefacts are not better displayed.

Our concern is with the continued detention of Benin bronzes by Western museums and institutions such as the Horniman Museum despite the illegal and illegitimate mode of acquisition, involving the massacre of Benin people and the violent destruction of Benin City by burning.  Under these circumstances, a refusal to return, even symbolically, a few of the looted objects could be seen as almost condoning the original act of looting and destruction, despite all protestations to the contrary.

Members of the notorious British Punitive Expedition of 1897 against Benin, posing proudly with looted Benin ivories and bronze objects.

Dr. Spink

Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the British museum has been a party to any illegality.

 Mr. Grant

Far be it from me to suggest such an appalling thing, but there are those who will say that the ways in which certain articles have been acquired leave a lot to be desired. The House would do a great service to people around the world if it were to investigate the ways in which some artefacts were gathered and came to be displayed in the British museum.(15)

Kwame Opoku, 26 August, 2011.

NOTES

1. Introductory Note to the catalogue of the exhibition Benin Kings

And Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria, Snoeck Publishers, 2007, p.13.

2, Kwame Opoku, Reflections on the Abortive Queen-Mother Idia Mask Auction: Tactical Withdrawal or Decision of Principle? http://www.modernghana.com 

Phillip  J.C. Dark mentions in An Introduction to Benin Art and Technology (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1973, p, 80) Horniman Museum as having a collection of Benin Art but in his  contribution to a later book in 1975, African Images-Essays in African Iconology,( Eds. Daniel E. McCall  and Edna G. Bay, Africana Publishing Co. New York, London. p. 90) he does not include Horniman Museum among the list of Museums and Collections of Benin Art.

In her interesting Masters dissertation, Museums and their Voices: A Contemporary Study of the Benin Bronzespresented in May 2006 at Gteborg University, Charlotte Dohlvik did not include the Horniman Museum in her list of museums that hold Benin Bronze heads since she was dealing only with the commemorative heads but her general comments on the Benin bronzes may be of interest to readers.

3. Annie E. Coombes, Reinventing Africa, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1994, p.150. After our visit to the museum, we obtained an old catalogue of the museum, Guide to the Collections in the Horniman Museum and Library, 1921. This catalogue describes the Benin collection as follows

The Benin collection, obtained shortly after the town was destroyed by a British force in 1897, contains the following specimens:-a number of bronze panels with figures in high relief; small bronze pendants with animal figures; 

small pendants with human figures ;brass mask with face showing tribal marks; brass fowl, bell, armlet, dancing wands; ivory armlets ;ivory handles with human figure at end (?handles of fly-whisks) ;wooden comb; carved wooden frame: and other objects. p.43.

The catalogue also contains some remarkable statements such as:

Since the backward races of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and America- in so far as they have not become semi-civilised or extinct- still make use of simple primitive contrivances analogous to those discarded by our remote ancestors, a large part of the collection consists of specimens from such peoples. p.13.

4. Acquisition and Disposal Policy January 2010, p16

Horniman Museum and Gardens, May 2011 http://wzeu.ask.com/       

5. K. Opoku, Reflections on the Abortive Queen-Mother Idia Mask Auction: Tactical Withdrawal or Decision of Principle? http://www.modernghana.com

6. Akenzua, Edun (2000). “The Case of Benin”. Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix 21, House of Commons, The United Kingdom Parliament, March 2000.

7. Anthony Alan Shelton, Preface in Karel Arnaut (Ed), Re-visions: New Perspectives on the African Collections of the Horniman Museum, 2000, The Horniman Museum and Gardens, London, Museu Antropologico da Universidade de Coimbra, p.10.

8. See reference to Victor Hugos view on the Anglo-British invasion of the Summer Palace in Beijing (Peking) in K. Opoku, Chinese Research Artefacts Looted in Anglo-French Attack on Summer Palace in 1860:  Do Great Museums Not Keep Records?http://www.modernghana. com

 KOpoku. Is it not time to fulfil Victor Hugos wish? Comments on Chinese Claim to looted Artefacts on Sale at Christies.

9. Neil Brodie, Compromise and restorative justice: More about Benin,

http://www.museum-security.org

10. Karel Arnaut (Ed), op. cit, p. 12

11. Jack Lang, La question des restitutions ne peut rester ternellement taboue, Le Monde, 21 July, 2011, p. 21. When President Sarkozy announced that the Korean manuscripts looted by French soldiers in the colonial period, would be restored to South Korea, there was a vociferous outcry, especially from employees of the Bibliotheque National, that the act amounted to disposing of national patrimony of France, conveniently forgetting that those documents were the national treasures of Korea which the French had looted.

It is true though that in restitution matters, some Westerners seem to find it difficult to think logically and to apply the elementary principles of justice and morality. They seem to believe that nothing is more natural than for Westerners to loot/steal African and Asian artefacts. Some even believe the West has a duty to save African artefacts. See K. Opoku, Protest by Officials at the French Bibliotheque National at the Repatriation of Looted Documents back to Koreahttp://www.elginism.com

12. Mary Kennedy, A lesson in lost propertyThe Guardian, Saturday 30 October 1999.   http://www.guardian.co

14.  For a positive assessment of Hornimans method of exposition, see Kate Sturge The Other on Display:Translation in the Ethnographic Museum

www.google.com                                                                                                                                                                                                   

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1996/mar/14/slavery-legacy#S5LV0570P0_19960314_HOL_224

When Bernie Grant went to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow, to discuss the issue of the return of the Benin bronzes, he received a negative answer from the Director of the museum, John Spaulding.  During this visit, he went to view the Benin objects and had a conversation with the head of curatorial service of the museum, Mark ONeill which was reported as follows: Mr O’Neill said he would have to be convinced by an independent expert that Glasgow’s collection was unique before restitution could be considered. He told Mr Grant: “If we went through every object and assessed how it got here, then we could be in a situation where we were repatriating 60 or 70% of our collection and I don’t think society has reached that stage. “The bottom line here is that we are not in the business of redressing historic wrongs.

Alison Hardie, Glasgow museum director rejects request from Africa for the return of looted artefacts. Battle royal for Benin relics, Herald, Scotland, Sat 25 Jan. 1997. See also Dawn to Dusk: A Biography of Bernie Grant MP by Eric A. Grant. ITUNI Books, London, 2006, pp. 118-119.

HORNIMAN MUSEUM AND THE RESTITUTION OF BENIN BRONZES.

August 29th, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects

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August 24th, 2011

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Dutch Museum to sell African Collection

http://www.museum-security.org/Kwame_Opoku_dutch_museum_to_sell_african_collection.htm

August 23, 2011

Dutch Museum to sell African Collection

“We are going to sell the entire Africa collection and the Americas collection, and will only keep the top pieces in the rest of our collection so we can focus on Asian art,”.

 Stanley Bremer, Director at Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam.

Crown, Asante, Ghana, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

We were shocked to read the news that Rotterdams Wereldmuseum  (World Museum) is planning to sell its African and American collections to cover shortfalls made likely by the economic crisis in Europe and planned cuts in state subsidies to the arts in 2013. (1)

It is of course not our business to tell a museum how to conduct its affairs. Our concern is, however, the selling of African art objects that may have been looted,   stolen or extorted during the colonial era. As we all know, the legal status of many African artefacts is still disputed by the African owners and the European museums that are holding them.

Drum, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

The idea of a museum selling African artefacts undermines all the arguments made for the acquisition and retention of African artefacts by European museums and other institutions. This form of commodification will make many African ancestors turn in their graves and wonder whether their descendants have any cultural values left intact after slavery and colonization.

The selling and buying of sacred and cultural objects of others has become the business of many, including museums. One recalls the shock and amazement of many when it became known that the British Museum had been in the habit of selling Benin artefacts for cash. (2)

         Bell, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Selling and buying art objects whose exact legal status is in doubt or contested constitutes risky business and those interested should be aware of this crucial factor that may cause trouble in future.

