Nigeria’s New Deal to Reclaim its Bronze Art

  • Nigeria open to receiving Benin Bronze art as a loan from Western museums
  • London resisted campaigns for the full return of Nigeria’s bronzes

Many Western museums showcase their beautiful Benin Bronze art pieces, that once called modern day Nigeria home. The country has now come up with a new negotiating strategy to borrow the art rather than continue to request a full return. Is this strategy one that could help Nigeria settle other art disputes around the world?

Why This Matters: Let’s quickly go back and recap how the country first lost the art. British soldiers seized thousands of metal castings from the then separate Kingdom of Benin in 1897. The haul included thousands of metal plaques as well as ivory and wooden carvings.

All of these pieces are recognized treasures of African art. They were split across museums in Britain and mainland Europe and amongst other Western countries. London has resisted campaigns for the full return of Nigeria’s bronzes.

Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo where Benin City is now located told Reuters he had been talking to European museum officials who have floated the idea of returning the objects on loan. “In some cases it could be a permanent loan and in some cases it [would] just be for temporary display. In other cases it could be a return of works,” Obaseki said. In preparation for the art’s possible return, the current king of Benin has already started making plans for a three story museum to show off the plaques.

Situational Awareness: Western museums have argued they preserve the objects in their care and expose them to a global audience. Other governments including Ethiopia and Greece, have rejected the idea of loans and demanded full returns, saying they should not have to borrow their own stolen property.

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