Queen Idia Mask’s sale sets Sotheby’s against art world
ON Boxing Day the British auction house, Sotheby’s canceled its proposed sale of the looted Benin royal court artifact, Queen Idia Mask, which it proposed to slot for hammer sale at the prize tag of £4.5m on February 17.
The planned auction of the historic artefact, a waist piece worn by the Oba of Benin during vital customary rites, was initiated by a deal between Sotheby’s and the descendants of the the late Lt-Col Sir Henry Lionel Galway, a British West Africa Protectorate military officer who took part in the 1897 looting of the royal palace of Benin Kingdom during which the Britons forcefully evicted the then king of Benin Kingdom, Oba Ovonramwen who later died in exile. During the 19th century operation, tagged ‘Benin Expedition’ in Western versions of African history texts but ‘Benin Massacre’ by African reporters of the same history, Queen Idia Mask and hundreds of other such works were carted away to the western world by the plundering British soldiers. And descendants of those soldiers who embarked in the operation, like Galaway’s, as well as organisations like the British Museum, have ever since lived well on the proceeds the artifacts still bring to their estates.
Queen Idia Mask’s sale sets Sotheby’s against art world.