Can we assume that the museum would provide all potential buyers the full history of the possession of the objects proposed for sale? It is well known that museums are very reluctant to give detailed information on the acquisition history of African objects in their collections since most of them have been acquired either through violence or in circumstances that are dubious. It may be significant that the Netherlands adhered rather late on 17 July 2009 to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. (3)  Many museums may still not be inclined to abide by the conditions of the convention as regards transparency.

 Relief, Benin, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam. Netherlands

African embassies in  Europe may find it worthwhile to enter into contact with the Dutch museum to find out what objects  are now being proposed for sale and to ensure that artefacts claimed by their peoples and governments are not included or better still, request that they are returned since the Wereldmuseum has now no use for these objects. They should reserve the rights of their peoples and governments to sue whoever buys objects that should have been returned to them long ago. The Wereldmuseum has some 9878 African objects of which 713 come from Angola, 68 from Cameroon, 199 from Ghana, 1134 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, 391 from Mali, 353 from Nigeria, including 204 from Benin         http://www.wereldmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken

The Dutch were in Africa for a considerable period of time and some of the artefacts in Dutch museums may be of historical value to African States. (4)

But can the Wereldmuseum continue to be a world museum without African and American collections?

Sanza, Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Kwame Opoku, 22 August,2011..

Pendant , Benin. Nigeria, now in Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam, Netherlands

NOTES

1. http://www.printfriendly.com Dutch-museums-may-sell-treasures-to-make-ends-meet.ashx%2523axzz1VRhcy21C   Reuters. Dutch museums may sell treasures to make ends meethttp://www.reuters.com Dutch News.nl  Rotterdam museum may sell its entire African collection, http://www.dutchnews.nl

2 Martin Bailey, British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes, http://www.forbes.com  Museum Security Network, British Museum sold Benin Bronzes for 75 each.

http://www.museum-security.org

3. http://portal.unesco.org

 A History of Ghanaby W. E. F. Ward (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1967) has a good account of the Dutch presence in Ghana from 1598 to 1872 when they ceded their possessions to the British.

 The Dutch had driven out the Portuguese from the Gold Coast in 1637 before they were in turn forced to cede their possessions to the British by treaty in 1872 and thus leave an area where many European countries had sought to secure foothold because of the gold resources in the land. See Albert van Dantzig, Forts and Castles of Ghana, (1980, Sedco Publishing Ltd, Accra) as well as Kwesi J. Anquandah, Castles and Forts of Ghana, (Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, Accra, 1999).


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July 26, 2011

PRESS RELEASE


PHILADELPHIA SHOP OWNER CHARGED IN AFRICAN ELEPHANT IVORY SMUGGLING INVESTIGATION

Federal Agents Seize Approximately One Ton of Elephant Ivory


BROOKLYN, NY – The owner of a Philadelphia African art store, Victor Gordon, was arrested earlier today on charges of conspiracy, smuggling and Lacey Act violations related to the illegal importation and sale of African elephant ivory. As part of the government’s investigation, federal agents seized approximately one ton of elephant ivory – one of the largest U.S. seizures of elephant ivory on record. Gordon is scheduled to have his initial appearance and arraignment today before United States Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold, at the U.S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York.

The criminal charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Salvatore Amato, Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region Office of Law Enforcement.

As alleged in the ten-count felony indictment, Gordon paid a co-conspirator to travel to Africa to purchase raw elephant ivory and have it carved to Gordon’s specifications. In advance of the trips, Gordon provided the co-conspirator with photographs or other depictions of ivory carvings, which served as templates for the ivory carvers in Africa, and directed the co-conspirator to stain or dye the elephant ivory so that the specimens would appear old. Gordon then planned and financed the illegal importation of the ivory from Africa to the United States through John F. Kennedy International Airport and sold the carvings to customers at his store in Philadelphia.

Illegal trade in African elephant ivory is a major threat to elephant populations in Africa, particularly in the hardest hit poaching regions of West and Central Africa, where the ivory in this investigation originated. African elephants are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”), an international treaty that entered into force in 1975 to prevent species from becoming endangered or extinct due to international trade. The African elephant is also listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The global demand for elephant ivory led to devastating declines in the number of these giant animals, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite international efforts to control the ivory trade and stop the decline of elephant populations, prices and demand remain high, causing continued elephant poaching and illegal ivory finding its way into international and domestic markets.

“The amount of the elephant ivory allegedly plundered in this case is staggering and highlights the seriousness of the charged crimes. We all have a responsibility to protect endangered species, both for their sake and for the sake of our own future generations,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “We will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who illegally engage in trade involving endangered and threatened species.” Ms. Lynch commended the agents and inspectors of the Fish and Wildlife Service for their outstanding efforts in leading this investigation and expressed her grateful appreciation to the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, for its cooperation and assistance.

“Illegal ivory trafficking jeopardizes the survival of an imperiled species and undermines decades worth of efforts to conserve African elephants. With this investigation, we’ve shown our commitment to tracking down profiteers who deal in black market ivory in the United States,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent-in-Charge Amato.

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment. The indictment also seeks forfeiture all the seized and sold ivory.

The government’s ongoing investigation into the importation of elephant ivory from Africa into the United States has already resulted in the convictions of eight defendants for federal smuggling and/or Lacey Act violations.

The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Vamshi Reddy and Claire Kedeshian.

The Defendant:

VICTOR GORDON
Age: 68

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FRANCO-NIGERIAN AGREEMENT ON LOOTED/STOLEN NOK SCULPTURE

REVISITING LOOTED NIGERIAN NOK TERRACOTTA  SCULPTURES IN LOUVRE / MUSÉE DU QUAI BRANLY, PARIS

His attitude is dishonourable. I regret that Nigeria was weak enough to accept to sign an agreement in order to give an appearance of legality to this acquisition. But above all, the fault lies with the French president who made the request. The responsible officials of the museum should be ashamed to have placed their Head of State and their own country in such a deplorable situation.”

 Lord Renfrew (1)

Figure of a seated male. One of the looted Nigerian Nok terracotta bought by the French, now in the possession of the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France, with post factum Nigerian consent.

After reviewing the great Ekpo Eyo’s last book, Masterpieces of Nigerian Art

which included images of the looted Nok sculptures, I felt the need to revisit these  remarkable pieces that the French were allowed to keep by the Nigerian government. (2)

Readers will no doubt recall the circumstances under which the French acquired three impressive Nok terracotta sculptures. Briefly, the French bought the three sculptures from a  Belgian  dealer in 1998 for 2.5 million francs even though they were fully aware that  under  Nigerian  law no antiquities may be exported from the country without the permission of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and that the three objects were on the ICOM Red List of items that are prohibited for export from Nigeria. It took the intervention of ICOM to bring the matter to discussion and to the embarrassment of the French who had bought the pieces in 1999 for the planned museum, Musée du Quai Branly(3)  Finally, the French acknowledged the ownership of Nigeria in those pieces and signed an agreement by which Nigeria loaned the pieces to France for a period of twenty-five years which was renewable. The agreement with France shocked those interested in the preservation of African heritage insofar as it sent a wrong message to looters and dampened attempts to prevent looting. Prof. Shyllon, a leading Nigerian expert, described the agreement as an “unrighteous conclusion.” (4)

It should be added though that the French may well have been under the impression that despite the provisions of the law forbidding such exports, there would be no objections from the Nigerian government. After all, at least one of the Nok sculptures had appeared in 1998 in an exhibition in Brussels entitled The Birth of Art in Africa – Nok Statuary in Nigeria, organized by the Banque Générale du Luxembourg. In the catalogue of the exhibition, the Chairman of the Board of Directors thanked the Nigerian government for its support:

The government of Nigeria offered its support to our bank for the organization of this exhibition. We wish to thank their representatives for their precious help and their open-mindedness”. (5) In the introduction to the catalogue, written by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Nigeria, we read: “Therefore, let me, on behalf of my government and the business communities in Nigeria, register my sincere appreciation for organizing the exhibition”. (6)  There was here no objection from the government of a State from which some of the exhibited artefacts were considered to have been looted.

