Nigerian artist says British Museum accepts gift, keeps looted bronzes

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LONDON, September 30 (Reuters) – An artist from Benin City, Nigeria said the British Museum had accepted his gift of a bronze plaque in what he saw as a possible first step towards the museum’s return of the priceless bronzes from Benin which were looted by British troops in 1897.

However, the museum told him that an exchange of new looted artwork was impossible, he said.

Osarobo Zeickner-Okoro, founding member of Ahiamwen, a new guild of bronzers and artists of Benin City, had proposed its creation to encourage the museum to return the sculptures but also to demand the recognition of the modern culture of the city. Read more

After meeting with two curators from the museum’s Africa department, he told Reuters on Thursday that they had accepted his gift and expressed interest in acquiring several works from other Ahiamwen artists.

The museum said it was grateful for the meeting with Zeickner-Okoro but: “At this point, there has been no formal discussion about acquiring these objects for the collection.

Zeickner-Okoro said he was delighted that his gift, a 2 by 2 meter plaque with sculptures depicting historical events in Benin City, was accepted even though the museum ruled out an exchange.

“It’s disappointing but it’s the first step,” he said.

Created from brass and bronze in the once powerful kingdom of Benin since at least the 16th century, Benin’s bronzes are among Africa’s most culturally significant artifacts. The European museums that house them have been criticized for years for their status as loot and symbols of colonial greed.

“Part of the crime that was committed was that Benin was presented as that dead civilization,” Zeickner-Okoro said. “Repair is not just about returning the bronzes. It is also about recognizing ourselves, that we are a living civilization.”

He said the acceptance of his plaque and the proposed acquisition of other works, including a life-size ram made from spark plugs by Kelly Omodamwen and heads of Beninese women by Andrew Edjobeguo, contributed significantly to right this wrong.

“It’s historic, it’s really important. I think it will definitely open the door to the return of the booty,” he said.

Germany has declared that it wants to return the Benin bronzes from its museums in Nigeria. The British Museum, which holds the largest and most important collection of artefacts, has made no clear commitment despite requests from the Oba, or King, of Benin.

Asked about his talks with Zeickner-Okoro, the museum said it was discussing new plans for exhibiting the African collections with a large network of colleagues and “considering a number of different elements around any future exhibition.”

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Alexandra Hudson and Angus MacSwan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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