Photo Credit: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
Benin City, Nigeria Residents Celebrate The Return Of Looted Bronze Sculpture
After decades of fighting to have their stolen metal sculptures back, residents of Nigeria’s Benin City are counting down the days to finally see one of the most symbolic artworks made by their ancestors returned.
On Wednesday, a college at the University of Cambridge held a ceremony acknowledging the official return of a bronze statue of a cockerel to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.
“We are all thrilled at seeing this day arrive, when the Bronze is finally returning home, but we are also painfully aware of having deprived its rightful owners for so long.” said Sonita Alleyne Master of Jesus College.
The cockerel was donated to the university in 1905 by the father of a student.
“I feel happy that the work of my great-grandfather will be coming back to Benin City,” Monday Aigbe told BBC.
This move follows a decision made on Thursday by the University of Aberdeen in Scotland hat will also be returning one of its bronzes.
“It makes me upset because they came, they destroyed the palace, they made my great-grandfather run from the city to the village,” said Aigbe.
“These artifacts being returned is going to mean a lot, because it will help me connect with my ancestors” artist Joe Obamina told BBC. He added that his paintings are inspired by the ongoing restitution of the Benin Bronze.
“We grew up without seeing the actual mask, just the replicas. Our heritage has been scattered, so I had to paint something to depict that: the scattered heritage that is abroad.”
The bronze statue of the cockerel and other bronze sculptures will be displayed at the Edo Museum of West African Art – a grand initiative by the governor of Edo state to house all the returned Benin Bronzes.
The museum, however, will not be completed for at least five years. Construction on the building, set to be designed by famous British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, has yet to start.
Theophilus Umogbai, deputy director and curator of the National Museum Benin, told BBC that this situation can not be used as an excuse to delay returning Africa’s stolen artifacts
Along with the cockerel, there are still 900 Benin City metal sculptures and ivory carvings made between the 15th and 19th centuries missing. Looted by British troops in 1897, they are at the British Museum, which is facing calls to return its enormous collection of those bronzes. However, the British government has claimed that the museum is the right home for the bronzes as it makes them accessible to the largest number of people and, as a leading museum in one of the world’s most global cities, has the best facilities for their upkeep.
For Kehinde Andrews, Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, this is a kind of argument that is based on British imperial thinking.
“This logic suggests that Nigeria is a poorer country that is incapable of properly looking after the artifacts that colonialists stole, despite the fact there is a state-of-the-art museum awaiting them in Nigeria. It’s a classic racist argument that Britain is a place of refinement and knows best,” Andrews told CNN.
“When I saw the Bronzes in the British Museum I was happy at first. Then that thought was replaced by the feeling that these objects were incongruously sitting where they shouldn’t be. They should be back home.”
As Travel Noire previously reported, Germany, Belgium and France have also agreed to give back stolen artifacts from African nations. The movement started last year after decades of demands from African leaders.