 

 Terra cotta piece with figures in low-relief. One of the looted Nigerian Nok terracotta bought by the French, now in the possession of the Musée du Quai Branly/Louvre, Paris, France, with  post factum Nigerian consent.

The text of the strange Franco-Nigerian agreement was never published but we know from discussion in ICOM that the organization recommended that“visitors should be clearly informed of the precise status of these objects and the way in which they were discovered.” (7)

We visited first the main building of the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, where most of the looted African artworks are kept and then proceeded to the part of the Louvre Museum, called the Pavillion de Sessions where the looted Nigerian

terracotta  as well as other artefacts are to be found.  The Pavillon des Sessions was inaugurated in April 2000 and was to be part of the future Musée du

Quai Branly which was scheduled to open in 2006. The Pavillon is a wing of the Louvre which is dedicated to the arts of Africa, Oceania, Asia and America. This annex to the Musée du Quai Branly exhibits some 120 masterpieces from those continents. (8)

Unlike African artefacts in the main building at Quai Branly which are presented in semi-obscurity or dim light, we noted with satisfaction that the three objects were presented in a well-lit hall under the same conditions as objects from America, Asia and Oceania. (9) What surprised us though was that even though there are written notes indicating that the three objects came from Nigeria, there is no express mention that they were there by virtue of the consent of the Nigerian government to the French purchase. The history of the objects was also not recounted in such a way that the average museum visitor would know how these Nigerian sculptures came to the French museum. It is stated in a notice on each of the three objects that it was “Deposit of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. What can this mean to the average visitor? A museum visitor might think that Nigeria had deposited the object there for safekeeping because of fear of rampant burglary in Nigeria. Another visitor might consider the “Deposit” as some sort of security presented by Nigeria for a loan from France. There is no where a specific statement that these objects which France bought from the illegal market are acknowledged as property of Nigeria and the history of the purchase by France disappears. Nigeria has an embassy in Paris and several Nigerian officials visit Paris each month. We assume that some of them would have visited the Pavilion des sessions and would report back home on the observance or the non-observance of the agreement between France and Nigeria relating to the Nok sculptures. But how does one evaluate an agreement that was never published?

Figure of a bearded male. One of the looted Nigerian Nok terracotta bought by the French, now in the possession of the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France, with  post factum Nigerian consent.

Did the recommendation of ICOM that “visitors should be clearly informed of the precise status of these objects and the way in which they were discovered” become part of the Franco-Nigerian agreement or did it remain a mere recommendation?   We know from various statements and sources what items were dealt with in the agreement even though the text of the agreement was not published. For example, a statement from the French Culture Minister, Catherine Tasca, announced the signing of an agreement between France and Nigeria adding that an agreement on cooperation will be signed dealing with training, technical assistance, inventory of collections and research on dating of archaeological objects. http://www.culture.gouv.fr

The expiration of the twenty-five years term of the unpublished treaty would  no doubt be occasion for  Nigerians to consider various actions connected to the looted Nok artefacts and to renew or not to renew what Prof. Shyllon has rightly described as an “unrighteous conclusion.” Lord Renfrew and others quite correctly criticised sharply the French for buying objects they knew to have been looted. The main blame seems to have been put on the French. However, many accounts also underline the Nigerian role in the whole affair(10)

Trophy Head,  Benin, Nigeria, now in the Palais des Sessions, Paris, France. Part of the objects looted by the British in 1897 from Benin, Nigeria.This artefact was sold to the Musée du Quai Branly by Musée Barbier-Mueller.

Should Nigerians wait for the expiration of the 25 years term of the agreement before seeking the return of the looted Nok objects?  Some might think that given the patently illegal manner in which the French procured these objects, the flagrant disrespect of Nigerian laws and all the circumstances surrounding these objects, the best thing will be to start now (what should have been done long ago) by telling the French to return them. The French knew perfectly well that it was illegal to export Nok objects from Nigeria. The pretence they sometimes make that they bought the objects in good faith from the free market should not be taken seriously. But the conduct of the Nigerian President Obasanjo in giving approval to the nefarious agreement also deserves clear condemnation. Nigerian officials responsible for preserving the nation’s cultural heritage had advised against approving such an arrangement with the French since it was a clear violation of Nigerian law but the President went ahead.

Warriors holding ceremonial swords, Benin, Nigeria, now at the Palais des Sessions, Louvre, Paris, France. Part of the objects looted by the British in 1897 from Benin, Nigeria. This artefact was sold to the Musée du Quai Branly by Musée Barbier-Mueller.

The present government of Nigeria, headed by President Jonathan Goodluck, has declared its intention of setting up a body that will have the mandate of bringing back to Nigeria the artefacts that have been looted/stolen from the country and are now outside(11) Nok artefacts should be on the list of items that should return home. Nigeria should augment its list of artefacts she seeks to recover to include Nok artefacts. (12)

Nigeria should reclaim not only artefacts stolen/looted long ago but also those stolen recently and bought by States that should be discouraging looting of artefacts. A request for the return of the Nok objects given away by a former President and others in violation of the law will send the right message to the peoples of the world that Nigeria is serious about recovering her looted heritage. It would also demonstrate that everyone is subject to the law even if he is a high official or president.  One of the basic rules of democracy is the observance of the law, starting with the constitutional law. African governments must not only subscribe to this principle but should enforce it and demonstrate its application in all matters of the Stateincluding cultural matters. The present government is not bound by acts done in clear violation of Nigerian law and International Law in circumstances where all concerned knew that their actions were in violation of well-established rules for the protection of the national heritage of Nigeria. In this connection, Nigeria should also formally ask Great Britain to return the Nigerian artefact that Yakubu Gowan, then military dictator of Nigeria, took to the British Queen on a visit to Britain in 1973(13) It should not be accepted that Western countries encourage African dictators in their patent violations of laws, encouraging them to illegally transfer wealth of their countries and sometime later bomb them, as it were, back into democracy. A nation that prides itself of being democratic cannot encourage dictators in their violations of laws.

The actions of the two Nigerian presidents are so unconscionable that some might be tempted to assume they acted in ignorance of the serious violation of the law. However, they must have been advised by officials charged with preserving Nigeria’s cultural heritage that these actions were wrong. In any case, do we need any specialists to advise that giving away national treasures is clearly a betrayal of national interest? But what about officials who write forewords or introductions to catalogues or books in which the stolen or looted

Nigerian artefacts are proudly displayed? Should Nigerian scholars take part at all in an enterprise where the highlights are constituted by looted artefacts such as Nok sculptures?  Can we assume that where a high official or scholar participates in such enterprise that consent had been given to export the artefacts discussed? (14)  There is here a need for clear rules of guidance, at least for government officials, as to how Nigerians and other Africans should act in connection with projects that involve one way or other, looted/stolen national treasures. Dealing with stolen items cannot simply be left to individual conscience or to indifference.

In trying to secure the participation of African officials, scholars and others in exhibitions where the main highlights are constituted by stolen/looted artefacts from their countries, organizers seek to obtain some legitimacy for an enterprise that may be subject to legal and moral objections. The display of looted or stolen objects risks criticism from several quarters. To some extent, the participation of Africans in such exhibitions, for whatever reason, lends to the show some legitimacy even if the African official indicates that his participation does not imply approval or connivance at the earlier brutal invasion or other crime. In any case, the mere presence of African participants lessens the moral revulsion and objection that might otherwise arise. African collaboration also lessens the pressure on the Western holders of looted artefacts to return the objects or at least to seek some form of accommodation with those deprived of their cultural artefacts.  African participation in major exhibitions organized in the last decades has not resulted in any restitution of looted objects or in any significant modifications in the attitude of the position of Western holders of looted African artefacts. On the contrary, they have emboldened Western museums in their refusals and encouraged the conception that African artefacts do not belong to Africans alone but to the whole of mankind; that the relevant question is not who owns what but who can best look after the significant cultural artefacts of humankind. But nobody is discussing whether European artefacts belong to Europeans or to humankind. Britain and Greece are still disputing the ownership of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles.

