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Nigerians offer artworks to British Museum in new take on looted bronzes By Reuters


© Reuters. On display at Benin City (Nigeria), July 31, 2021, is a newly-made bronze plaque that depicts historical events in West Africa’s Kingdom of Benin. It is offered to the British Museum as a gift. REUTERS/Tife Owolabi


By Tife Owolabi and Estelle Shirbon

BENIN CITY, Nigeria (Reuters) – A new guild of artists from Nigeria’s Benin City has offered to donate artworks to the British Museum in London as a way to encourage it to return the priceless Benin Bronzes that were looted from the city’s royal court by British troops in 1897.

The bronze and brass sculptures were created in Benin’s once-mighty Kingdom from the 16th Century onwards. They are some of Africa’s most valuable and culturally important artifacts. The loot status of the sculptures and their symbolism of colonial wealth have drawn criticism from European museums for many years.

The Ahiamwen Guild is an association of bronze casters and artists that wants to shift the conversation by offering the British Museum modern artworks untainted with any looting history.

Osarobo Zeickner Okoro was a founder member of the new guild, and also the initiator of the donation. I think they are even more beautiful now.

He said, “I think we make them even better now.”

In a ceremony in Benin City, the artworks were unveiled.

The British Museum declined to comment, saying that the matter was up for negotiation between the party offering the items and itself.

Zeickner Okoro, who has traveled to London from Benin City this month to support his idea, indicated that he would be meeting with curators in the museum’s Africa division.

Germany said that it wanted to return Benin Bronzes to Nigerian museums. However, the British Museum has not made a firm commitment. It houses the biggest and most valuable collection.

Hartwig Fischer (the director of the British Museum) was present at a meeting with Oba or the king of Benin, in 2018. The discussion included new ways to share and display objects from Benin’s Kingdom.

However, many Benin City residents don’t believe European museums should be storing loot.

It must be returned. It’s not their father’s property. “The Oba of Benin owns the property,” stated Chief Nosa Olakhia (bronzecaster).

Zeickner Okoro, who was raised in Britain but returned to Benin City in the 1960s, recognized that the Benin Bronzes were able to be seen in European museums. However, he suggested that the Benin Bronzes should be returned to the original site and people who created them.

He said that the descendants of those who cast bronzes have never been to see it because they can’t afford London.

The descendants of those who cast bronzes have the PDF catalogues from the British Museum that they can use as reference material. It’s sad.

Tife Owolabi, Estelle Shirbon and Giles Elgood reported from Benin City. Editing by Giles Elgood