Monday, December 13, 2021
Sunday, December 12, 2021
It’s been 566 days since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. His death spurred millions of people across the globe to protest in support of Black lives. We examine the impact in three locations: United Kingdom, Mexico and Nigeria.
Guests: Aba Amoah, co-founder of Justice for Black Lives; Alice Krozer, professor at the Center for Sociological Research at the College of Mexico; and Chika Okeke-Agulu, director of the African studies program at Princeton University and professor of art and archeology
Credits: "Axios Today" is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries. This episode was produced by Nuria Marquez Martinez and edited by Alexandra Botti. Alex Sugiura is our sound engineer. Julia Redpath is our executive producer. Special thanks to editor-in-chief Sara Kehaulani Goo.
Saturday, December 4, 2021
|This statue of the goddess Annapurna was stolen in 1913 from a Hindu temple in India by Regina lawyer Norman MacKenzie.|
Last night, Dec. 2, I discussed, with Kelda Yuen of the Canadian news network, CBC News, the matter of stolen artifacts in museum collections. This was in response to news that McKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan Province, Canada, is reviewing over 2,000 pieces following the return of an Indian statue originally stolen from its owners by a Canadian collector Norman MacKenzie, who later gifted his hoard to the museum that bears his name today.
Here's a clip of the news segment
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
I trained as a wood sculptor with some of the best teachers you could wish for in the academy. And, I think I was quite good with my chisels, gouges, and adzes. If you doubt, go ask El Anatsui, my teacher and former studio master. Yep.
And yet, I am always humbled by the supreme mastery of Ogoni sculptors who fashioned exquisite "Elu" face masks of sassily modern, early-to-mid-20th-century characters such as this guy. Check out his defiantly chamfered high-top fade haircut, with its knife-thin vertical slit!
What about the flawless lines. There is not a single one that is not supremely rendered: the sweep of the hairline, the brows, the elegantly upturned nose.
Awesome meeting of inspired craft and imagination.
Monday, November 29, 2021
Friday, November 26, 2021
|Warrior Chief, 16th Century, Benin Kingdom. Now-returned by the Met|
This past Monday, according to news reports, The Metropolitan Museum of Art officially handed over two Royal Benin plaques to representatives of the Federal Government of Nigeria, following an announcement last summer that it was planning to return these two artifacts. Fantastic news! Bravo to the Met for keeping to its word. I wasn’t there, but I am sure the Nigerians were thrilled to get back artifacts that should not have left their care in the first place. But there is a problem with how that event seemed to have concluded.
Here’s the thing. The two objects returned this week have a different history from the 160 or so “Benin Bronzes” in the Met’s collection. According to the Museum, of these two, one was part of a collection it received in the early 1990s; the other was offered to the Museum recently. Both, it was discovered, had been in the collection of the Lagos Museum, after they were acquired from Britain by Nigeria decades ago. The Met, in other words, did not want to keep artifacts illegally removed from another museum (in museum-speak, they were never deaccessioned by the Lagos museum, and so had no business turning up in the international market). To be sure, most self-respecting museums would do the same as the Met. However, the news and festivity around the return of these two objects seem to have come at the WRONG time, if you ask me. Why? Well, because, it is being conflated with the restitution of Royal Benin Bronzes looted in 1897 and now scattered mostly in Europe and the US, including the 160 held by the Met.
|Junior Court Official, 16th Century, Benin Kingdom. Now-returned by the Met.|
Let’s be clear. The return of the two objects illegally removed from the Lagos Museum must not be confused with and is not equivalent to the announcement by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art that it intends to return the Benin Bronzes in its collection; or with the pledge by the German Government to return more than 1100 Benin Bronzes; or with the return two weeks ago by the French Government of 26 Dahomey Treasures to Benin Republic; or with the returns recently by Jesus College and University of Edinburgh of Royal Benin artifacts they once held. The Met has not said that it has any intention of returning any of the 160 objects in its collection. It appears to be sticking with the position that it acquired the looted objects legally. Reports from the Monday ceremony indicate that that position has not changed, and that is why no one should think otherwise.
Here is the part of the news reports that I am talking about. According to @hyperallergic and @observer, the Met and representatives of 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.” LOANS. Yes, the Met returned two artifacts that disappeared from the Lagos Museum, and while handing them over agreed with the Nigerians on a mutual loan of Benin artifacts! I thought that after nearly half a decade of debate and discourse on restitution, we have moved beyond the silly, dishonest, and arrogant notion of loaning looted objects to their original claimants. If there is going to be any loaning of Royal Benin Art, it will have to be done by their Nigerian owners, not some Western institutions that have so far refused to acknowledge the fact that they are keeping looted objected.