Our French and the British contemporaries could have been supporters of the recovery of African artefacts that had been looted/stolen in the colonial and post Independence periods. As inheritors to colonial loot, they are best informed about the state and status of cultural artefacts in the former colonies. Unfortunately, the acts and policies of French and British museums and authorities clearly indicate that they are not willing to help in matters of restitution. On the contrary, they are fighting to keep what the colonialists looted or carted away from the colonies as well as objects recently looted. In this process, they have managed to involve Africans, even if violations of the law have to be committed. Thus the case of the three looted Nok sculptures now in Paris can serve as a good example for the implications of restitution of cultural artefacts from the African continent and African complicity in the plundering of the cultural heritage of the continent.

“It is indeed unfortunate that so much Nok material has been looted over time to supply the international market. Properly excavated, such pieces might have shed valuable light on the Nok culture.”  Ekpo Eyo. (15)

                                                                            Kwame Opoku. 14 July. 2011

Among the impressive African objects in the Pavillon des Sessions is this sculpture of Gou, God of war that the French looted in 1892 from the former French colony, Dahomey, now Republic of Benin.

NOTES

1. Lord Renfrew in interview with Noce Vincent in Liberationentitled«L’attitude de Chirac est déshonorante»        http://www.liberation.fr  

« Je trouve son attitude déshonorante. Je regrette que le Nigeria ait eu la faiblesse d’accepter de signer un accord pour donner une apparence légale à cette acquisition. Mais, par-dessus tout, la faute en incombe au président français, qui en a fait la demande. Les responsables du musée devraient avoir honte d’avoir placé leur chef d’Etat et leur propre pays dans une position aussi déplorable.»  Translation from  the French by K.Opoku.

See the following articles in  Liberation: “Paris conforte l’archeo-trafic”.  http://www.liberation.fr      Des pillages alignés sur le marché.  http://www.liberation.fr

See also, John Henley, “Louvre hit by looted art row”, The Observer, April 23, 2000

http://www.arcl.ed.ac.uk

2. K. Opoku, “Excellence and Erudition: Ekpo Eyo’s Masterpieces of Nigerian

Art”, www.modernghana.com

4. F.Shyllon. “Negotiations for the Return of Nok Sculptures from Nigeria – An unrighteous Conclusion.”http://portal.unesco.org See also the account of French

purchase of the Nok sculptures in Sally Price, op. cit pp .6780

 5. Bernard de Grunne, The Birth of Art in Africa – Nok Statuary in Nigeria,

1998Editions Adam Biro, Paris, p.10.

6. Ibid. p.11

7.  ICOM Press Releases; 5 March 2002.
Nigeria’s
 Ownership of Nok and Sokoto Objects Recognized.
 
http://archives.icom.museum/press

8. On the Pavillon des Sessions, see inter alia, Constantine Petridis, “Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas – recent exhibitions”,

http://findarticles.com

The New York Times, Chirac Exalts African Art, Legal and (Maybe) Illegal”, http://www.nytimes.com

Raymond Corbey, “Arts premiers in the Louvre”, http://www.google.

Anthropology Today Vol 16 No 4, August 2000.

See also the excellent photos in Lessing Photo Archive,

http://www.lessing-photo.com

Wikimedia,      http://commons.wikimedia.org

Also of great interest is the DVD, Chefs-d’oeuvre et civilisations

Arts Premiers au LouvreLe Cd officiel.

10. The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (http://www.mcdonald.cam. reported: “Controversy continues concerning the Louvre’s decision to exhibit two recently purchased Nok terracottas in their new gallery for art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas (see In the News CWC Issue 6), opened by PresidenChirac in April. The Art Newspaper (June) reports that, according to an unpublished account by an official in the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments,President Chirac first approached the then Nigerian president, seeking approval to buy the pieces (on sale in Brussels for a reported $360,000  2 years ago). Approval was not forthcoming since the Commission believed such a deal would ‘confer legality . . . and encourage further looting’. Apparently, in May 1999 President Chirac raised the matter again with the new Nigerian government; the National Commission’s reservations were overturned and an agreement reached whereby the French would acquire the pieces (and one other Sokoto sculpture) with government blessing in return for technical assistance to Nigerian museums. The Nigerian president presented them personally when the deal was signed in February.

However, in April, the Nigerian embassy in Paris issued a statement which referred to the Nok pieces in the Louvre, warned ‘individuals or groups against the purchase, sale or export’ of such items, explaining that sale, export or transfer violates various Nigerian laws and has been condemned by ICOM (see In The New CWC Issue 6). Following fresh controversy over the case, generated by archaeologist Lord Renfrew’s comments that Chirac had displayed a ‘dishonourable attitude’, Nigeria’s ambassador to Paris, Abiodun Aina, has denied that his government reached an agreement with France and called for the pieces to be repatriated. The case is now being investigated by art crime specialists in the French police. The Louvre has emphasized that it had no role in the acquisition of the contested statues”.

See also an interview of the Director of the Musée du Quai Branly who stated that Obasanjo came personally to the Pavillon des sessions and gave approval:

 « Nous avons acheté ces statues nok dans des conditions parfaitement légales au regard de la législation française de l’époque. Notre prise de risque était éthique mais pas juridique. Nous avons demandé au gouvernement nigérian sa position. Le président Obasanjo est venu en personne au pavillon des sessions, avant que nous ayons acheté les objets, et nous a donné son aval pour l’acquisition de ces statues. Nous avons donc estimé que le risque valait la peine au regard du message que nous voulions faire passer.
      Ces acquisitions ont déclenché une double protestation. D’une part, la colère de l’ambassadeur du Nigeria en France, adversaire du président Obasanjo, qui n’appréciait pas d’avoir été tenu à l’écart de la décision. D’autre part, une protestation politique de la part de journalistes qui ont fait valoir, à juste titre d’ailleurs, que ces objets avaient été pillés au Nigeria et que nous n’aurions jamais dû les acheter même si nous étions juridiquement en droit de le faire.
      Face à ce double mouvement de contestation – le président Obasanjo ayant été également critiqué au Nigeria -, nous avons décidé de faire machine arrière. Nous avons fait amende honorable et avons décidé de les restituer, de les offrir au Nigeria. Dans le cadre d’un accord, ce pays en est donc propriétaire mais il a accepté de laisser ces pièces en dépôt au musée du Louvre pour une durée de vingt-cinq ans renouvelables.

http://www.africultures.com

Stanley Nkwazema,  ‘Missing Artefact, Gift to Britain’, all Africa.com http://allafrica.com

15.  Ekpo  Eyo, op. cit. p.23.  The preamble to ICOM Redlist Africa reads as follows:  “The looting of archaeological items and the destruction of archaeological sites in Africa are a cause of irreparable damage to African history and hence to the history of humankind. Whole sections of our history have been wiped out and can never be reconstituted. These objects cannot be understood once they have been removed from their archaeological context and divorced from the whole to which they belong. Only professional archaeological excavations can help recover their identity, their date and their location. But so long as there is demand from the international art market these objects will be looted and offered for sale.”    http://archives.icom.museum/redlist

K.Opoku, “Let Others Loot for You: Looting of African Artefacts for Western Museums “,http://www.modernghana.com;   Patrick  J. Darling, “The Rape of Nok and Kwatakwashi:  the crisis in Nigerian Antiquities” http://www.mcdonald.cam

Last week I informed the Museum Security Mailinglist about illicitly excavated and exported NOK statues presently in the Louvre museu, Paris. In newspaper reports the source of these statues supposedly was a Belgium dealer.
Michel van Rijn ( http://www.michelvanrijn.com/) has been able to trace this /dealer via a Le Monde contact: Comte de Grune’s son, who used to be with Sotheby’s but now looks after the family business given the “grand age” of his father, was indeed involved in the deal leading to the sale of one of the Nok’s pieces to the Louvre.
Mr. Van Rijn also was the one who discovered possibly looted NOK statues at the European fine Art fair in Maastricht, The Netherlands (TEFAF). These statues were offered for sale by another Belgium dealer: Deletaille.

