“Fiasco” – Returned Benin bronzes given into private ownership instead of on display

“Fiasco” – Returned Benin bronzes given into private ownership instead of on display

Abroad According to the report

“Fiasco” – Returned Benin bronzes given into private ownership instead of on display

| Reading time: 3 minutes

Abba Isa Tijani (lr), Director General of the Nigerian Museums Commission, shows Claudia Roth and Annalena Baerbock one of the Benin bronzes Abba Isa Tijani (lr), Director General of the Nigerian Museums Commission, shows Claudia Roth and Annalena Baerbock one of the Benin bronzes

Abba Isa Tijani (lr), Director General of the Nigerian Museums Commission, shows Claudia Roth and Annalena Baerbock one of the Benin bronzes

Source: pa/dpa/Annette Riedl

The looted property was recently returned to Nigeria by state act, but it was actually supposed to be exhibited in a museum funded by Germany with millions. Now the Benin bronzes have apparently passed into private ownership. The background should be a personal dispute.

Dhe Benin bronzes returned to Nigeria are privately owned. Outgoing Nigerian President Mohammedu Buhari has transferred ownership of the artifacts from the historic Kingdom of Benin to Oba Ewuare II, the current head of the royal family, reports Swiss ethnologist Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung“. The corresponding decree was already published on March 23 of this year.

The order gives the Oba possession of all the artworks that were looted from the royal palace in Benin by British troops during a punitive expedition in 1897, “to the exclusion of any other person or institution,” as a Nigerian newspaper quoted the text. Months ago, observers, including at WELT, had warned that there were increasing indications that the planned museum in which the works of art were to be exhibited would not exist.

This ended the German policy of transferring ownership of all Benin bronzes from German museums to the Nigerian state “in a fiasco,” as Hauser-Schäublin writes.

Last December, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth symbolically handed over the works of art at a state ceremony in the Nigerian capital Abuja. The German Foreign Minister invited her Nigerian partners to exhibit the bronzes in the planned Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) in Benin City, the construction of which is being supported by the German state with several million euros. The museum’s website recently said it would be “home to the largest collection of Benin bronzes in the world.” The sentence is no longer there.

According to the Nigerian media, behind the transfer of ownership is a personal conflict between the Oba and the governor of the Benin region, Godwin Obaseki, one of the most determined supporters of the museum project. Obaseki’s grandfather had served the British as interim regent after the destruction of Benin City in 1897 and the removal of then-Obas. Royalist supporters of Ewuare II now accuse the governor of continuing to collaborate with opponents of the royal family.

The Benin Bronzes are more than five thousand reliefs and sculptures, mostly made of brass, that were created between the 13th and 18th centuries in the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria. From the 15th century onwards, bracelets, so-called manillas, made of copper were mainly used for their production, which were used by Portuguese traders as a means of payment for slaves, ivory and other goods.

More than a thousand Benin bronzes have been in the collections of German museums for more than a hundred years. On July 1, 2022, Germany and Nigeria signed an agreement on the return of the bronzes, under which around two-thirds of the artworks are to be returned to the Nigerian state. A third is to remain on permanent loan in German museums.

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