Thursday, July 16, 2020

Denver Vigango go back to Africa

Denver Museum of Nature and Science repatriates thirty looted wooden carvings to Mijikenda people in Kenya and northern Tanzania. "We should not be curating people’s souls," said Stephen Nash, the museum’s director of anthropology and curator of archaeology.
The Denver Post reports that the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has repatriated 30 wooden carvings to the Mijikenda people of Kenya and northern Tanzania. The museum received the carvings as a gift in 1991, according to Stephen Nash, the museum’s director of anthropology and senior curator of archaeology, but are now thought to have been looted. The long, rectangular carvings with round heads, known as vigango, memorialize members of the community who have died and are thought to embody their spirits. “Once we realized that we were curating the physical embodiment of 30 dead people’s souls, that’s when we said ‘Look, the Mijikenda never had a chance for informed consent like you and I enjoy when disposing of our loved ones. We should not be curating people’s souls,” Nash said. The original site where the vigango stood is not known.
Actor Gene Hackman donated the 30 vigango to the Denver museum in 1991, Nash said. When the museum contacted his representatives, they said they had no record of the transaction. Nash and Chip Colwell, the museums’ former curator of anthropology, believe a late art dealer whose clients included Hollywood actors and producers ended up with most of the vigango. The people who looted the grave sites likely got paltry sums while the traders who sold them got thousands of dollars and buyers got tax write-offs for donating them, Nash said.

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