The following report: Out of Africa, gives insight in the consequences of the trade in looted African antiquities.

Ton Cremers

Out of Africa

“The looting of archaeological items and the destruction of archaeological sites in Africa are a cause of irreparable damage to African history and hence to the history of humankind. Whole sections of our history have been wiped out and can never be reconstituted.” The introduction to the Red List of African archaeological and ethnological objects, published by the International Council

of Museums (ICOM), should be sounding alarm bells everywhere. Unfortunately the trafficking in such goods is booming and Africa is being bled dry of its cultural heritage. In Mali and Burkina Faso, ICOM reports, “all the archaeological sites are systematically looted.” This means that despite the large numbers of objects now available on the art market very little is known about the cultures which produced them. And their exact provenance and date will remain forever unknown. Items from the Côte d’Ivoire for example, “are identified as such only by chance discoveries made during illegal excavations and left in the Abidjan museum. Nothing is known about the societies that made these objects, and the current extent of looting gives every reason to fear that everything will be destroyed,” reports ICOM. Those responsible are not only looting national treasures, they are violating that which is sacred to Africa’s peoples. In the Wajir area of northern Kenya, collectors are contracting locals to dig up cemented graves for rare and unique antiques, antiques even the Kenya Museums had never encountered before. When George Abungu, the director of Kenya’s National Museums last visited Wajir he found the excavated remains of the dead scattered over the ground. “And the Vigan-gus, the grave yards of the Mijikenda tribe at the Kenyan Coast, are no lon-ger found in that area, but easily found in museums all over Europe and Ame-rica,” he adds. While unprotected archaeological sites are easy targets, Africa’s museums have also suffered heavy losses in raids by often heavily armed bandits, who’re ready to assault and even kill any guards who dare to oppose them. This is especially true in those countries hit by political turmoil. Nigeria’s museums, for example, have been hit by “violence and robbery on a massive scale”, reports ICOM. “The headquarters of the traffickers is reputed to be Bamako, the capital of Mali,” says Professor Folarin Shyllon from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. “There is also a thriving business in Cotonou (Benin Republic). Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are staging posts from where goods are sent to Paris or sold to local dealers who ship them to the US and European art capitals.” Objects from Uganda, Congo Brazzaville and Kenya are smuggled out of Kenya from the port of Mombasa, often concealed in containers transporting coffee. Dr Abungu accuses financially powerful collectors, diplomats, and museums in Europe and America for promoting the trafficking by promising what seem to be fabulous sums to impoverished African communities and unscrupulous local middlemen. However, he adds, African govern-ments are also very much to blame for the trade. They have not considered protection, conservation or preservation of cultural heritage a priority. Stopping, or even diminishing such traffic will require a massive effort: to make local populations aware of what is happening, to sensitise them to the need to conserve or preserve their heritage, and to provide them with alternative ways to make a decent living. However, dealers and collectors also need to make an effort. They need to be more vigilant, honest and aware of the terrible impact the loss of such objects can have on their traditional owners … and their children, who may well only have access to their cultural heritage if they can afford a trip to Europe or the United States.
Wandera Ojanji in Nairobi with Sue Williams From:
http://www.unescosources.org/

FRANCO-NIGERIAN AGREEMENT ON LOOTED/STOLEN NOK SCULPTURE.

July 15th, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects

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July 14th, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs

Saving Antiquities for Everyone-Looted memorial statues returned to Kenyan family

M. Udvardy

Ancestral memorial statues (vigango) erected by the Mijikenda peoples of Kenya are frequently stolen and sold to international art dealers. During the summer of 2007, the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) returned two vigango, which had been in the collections of two American museums, to a Mijikenda family in a rural Kenyan village. We give the history of these two stolen statues, including their theft and rediscovery, the efforts leading to their repatriation, and the joyful return ceremony. We also describe how this case inspired the return of nine more vigango from an American family to the NMK, and examine the current status of efforts to protect vigango.

On June 20, 2007, much celebration accompanied the National Museums of Kenya’s (NMK) return of two stolen ancestral memorial statues (vigango, singular kigango, Kigiriama) to a Giriama family near Kaloleni, in the Kenyan coastal hinterland. Returned by two American museums, the two vigango were, according to the NMK Director General Dr. Idle Omar Farah, the first stolen artifacts ever returned to Kenya from the United States. The ceremony drew hundreds of local celebrants and included speeches, performances by local dance troupes, and feasting. The Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, the Honorable Morris Dzoro, delivered the keynote speech. Other dignitaries attending included the NMK Board Chairman, Mr. Issa Timamy, and Ambassador Husein Dado, Senior Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of State for National Heritage. The NMK’s Mombasa branch, under the direction of Mr. Philip Jimbi Katana, made elaborate preparations for the ceremony, including building a steel enclosure in the homestead to protect the returned vigango from further theft.

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Saving Antiquities for Everyone-Looted memorial statues returned to Kenyan family.

June 23rd, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs

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June 22nd, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs

allAfrica.com: Zimbabwe: Protect Sculptors From Piracy

source: http://allafrica.com/stories/201106210634.html

June 22, 2011


The Herald (Harare)

Tony Monda

20 June 2011


opinion

Whilst there has been much talk about pirated videos, CDs, DVDs and musical recordings locally, the same cannot be said about the visual arts.

This article is written in response to various complaints from Zimbabwean sculptors about their stone works being copied, redesigned or reproduced from photographs by some foreign buyers citing, Chinese, Belgian, Dutch, English and American collectors (names supplied).

These works are subsequently sold as “original” at unrealistically low prices, which has been the major cause of the demise of this cultural commodity. In light of the above, this writer will delve into the murky waters of the history of fakes and forgeries in art and how this scourge can and should be curbed in Zimbabwe, which this writer has heard described as the “El Dorado of Stone Sculpture”.

What is a fake work of art?

The word “fake” is defined as “an article of artistic value made, copied or in some way altered with the deliberate intention of deception, so as to increase its value”.

Sir John Pipers’ definition is expanded to read: “a fake is a work of art fraudulently sculpted or painted and passed off and sold as the work of a generally more collectable artist”.

The key words here, being “collectable artist”. He elaborates that “one must note that forgeries and fakes are not necessarily the same as a work of a painter or sculptor painting or sculpting in the manner of a great master artist”.

As indeed for many centuries such practices (i.e. apprenticeships) were regarded as an essential part of the artist’s training. The apprenticeship scholar/master system still exists amongst many craftsmen and artists in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas today. It is regarded as the most effective “hands on” tutorship.

The practice of faking works of art for an eager and gullible market has been going on since European Classical times. However, by the late 20th century, the physical properties of suspected fakes could now be examined using various scientific methods, including X-rays and chemicals analysis, but such material tests have not always been foolproof given the development of modern cleaning agents which may alter the chemical composition of the material, additionally, numerous finger prints may be imprinted whilst transporting the works of art, which may confuse the DNA sweat tests making a provenance record more elusive then ever.

In recent technological advances, forgers have acquired extraordinary levels of sophistication, not only in their at tempts to mimic the styles of famous artists of past and present, but also in their abilities to use or imitate their materials and techniques and even the effects of aging such as “craquelure” in oil paintings and eluding carbon dating and DNA sweat tests in African wooden antiquities. This is now a field of common speculation for scholars and specialise in art history and archeological artifacts.

The process and techniques of science have no Seeing Eye. In practically every case of forgery uncovered, it has been the aesthetically trained eye and educated enquiring mind, which has detected the forgery and started the chase. Art forgers often rush in to satisfy a demand or vogue for a particular period or category of objects, or artists’ work being sought after by collectors or buyers. Part of the answer with any great works of art is that it has come into being at the height of the master artist’s powers, when the act for creating has gone beyond the strictures of technique and the master works with a full-blooded freedom that pulsates with life and achievement – a creative euphoria and psychological human feeling which is difficult to fake.

