Benin Bronzes Repatriated from Met Will Be Sent Back To Nigeria : NPR

Junior Court Official is one of two 16th century plaques made at the Court of Benin that are being returned to Nigeria by the Met. Hide caption courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Junior Court Official is one of two 16th century plaques made at the Court of Benin that are being returned to Nigeria by the Met.

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beautiful bronze sculptures and casts from West Africa have long been on display in some of the most sublime institutions in the world, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Wednesday that it is bringing three of these works of art back to Nigeria. These include two 16th century brass tablets made in the Benin court and a brass head made in Ife around the 14th century.

“The … plaques made by the Court of Benin, Warrior Chief and Junior Court Official, were among the works removed from the Royal Palace during the British military occupation of Benin in 1897,” the Met said in a statement. (The borders have shifted over the years and the former Kingdom of Benin, from which these works of art originate, is in what is now southern Nigeria.)

“After this military campaign, they ended up in the collection of the British Museum, London from 1898 to 1950,” the statement continues. “In 1950-51 the British Museum transferred these two plaques (and 24 others) to the National Museum in Lagos. Although they were never expropriated by the National Museum, the two plaques came onto the international art market at an unknown time and under unclear circumstances and were eventually acquired by a New York collector. “

The mysterious collector donated the works – and his other Benin bronzes – to the Met in 1991. Last year, the Met said it had worked with the Nigerian National Commission on Museums and Monuments to research their origins. She decided to return the works to Nigeria. The Ife Head, originally from the Nigerian Wunmonije Compound, was put up for sale at the Met, and the museum arranged its return.

“The Met doesn’t say these items were stolen, so we made a moral and legal choice to return them,” noted journalist Barnaby Phillips, author of the recently published book LOOT: Great Britain and the Benin Bronzes. “They want to be seen as willing, helpful and good partners for Nigeria. And that was also noticeable in the statement that they also support the planned Edo Museum of West African Art, a museum that does not yet exist.”

One day, Phillips explains, supporters hope that the Edo Museum of West African Art will be built in Benin City to house a world-class collection of Benin bronzes, including those that have been illegally taken and exhibited in the West for generations.

“We welcome the rapprochement that is developing in the museum world and appreciate the sense of justice of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” said Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister for Information and Culture, in the context of the Met’s declaration. “Nigeria urges other museums to follow suit The art world can be a better place if every owner of cultural artifacts takes into account the rights and feelings of the dispossessed. “

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