Monday, December 27, 2010

Sotheby's reverses decision on Benin art auction

On December 24, this announcement was posted on the website of the Sotheby's of London: 

“The Benin Ivory Pendant Mask and other items consigned by the descendants of
Lionel Galway which Sotheby’s had announced for auction in February 2011 have
been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors.”

This is very good news, if not for the descendants of Colonel Lionel Galway, at least for the Benin Palace, the Edo people, Nigerians and everyone else interested in seeking a just and equitable resolution of the fate of Benin art looted by British soldiers in 1897 during their invasion of the kingdom and destruction of the palace. As I indicated in my previous post, while--I hope--legal proceedings begin, popular pressure and mass action must be brought to bear on this question, if only to cause public relations problems for anyone or institution involved in or condoning future peddling of these stolen works. This Galway family cache must not be allowed to be sold until its ownership is settled by a court of law. And this is where the Benin Palace and the Nigerian government must act quickly. They must expeditiously sue the Galway family, and hopefully obtain a court order restraining them from disposing of these sculptures. They must not be allowed to squirrel the works into some godless private or public collection. In any case, I hope the outcome of this current campaign against the Sotheby's auction, should serve as enough warning to anyone who might want to buy these stolen objects from the Galway family.
To everyone who has been part of the media campaign against the Sotheby's sale, thanks! Let us now await the necessary court case(s).



Anonymous said...

Hi Chika,

What do you think should be done with these objects?

Anonymous said...

so presumably, every item that the Benin people stole from their conquests should also be returned to their original owners?

"The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery;[6] otherwise the captives would have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. By c.1750, the King of Dahomey was earning an estimated £250,000 per year by selling Africans to the European slave-traders."

It is indeed quite amazing to learn how things are easily forgot!

no doubt you will censer this response so that it favours in your direction, however if you have any moral, in which you preach to others you indeed will post this comment!

Chika Okeke-Agulu said...

The first thing is for the rightful legal ownership of the works to be determined. This determination will settle the question of who should keep them, and/or benefit from their value. If as I hope Benin or Nigeria wins the case, then it is left to them to determine what should be done to the objects; what's in their best interest. They may decide to work out an arrangement whereby the custody of the works can be shared, or they could be sent on permanent loan to appropriate institutions (local or foreign). They could also be returned to the palace, as they originally were, along with other invaluable treasures there. These options are in consonance with the Oba's statement during the groundbreaking Benin art exhibition organized in 2007 by the Museum of Ethnology, Vienna.

Chika Okeke-Agulu said...

I posted the above response to the first one by "anonymous", before receiving "anonymous'" second post. Whoever you are, I have posted your mail challenging my "moral", simply to alert my readers to the kind of language I do not allow; not because I respect opinions of people like you who think they are smart and know history, when in fact you do not. Before you start talking about origins of art works and pointing to the exploitation of the labor of others in the making of civilizations, empires and cultures, have you looked at your own background wherever that is.

The fact of the current issue is that in 1897, British soldiers invaded Benin, took away thousands of works of art (even left us photographs of the collection before it was carted away to England). A hundred years later the heirs of one of the soldiers brought out the works for sale. People like me look at this and say, no! The Galways cannot be allowed to benefit from the theft committed by their great-grand father/uncle, until a legal determination is made on the ownership of these works.

People like you will someday justify the theft of works from the Baghdad Museum by Western Soldiers during the invasion of Iraq, simply because Saddam Hussein was a "bad guy," who abused and used biological weapons on his people. No?

If you want to have a debate, welcome. But if you want to question my "moral", please don't bother to write.