Cruel punishment for copy cats “chitokisi”

In 1562, in England, the crime for forging an artist’s work was punishable in lower degrees by a hefty fine and at the other end of the scale, by being pilloried, whilst the offender’s head, hands and feet were bound in stocks, “chitokisi” not unlike the Shona traditional “Mbira DzaKondo”. The perpetrator was publicly stoned or pelted, until near death, with rotten foods, vegetables, feaces, hot tar or pig manure, by the public, both ears cut off, the nostrils slit up and seared in the publics’ presence. Forfeiture of land and perpetual imprisonment if he survived the physical punishment.

This state of affairs continued well into the 18th century and led to Hogarth’s Copyright Act of 1735, which gave 14 years protection from copying, followed by amendments in 1761, 1777 and 1836. It concerns the right to control, literally, theatrical, musical or artistic works for a determined number of years. Subsequently, the term “intellectual property” came into use as a term for patents, copyright and other laws in the 19th century. This idea of the artist as an original creator and owner of their work was made popular by John Locke’s theory that artists invested labour into natural goods and so created property. Copyright owners have the exclusive statutory right to exercise control over copying and other exploitation of their work.

Today, however, copyright laws have been standardised to some extent, through international and regional agreements such as the Berne Convention (1886), and the European Copyright Directives, giving each jurisdiction distinct laws and regulations on copyright, which may vary between countries.

Lenient punishment today;

Today, unfortunately, the punishment is lenient and not commensurate with the crime committed by the forger. For example, a notorious art forger Han van Meergeren, who was one of two of the most famous European forgers of the last century, totted up a total of over US$30 million, he owned 52 houses and 15 country houses around Laven in Holland, from his copies of Vermeer’s paintings.

Jan Vermeer (1632- 1675) was a Dutch artist and picture dealer with a marvelous extraordinary realistic technique of painting. His work “A View of Delft” housed in The Hauge Mauritshuis is reputed to be one of the most remarkable landscapes in the world history of art. Han van Meergeren received a jail sentence of just one-year for his offences – on the 29th May 1945 presumable, owing to the war (World War II), he was released in February 1946. He was retried in 1947, and died of a heart attack soon after.

His accumulated forgeries were equivalent to US$47 million, and he is known as one of the greatest art forgers in history.

The other, Tom Keating, (1917-1984) an Englishman, successfully painted in the style of a large number of modern European masters. He is reported to have forged over 2 000 paintings of approximately 100 modern artists.

He starred in a television programme after confessing in 1976, of his crimes. He boastfully claimed that the galleries of the world were full of his fraudulent reproductions, whose directors and curators are too embarrassed to admit owning or exhibiting a forgery.

Ironically today, Keating is an historical case study, whose works are analysed and studied by those undertaking courses in world art auctioneering and criminal detection of fakes.

In an interesting twist of fate, a UK artist, John Myatt (1945) created works attributed to several modern artists, amongst them Chagall, Giacometti, Picasso and Renoir and Nicholson. He was imprisoned for his crimes, and released in 2000, after which he started creating his own art, which now sell at notoriously high prices due to his infamy.

Historic cases of art fakes in Zimbabwe

The illegal reproduction of fake stone sculptures of Zimbabwean origin has become more pronounced in recent decades and is most widespread in China, Belgium, Holland, UK and the USA. But the source of production is largely Zimbabwean, where the art and artist is not appreciated and the works undervalued.

The destinations of the fake sculptures are difficult to trace and only come to light when serious Euro-American buyers come to Zimbabwe and realise that they have probably bought a “fake” overseas. Once again the lack of effective legal instruments and structured forums for dialogue and arbitration render the art trade open to counterfeit fakes and mass reproduction of our cultural heritage. For example, as early as in 1978, fake sculptures attributed to the late Henry Munyaradzi first came to light in South Africa and California, USA, and were also found in 1986 in the UK.

By the mid-1990s, more fake stone sculptures were discovered in Zurich, Switzerland, Paris, France and Brussels, Belgium. These were works by other Zimbabwean stone master artists, namely, Ephraim Chaurika’s “African Spirit Horses” series @ 1982. Brighton Sango’s cubist inspired “Mother and Child” series, @ 1986, “Mother Care” series @ 1989 and “Magic Flower” series @ 1991. Fanizani Akuda’s “Funny Girl” series @ 1986, and “Man Inside Wings of a Bird” @ 1986. As well as Joseph Ndandarika’s “Friend of the Animal ” @ 1986, and his “Thinking Man” series 1989, and finally, Albert Mamvura’s abstract lyrical stone sculptures, @1996.

Breaking the fakes

Locally, Lazarus Takawira had said during a BBC Channel 4 interview: “If anyone copies my work, I take a (14 pound) hammer and smash the sculpture to pieces.” Although one could not agree more, this action has not deterred the proliferation of fakes. The punishment for forgers and fakes is very lenient in this country, due to the lack appreciation for art and the gravity of the offence of art forgeries. Faking a work of art constitutes:

(a) Depriving the artist of income,

(b) Theft of intellectual property,

(c) Forgery by deceiving the buyer with “stolen” goods

(d) Flouting copyright law.

These are some of the compounded offences committed when a forger copies a work of art – regardless the medium. Due to the lack of seriousness and interest by the lawmakers of Zimbabwe, on the subject, many artists have fallen victim to art forgers.

Benhura’s trial;

What is regrettable is that none of these pioneer Zimbabwean artists were compensated for their loss of income, nor were they legally empowered to stop the forgery racket due to their lack of knowledge of legal arbitration. Rather than stop the forgery racket, they often unknowingly sold more of their works to the same corrupt art dealers.

An historical on June 2007, Case HC28/04

Following the huge global success of his animated figures in motion, an entire consignment of 45 forged works attributed to him and estimated to fetch over US$170 000 on the art market today was unearthed by Benhura.

He took legal action and won the case, but was unfairly awarded a pittance of Z$400 compensation for his “intellectual property” and a lifetime artistic endeavour.

By all accounts, the artist should have been compensated real time value of the works that were forged and the perpetrator jailed by the value of the faked goods.

Benhura did not receive justice, and he is not alone. In a similar case, this writer was reliably informed of 23 copies of his own sculptures at Avondale flea market in 2005, and for the past five years has been trying to trace the perpetrator in vain. The works are believed to have sold out.

Although the Unesco Convention (1970) “Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import/export and transfer of ownership of cultural property” exists it does not cover the fake and disposal of contemporary Zimbabwean visual arts.

Today, the deceptively and usually shortlived but highly profitable, practice of art forgery has not ceased. In fact, recent reports cite African art, both antique and modern, as the biggest target for the reproduction and fakes the world over.

China is today the most notorious for creating reproductions of unsigned Zimbabwean Shona sculpture in order to evade legal reprisal. The works are simply labelled “Made in Zimbabwe” and sold as cheap “curios” to unsuspecting buyers. How do we bring them to book? They have turned the works of our great Zimbabwean contemporary stone masters into “Made in China” curios.

In conclusion, in light of the above, the Zimbabwean judiciary should immediately develop legal instruments, that not only prevent the haemorrhaging and the destruction of our heritage, but also enhance the capacity to safeguard our heritage and the purveyors of the visual arts – our beloved stone sculptors on the international markets.

