The African Origins exhibition ignores the fact that approximately 160 objects from Benin are held by the museum under ongoing demands for their repatriation.
Equity should be discussed in the form of European and American institutions partnering with the Benin government to create sustainable museums.
The museum and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments entered into a shared agreement to collaborate on mutual loans of Benin objects and other “exchanges of expertise and art.”
The National Museum of African Art identified 16 objects from its collection with direct links to the British army’s 1897 punitive raid on the Kingdom of Benin.
To do so before they have returned the Maqdala treasures and the Benin Bronzes and the Easter Island statues and the Maori heads, before a coherent set of precepts for decolonization has been articulated, would affirm the wrong principle.
“We never stopped making the bronzes even after those ones were stolen,” said a founding member of the Ahiamwen Guild. “I think we make them even better now.”
Despite the British Museum’s active participation in work towards restitution, the current display and captioning fail to be forthright or responsible.
Critics note that the Met has failed to address the hundreds of other works from Benin that remain in its collection.
Nigeria’s business leaders will have to give generously; politicians will have to put rivalries aside; and contemporary artists will have to embrace the project.
The Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City is being considered as a future home for the returned artifacts.
Thousands of objects were looted from present-day Nigeria by British troops in a punitive mission in 1897.
“The Brutish Museums” considers the histories of cruelty that western museums perpetuate when they do not endeavor to return looted colonial artifacts.