Saturday, July 14, 2012

Royal Benin Art in Exile: Nigerian Official's response

It has been reported that the Director-General of the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monument, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman has challenged  the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's claim that the Royal Benin art objects it has just received passed all legal requirements, or that no claims had been made on the objects. Now, Mallam Usman has said that he is publicly demanding the return of all Benin objects that came from the well documented looting of the Palace of the Oba of Benin in 1897. Sounds great.

But as I have suggested before,  the Nigerian authorities need to work with--by which I mean provide political, financial and legal resources to--the Oba's Court, so that the case for the return of the exiled works is spearheaded by the Oba of Benin whose great-grand father owned the objects (or held them in trust for the Kingdom, if you will). If the Nigerian authorities are willing and ready, the first thing to do is take legal action against that Galway family for keeping objects stolen by their ancestor in the family's collection. I would think that that case should set the ground for any future Benin art-related (legal) actions. In the meantime, the Nigerian government (on behalf of the Oba of Benin) can bring tremendous pressure on public institutions holding the 1897 Benin objects, to compel them to seriously consider other mutually beneficial ways of resolving the fate of the objects. Otherwise, the Director-General's reported response will be seen as nothing but mere grandstanding.

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