June 22nd, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs, fakes and forgeries

Ovwe Medeme 4 January 2011
FORMATTED TEXT WITH LINKS
Lagos — More controversies have arisen on the legality or otherwise of the refusal of the west to return the artefacts looted from the Benin Empire in 1897. Iconographic nature of the artefacts notwithstanding, foreign museums have continued to flaunt and exhibit the mask and other artefacts without recourse to their origin.
Before now, a lot of people have thought that there was only one Idia mask, the one in the British Museum. A few people realised that there was one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and another at the Seattle Art Museum as well as another in the Linden Museum, Stuttgart. There is currently the news of a fifth mask that was to have been sold later this year.
A few weeks back, the news greeted the art world that Sotheby’s, the auction house in London, will be auctioning a re-discovered masterpiece of Benin art, the ivory pendant of Queen-Mother Idia, on February 17, 2011 and other Benin artefacts from the Edo people. The pendant is expected to fetch between £3.5m to £4.5m and possibly more.
The Idia ivory pendant is one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever produced and its ownership has been subject to controversy. The mask as well as all the many Benin bronzes, was looted by the British in the infamous punitive expedition of 1897 when the British invaded Benin, looted thousands of artefacts, burnt Benin City and sent the Oba Ovonramwen, the then king into exile. Since then, the people of Benin and Nigeria have been asking for the return of at least some of the looted artefacts.
The mask and the five other Benin objects will be sold by the descendants of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey (in 1913 he changed his name to Galway) who was appointed deputy commissioner and vice-consul in the newly established Oil Rivers Protectorate (later the Niger Coast Protectorate) in 1891. He remained in Nigeria until 1902 and participated in the British Government’s “Punitive Expedition” of 1897 against Benin City. The faces of the five known pendant masks have been interpreted widely by scholars of Benin art as that of Idia, the first Queen Mother of Benin.
The mask was to have come to auction together with: a highly important carved tusk made with a group of other similarly carved tusks for the altar of an Oba who lived in the 18th century. The imagery presented depicts emblems of power and strength, which are related to the life of the Oba himself. The iconography is specific, and can be seen repeated across many arts forms in Benin, including the well-documented bronze plaques. The collection also include two richly carved ivory armlets which incorporate many of the panoply of motifs used by the artists of the Igbesanmwan, the Royal Guild of ivory carvers.
Also, the collection includes a very rare bronze sculpture of a type historically identified as tusk stands. The twisted and hollowed form of this stand suggests it served the same function as the more familiar bronze commemorative heads, as a stand for a carved ivory tusk on an altar created to honour a former ruler.
The calls for their return notwithstanding, the museums have remained deaf to the cries of the Benin people and often do not even bother to acknowledge receipt of such requests for restitution. This is despite the calls by global bodies like the UNESCO, several international conferences and ICOM on holders of the Benin bronzes to return some to Nigeria. Nobody seems to pay any attention to the pleas of the world organisations.
It will be recalled that the British Museum has arrogantly refused to return to Nigeria, even for a short period, the ivory hip mask of Queen-Mother Idia which had been chosen as symbol for FESTAC 1977 (Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture) and thus obliged the Africans and Nigerians to produce a new version.
The possession, selling and buying of Benin artefacts raises questions as to their legality and legitimacy, in view of their obviously violent and illegitimate removal from Benin, and the arson, destruction and subsequent looting of kingdom for which compensation has not been paid despite the frequent call for such. Kefas Danjuma is an art historian and lecturer with the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ABU), Zaria. He argues that the entire situation is quite unfortunate but insists that the Nigerian government should try to acquire the stolen artefacts through diplomacy or any other available means. In his views, holding on to the artefacts by the British is not an issue of morality but what is obtainable. He throws in a different perspective to the whole saga when he suggests that presently, the artefacts can be seen as spoils of war.
“A lot of damage has been done by the movement of these artefacts away from their habitat. As it is now the objects in contention do not serve any purpose but are regarded as mere artefacts. Back home, the art objects are a part of the soul of the community they belong to. Their importance carries more weight here,” he stressed.
In the face of the world becoming a global village, the art lecturer noted, other countries where similar occurrences abound have succeeded in making exchanges. Nigeria’s case should not be different.
Contrary opinion has it that although Britain invaded Benin City in 1897, it never formally declared war on the city. That way, whatever may have been the rights of victors in wars never applied to the case of Benin. However, prior to the invasion, since 1815 to be precise, it had been accepted by European States that cultural objects of enemies were to be protected in case of military conflict and left intact. There was no provision for carrying away the cultural objects of the enemy. Where this was done, it was against the established norms.
It was never allowed by the laws governing nations on the African continent that one nation could collect wholesale the cultural objects of another nation, whether in peace or at war. Like Danjuma noted, these cultural objects are so intimately connected with deepest religious beliefs and practices of a particular people and could not simply be transferred to another people.
Only recently, one of the authorities in the Nigerian art scene, Peju Layiwola concluded the Benin1897.com, a colloquium exhibition as well as a publication. The Benin1897.com she says is not just her oeuvre of work but a statement and a voice for Nigeria.
She describes the Benin1897.com as a timely work, which in a prophetic manner draws attention to the historical injustice of imperialism in Benin, Nigeria. “Even though we got independence from the British our priced works of art are still kept in Britain and in other parts of the world. I believe that if the arguments and recommendations provided by eminent scholars on the issue of repatriation of cultural artefacts contained within the book edited by myself and Sola Olorunyomi are taken seriously by government then we would be able to address these issues that would continue to recur.”
A daughter of the Benin Palace herself, she says that very clearly the Benin Royal family has been at the forefront of this request. “HRM, the Oba of Benin and HRH, Prince Edun Akenzua, the Enogie of Obazuwa, had made endless requests for their heirloom. Yet, the whole issue is embroiled in a maze of ridiculous theories emanating from the West in order to perpetually keep our artefacts,” she argues.
In Layiwola’s opinion, the now rested Sotheby sale of the 16th century mask for £4.5million by descendants of Gallwey, a man who prepared way for British attack of Benin justifies the .com as in. commercial, a satirical reference to Western exploitation, commodification and commercalisation of Africa’s cultural patrimony.
The Edo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Abdul Oroh, also lent his voice to the call for the return of the looted artefacts. The mask was stolen, he said, and it remains a product of crime. “Any attempt to sell it will mean a perpetration of criminal act. They should be returned because they were taken under false pretence.”
Following the hue and cry from the art authorities, concerned and affected Nigerians and even the online community that greeted the attempted sale, Sotheby’s, December 29, 2010 decided to scrap its February sale of a controversial £4.5m mask.
A number of private individuals contacted the auction house last week to complain about the sale of the 16th-century ivory mask, once thought to have belonged to an ancient Nigerian king.
A spokesperson for the auction house said that the artefacts in contention have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors. Protests against the sale emerged on social networking sites last week.

Nigeria: Between the Country’s Artefacts And Western Iconoclasts
Ovwe Medeme 4 January 2011

