Benin City will receive additional returns of its plundered bronzes back from museums in the West and collectors early next year as global Black Lives Matter demonstrations trigger repatriation movements.
Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki said talks were being held with regards to many returns that would prove a fillip for a wider Africa-wide campaign and beyond requesting colonial-era loot.
A blueprint had been devised to establish a centre, housing the reinstated artefacts by year-end 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025, Obaseki told Reuters.
“The whole Black Lives Matter movement has … added some urgency to the conversation,” the governor said.
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British soldiers looted sculptures and metal castings in their thousands in an invasion of the then separate Kingdom of Benin in 1897.
The copper alloy relief sculptures called bronze, with many depicting court figures, were sold off and then spread among institutions from New Zealand to Germany and the United States, with London holding the biggest collection.
Britain has long withstood requests for the full restitution of its bronze collection, and of Ethiopia’s Magdala treasures and Greece’s ‘Elgin marbles,’ always quoting laws barring it from disposing of artefacts.
However, Obaseki said global anti-racism demonstrations, which have coerced Western countries to reassess their colonial pasts, had assisted advance talks on finding a common ground.
Many museums in Benin like the British Museum of Ethnology in Vienna have started a Benin Dialogue Group to deliberate on the sculptures and work on exhibiting them in a museum in Benin City, some of them on official loan.
“The question of the objects that will feature in the new museum in Benin and how many will be determined through discussion with our Nigerian colleagues,” the British Museum said in a statement.
In spite of the recent string of returns of artworks to their rightful country of origin, thousands of artifacts looted from African towns over a century ago still line European and British Museums and institutions.
Securing the return of the artifacts does not only restore heritage to the cultures that made them but also bears significant economic benefits to the home country. For instance, the plan to set up a museum to display them in Benin would see Nigeria attract tourists and in the process tap into the global art market that was valued at more than $64 billion last year according to Statista.