So, here is a big Thank You! to the Met for returning the two objects. To the Nigerian museum officials: keep your damn house in order! But the second part of the ceremony last Monday, the one about “mutual loan agreement” is most regrettable and must be rejected by advocates of restitution of looted Royal Benin artifacts. Others are moving to return and restitute; the Met is talking about loans. Are you kidding me?
Here is what Barnaby Phillips said back in June when the Met announced its plan to return to the Benin Bronzes. "But in returning these specific plaques, [the Met is] making an unacknowledged distinction between them and the rest of their Benin Bronzes. They are giving these two back because they were stolen from Nigerian Museums after independence, not because they were looted in 1897, This return is about PR and legality, not morality"
I could not agree more.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Saturday, November 13, 2021
The debate about restitution and the ethics of Western museums’ owning African artworks collected during the era of colonization has never been more in the public eye. Most well-known, perhaps, are the “Benin bronzes,” artistic and royal heirlooms made since the 13th century by highly specialized metalworkers in the Kingdom of Benin (now southern Nigeria). In 1897, British forces sacked the capital of this prosperous kingdom. They tore sculptures and plaques from the palace walls, and took them back to Europe, where the looted treasures were sold to museums and private collectors. The royal court of Benin, Nigerian officials, and high-profile scholars such as Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton) have been demanding their return for decades. Increasingly, museums based in the Global North have been listening to these calls for repatriation, and some have pledged to return works from their collections. To provide a new home for the repatriated works, plans for a new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), are currently in development with world renowned architect Sir David Adjaye leading the building design project.
On the occasion of Wish You Were Here: African Art & Restitution, a public investigation into our own collection at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA), Sir David Adjaye and Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu will discuss their current and recent projects that address how works of art may re-enter the societies they were torn away from. Laura De Becker, Interim Chief Curator and the Helmut and Candis Stern Curator of African Art at UMMA, will introduce the event.
Sir David Adjaye OBE is an award winning Ghanaian-British architect known to infuse his artistic sensibilities and ethos for community-driven projects. His ingenious use of materials, bespoke designs and visionary sensibilities have set him apart as one of the leading architects of his generation. In 2000, David founded his own practice, Adjaye Associates, which today operates globally, with studios in Accra, London, and New York taking on projects that span the globe. The firm’s work ranges from private houses, bespoke furniture collections, product design, exhibitions, and temporary pavilions to major arts centers, civic buildings, and master plans. His most well known commission to date, The National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC opened on the National Mall in Washington DC in 2016 and was named Cultural Event of the Year by The New York Times.
In 2017, Adjaye was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME Magazine. Most recently, Adjaye was announced the winner of the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal. Approved personally by Her Majesty the Queen, the Royal Gold Medal is considered one of the highest honors in British architecture for significant contribution to the field internationally. Sir Adjaye is also the recipient of the World Economic Forum’s 27th Annual Crystal Award, which recognizes his “leadership in serving communities, cities and the environment.
Chika Okeke-Agulu, an artist, critic and art historian, is director of the Program in African Studies and professor of African and African Diaspora art in the Department of African American Studies, and Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University. His books include Yusuf Grillo: Painting. Lagos. Life (Skira, 2020); Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text (Skira, 2016); Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria (2015); and (with Okwui Enwezor), Contemporary African Art Since 1980 (2010). He recently co-organized, with Okwui Enwezor, El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale (Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2019). He is co-editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, has written for The New York Times and Huffington Post, and maintains the blog Ọfọdunka.
His many awards include The Melville J. Herskovits Prize for the most important scholarly work in African Studies published in English during the preceding year (African Studies Association, 2016); and Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism (College Art Association, 2016).Okeke-Agulu serves on the advisory boards of the Hyundai Tate Research Centre, Tate Modern, London, The Africa Institute, Sharjah, and Bët-bi/Le Korsa Museum Project, Senegal. He is also on the advisory council of Mpala Research Center, Nanyuki, Kenya; serves on the executive board of Princeton in Africa, and on the editorial boards of African Studies Review and Journal of Visual Culture.
Laura De Becker is the Interim Chief Curator and the Helmut and Candis Stern Curator of African Art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). A specialist in Central African art, she joined UMMA after a fellowship at Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. After many years of working with a team to research to envision a new installation of UMMA’s African art collection, De Becker’s We Write to You About Africa, a project that doubled the footprint of the African galleries at UMMA, opened in September 2021. De Becker’s work on the reinstallation led to Wish You Were Here: African Art & Restitution, a separate project grappling with issues of restitution, also on view at UMMA for the 2021 – 22 academic year.