Lagos — More controversies have arisen on the legality or otherwise of the refusal of the west to return the artefacts looted from the Benin Empire in 1897. Iconographic nature of the artefacts notwithstanding, foreign museums have continued to flaunt and exhibit the mask and other artefacts without recourse to their origin.
Before now, a lot of people have thought that there was only one Idia mask, the one in the British Museum. A few people realised that there was one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and another at the Seattle Art Museum as well as another in the Linden Museum, Stuttgart. There is currently the news of a fifth mask that was to have been sold later this year.
A few weeks back, the news greeted the art world that Sotheby’s, the auction house in London, will be auctioning a re-discovered masterpiece of Benin art, the ivory pendant of Queen-Mother Idia, on February 17, 2011 and other Benin artefacts from the Edo people. The pendant is expected to fetch between £3.5m to £4.5m and possibly more.
The Idia ivory pendant is one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever produced and its ownership has been subject to controversy. The mask as well as all the many Benin bronzes, was looted by the British in the infamous punitive expedition of 1897 when the British invaded Benin, looted thousands of artefacts, burnt Benin City and sent the Oba Ovonramwen, the then king into exile. Since then, the people of Benin and Nigeria have been asking for the return of at least some of the looted artefacts.
The mask and the five other Benin objects will be sold by the descendants of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey (in 1913 he changed his name to Galway) who was appointed deputy commissioner and vice-consul in the newly established Oil Rivers Protectorate (later the Niger Coast Protectorate) in 1891. He remained in Nigeria until 1902 and participated in the British Government’s “Punitive Expedition” of 1897 against Benin City. The faces of the five known pendant masks have been interpreted widely by scholars of Benin art as that of Idia, the first Queen Mother of Benin.
The mask was to have come to auction together with: a highly important carved tusk made with a group of other similarly carved tusks for the altar of an Oba who lived in the 18th century. The imagery presented depicts emblems of power and strength, which are related to the life of the Oba himself. The iconography is specific, and can be seen repeated across many arts forms in Benin, including the well-documented bronze plaques. The collection also include two richly carved ivory armlets which incorporate many of the panoply of motifs used by the artists of the Igbesanmwan, the Royal Guild of ivory carvers.
Also, the collection includes a very rare bronze sculpture of a type historically identified as tusk stands. The twisted and hollowed form of this stand suggests it served the same function as the more familiar bronze commemorative heads, as a stand for a carved ivory tusk on an altar created to honour a former ruler.
The calls for their return notwithstanding, the museums have remained deaf to the cries of the Benin people and often do not even bother to acknowledge receipt of such requests for restitution. This is despite the calls by global bodies like the UNESCO, several international conferences and ICOM on holders of the Benin bronzes to return some to Nigeria. Nobody seems to pay any attention to the pleas of the world organisations.
It will be recalled that the British Museum has arrogantly refused to return to Nigeria, even for a short period, the ivory hip mask of Queen-Mother Idia which had been chosen as symbol for FESTAC 1977 (Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture) and thus obliged the Africans and Nigerians to produce a new version.
The possession, selling and buying of Benin artefacts raises questions as to their legality and legitimacy, in view of their obviously violent and illegitimate removal from Benin, and the arson, destruction and subsequent looting of kingdom for which compensation has not been paid despite the frequent call for such. Kefas Danjuma is an art historian and lecturer with the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ABU), Zaria. He argues that the entire situation is quite unfortunate but insists that the Nigerian government should try to acquire the stolen artefacts through diplomacy or any other available means. In his views, holding on to the artefacts by the British is not an issue of morality but what is obtainable. He throws in a different perspective to the whole saga when he suggests that presently, the artefacts can be seen as spoils of war.
“A lot of damage has been done by the movement of these artefacts away from their habitat. As it is now the objects in contention do not serve any purpose but are regarded as mere artefacts. Back home, the art objects are a part of the soul of the community they belong to. Their importance carries more weight here,” he stressed.
In the face of the world becoming a global village, the art lecturer noted, other countries where similar occurrences abound have succeeded in making exchanges. Nigeria’s case should not be different.
Contrary opinion has it that although Britain invaded Benin City in 1897, it never formally declared war on the city. That way, whatever may have been the rights of victors in wars never applied to the case of Benin. However, prior to the invasion, since 1815 to be precise, it had been accepted by European States that cultural objects of enemies were to be protected in case of military conflict and left intact. There was no provision for carrying away the cultural objects of the enemy. Where this was done, it was against the established norms.
It was never allowed by the laws governing nations on the African continent that one nation could collect wholesale the cultural objects of another nation, whether in peace or at war. Like Danjuma noted, these cultural objects are so intimately connected with deepest religious beliefs and practices of a particular people and could not simply be transferred to another people.
Only recently, one of the authorities in the Nigerian art scene, Peju Layiwola concluded the Benin1897.com, a colloquium exhibition as well as a publication. The Benin1897.com she says is not just her oeuvre of work but a statement and a voice for Nigeria.
She describes the Benin1897.com as a timely work, which in a prophetic manner draws attention to the historical injustice of imperialism in Benin, Nigeria. “Even though we got independence from the British our priced works of art are still kept in Britain and in other parts of the world. I believe that if the arguments and recommendations provided by eminent scholars on the issue of repatriation of cultural artefacts contained within the book edited by myself and Sola Olorunyomi are taken seriously by government then we would be able to address these issues that would continue to recur.”
A daughter of the Benin Palace herself, she says that very clearly the Benin Royal family has been at the forefront of this request. “HRM, the Oba of Benin and HRH, Prince Edun Akenzua, the Enogie of Obazuwa, had made endless requests for their heirloom. Yet, the whole issue is embroiled in a maze of ridiculous theories emanating from the West in order to perpetually keep our artefacts,” she argues.
In Layiwola’s opinion, the now rested Sotheby sale of the 16th century mask for £4.5million by descendants of Gallwey, a man who prepared way for British attack of Benin justifies the .com as in. commercial, a satirical reference to Western exploitation, commodification and commercalisation of Africa’s cultural patrimony.
The Edo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Abdul Oroh, also lent his voice to the call for the return of the looted artefacts. The mask was stolen, he said, and it remains a product of crime. “Any attempt to sell it will mean a perpetration of criminal act. They should be returned because they were taken under false pretence.”
Following the hue and cry from the art authorities, concerned and affected Nigerians and even the online community that greeted the attempted sale, Sotheby’s, December 29, 2010 decided to scrap its February sale of a controversial £4.5m mask.
A number of private individuals contacted the auction house last week to complain about the sale of the 16th-century ivory mask, once thought to have belonged to an ancient Nigerian king.
A spokesperson for the auction house said that the artefacts in contention have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors. Protests against the sale emerged on social networking sites last week.

January 5th, 2011

Posted In: African Affairs

Profitant du congrès des archéologues, Serigne Ndiaye, vice-président de l’Assemblée de l’Ucad, a réclamé le retour sur le sol africain des objets archéologiques et historiques pillés pendant la période coloniale. ‘La bataille de l’Afrique, aujourd’hui, est de préserver son identité et sa mémoire, mais aussi de se moderniser pour aller de l’avant. Cette préservation de son identité passera aussi par le retour sur le continent des objets illégalement déportés au moment de la colonisation et qui peuplent aujourd’hui les musées et certaines collections privées de l’Occident et qui font partie intégrante de notre patrimoine culturel’, déclare-t-il. ‘L’héritage que nous ont laissé nos ancêtres est important, il fait partie de nous-mêmes, de notre identité que nous devons préserver. Il n’y a pire pour un individu que de perdre sa mémoire. On peut perdre du matériel et le récupérer, mais si on perd son identité, c’est une partie de soi qu’on perd’, ajoute Serigne Ndiaye.
Selon le doyen de la Faculté des Sciences, ces objets archéologiques ne sont pas une propriété personnelle, mais plutôt un bien public que nous devons tous préserver. Et Serigne Ndiaye d’expliquer que la notion de patrimoine renvoie à l’unité d’un héritage légué par des générations qui nous ont précédés et que nous devons transmettre intact pour enrichir la génération future et pour constituer un patrimoine pour demain.

Ch. G. DIENE

http://www.walf.sn/societe/suite.php?rub=4&id_art=68498

November 5th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs, looting and illegal art traffickers

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June 7th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs, conventies, illegale handel, looting and illegal art traffickers

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We reproduce below an ICOM Press Release on an agreement signed on 10
May 2010 between Tanzania and the Geneva Museum Barbier-Mueller on the
return of a Makonde mask which had been stolen from the National
Museum of Tanzania in Dar Es Salaam in 1984.

Readers should not be misled by the title of the agreement which
suggests that this was a “donation” and thereby creating the
impression that this is a sign of generosity on the part of the
museum. The matter went before UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee
for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of
Origin or Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation. It is said in
the press release that the issue came before the Committee because of
misunderstanding.
Perhaps we should not worry too much about the formulation of the
agreement in view of the concrete result achieved. We should
congratulate the parties concerned and hope that the many other
African artefacts which are alleged to have been illegitimately
acquired will soon be subjects of agreement.(see “Let Others loot for
you: looting of African Artefacts for Western Museums”
http://www.modernghana.com “Recovering Nigeria’s Terracotta”
http://www.museum-security.org )

READ COMPLETE TEXT AT:
http://www.museum-security.org/opoku_barbier_muller.htm

May 15th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs, Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects

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April 10th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs, Mailing list reports

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April 10th, 2010

Posted In: African Affairs, Mailing list reports

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