London museum agrees to return over 70 looted Nigerian artworks

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A British museum has said it will return dozens of artefacts that were forcibly taken more than a century ago to the Nigerian government.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London plans to hand over 72 objects – including a share of sculptures known as the Benin Bronzes – which were looted from Benin City, southern Nigeria, during a British military invasion in 1897, according to the museum’s board of trustees. .

“The evidence is very clear that these items were acquired by force, and an external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their property to Nigeria,” the council chairperson said. of directors, Eve Salomon, in a press release.

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Horniman Museum and Gardens

A work known as Oku’Oba (Oba’s Emissary) from the collection of the Horniman Museum is depicted.

The museum agreed to return the artefacts after receiving a request in January from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, a Nigerian body that oversees the preservation of the country’s historical and cultural assets.

The Horniman said he carefully researched the items in his possession that came from the Kingdom of Benin – a former region separate from present-day Benin – to identify those that relate to the NCMM request.

Artifacts to be returned include 12 brass plaques – better known as the Benin Bronzes – ceremonial objects, brass bells, common items of the time like fans and baskets, and a “key to the palace”. of the King”.

Despite their name, the Benin Bronzes are a series of thousands of mostly brass sculptures and plaques, reports The New York Times. The elaborate works once adorned the king’s palace in the ancient kingdom of Benin.

“We warmly welcome this decision by the trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens,” said Abba Tijani, chief executive of the NCMM, in the press release.

He added that he looks forward to future collaborations between his organization and the Horniman, including the possibility of loaning artefacts to the British museum.

The deal is part of a wider effort to repatriate African artefacts looted during Europe’s colonial conquests. Many objects ended up in museums across Europe and the United States. As NPR reported, some museums have failed to follow through on similar promises to return artifacts.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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