Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where Are the 400 Benin Bronzes?

 Kwame Opoku asks what might have happened to the 400 Benin treasures which had been looted in the nefarious British invasion of 1897 held in the Field Museum in Chicago some of which had been donated by Captain A. W. F. Fuller and his wife to the museum. He is disconcerted to find that they have disappeared from the museum's webpage "although there was mention of Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Madagascar, Yoruba peoples, Merina, Tanala, and Betsileo".
Many museums in Europe and America are facing a financial crisis and from recent reports, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they may be tempted to sell, loan, transfer, or exchange African artefacts they are illegally holding, such as the Benin bronzes without anybody taking much notice, especially since the museums have several artefacts they never or rarely display in public. How would we know, if they dispose of Benin artefacts when they refuse to inform the public about the number of Benin artefacts they have in their possession? [...] My main worry is with regard to the sale, transfer, using as security or in any way dealing with contested African artefacts that may in future prejudice or affect the rights of claiming African owners.
Dr Opoku suggests we should start formalising the approach to the objects held in foreign collections:
It is high time Nigeria and other States with claims to artefacts in Western museums issued a list or lists of the artefacts they wish to recover from the museums. The Cairo Conference on Restitution had recommended the issuance of such a list. This list would serve as notice to potential purchasers of the artefacts so that in future no one can say they never knew that those objects had been looted or stolen. Any defence of good faith would be excluded.
Kwame Opoku, 'Africa: Where Are the 400 Benin Bronzes?', 27 June 2013.

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