Lead support for the UMMA exhibition Wish You Were Here: African Art & Restitution is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Provost and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Wish You Were Here: African Art & Restitution is on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (525 S. State St.) through July 3, 2022.
How to Watch
Presented in partnership with UMMA, with support from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Our Fall 2021 Series is brought to you with the support of our partners, Detroit Public Television and PBS Books.
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Interviews with Mark Galloway of CBC News Radio (Canada) and with TRT World TV (Turkey) on the return of Dahomey Treasures
|Portraits of Kings Glele, Ghezo and Behanzin|
photo courtesy, BBC.com
The French Government returned 26 of the Dahomey Treasures looted from the Abomey palace by the black French General Alfred Dodds in 1892. These treasures include the three sculpted figures of King Ghezo, King Glele and King Behanzin, as well as the superbly carved throne of King Ghezo, and had been displayed at the Musee Quai-Branly, Paris, the museum holding most of France's African imperial loots.
|King Ghezo's Throne|
Here is the link to the CBC interview:
And here is the link to the TRT interview:
Sunday, October 10, 2021
Anita Glass Memorial Lecture: Chika Okeke-Agulu
Friday, October 15, 2021 at 5:30 pm
|El Anatsui, Rising Sea, 2019. Photo courtesy Haus der Kunst|
The Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Brown University is honored to announce that poet, curator, blogger and art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu will present the 2021 Anita Glass Lecture on October 15 at 5:30 pm in List Art Building on the Brown campus. He will discuss the work of Ghanian-born artist El Anatsui, one of Africa’s most celebrated contemporary sculptors.
In March 2019 Professor Okeke-Agulu co-curated El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale at the Haus der Kunst Museum in Munich - perhaps the largest solo show of a black African artist in Europe. Okeke-Agulu’s talk, "El Anatsui's Metamorphic Objects," will discuss the show, while also examining the ontological and epistemic orders that inform our understanding of El Anatsui's shape-shifting, monumental metal sculptures.
Okeke-Agulu is Professor of African and African Diaspora Art at Princeton University. His recent books include Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in 20th-Century Nigeria (2015), Obiora Udechukwu: Line. Image. Text (2018), and Yusuf Grillo: Painting. Lagos. Life (2020).
About Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu
As a scholar, Professor Okeke-Agulu’s books include YusufGrillo: Painting. Lagos. Life (Skira Editore, 2020), ObioraUdechukwu: Line, Image, Text (Skira Editore, 2016); PostcolonialModernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-CenturyNigeria (Duke, 2015); and (with Okwui Enwezor), Contemporary African Art Since 1980 (Damiani, 2010). He is co-editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art and maintains the blog Ọfọdunka and has written for HuffPost. He has co-organized several art exhibitions, including El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale (Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2019), Who Knows Tomorrow (Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 2010), 5th Gwangju Biennale (Gwangju, 2004), The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945 1994 (Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, 2001), Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa (Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1995), and the Nigerian section at the First Johannesburg Biennale, 1995.
Among Professor Okeke-Agulu’s many awards and prizes are: Honorable Mention, The Arnold Rubin Outstanding Publication (triennial) Award (Arts Council of African Studies Association, 2017); The Melville J. Herskovits Prize for the most important scholarly work in African Studies published in English during the preceding year (African Studies Association, 2016); and the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism (College Art Association, 2016). Okeke-Agulu serves on the advisory boards of the Hyundai Tate Research Centre, the Tate Modern, London, and The Africa Institute, Sharjah, and on the Advisory Council of Mpala Research Centre, Nanyuki, Kenya. He is on the executive board of Princeton in Africa, and the editorial board of the Journal of Visual Culture.
Friday, August 27, 2021
Princeton in Africa helps future leaders develop lifelong connections to the people and nations of Africa. We offer highly selective yearlong fellowships to recent college graduates with organizations across the African continent; we enable our Fellows, through their work, to make significant contributions to Africa’s well-being; and we encourage our Fellows to cultivate meaningful relationships with communities in Africa and with one another.
Service for a Year
Princeton in Africa matches talented and passionate college graduates with organizations working across Africa for yearlong service placements. Our program is open to graduating seniors and young alumni from any college or university accredited in the U.S. Our Fellows have helped improve education and public health, source fresh water and alternative energy, increase family incomes, and so much more.
For more information about the fellowship application click here
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
New lecture series in honour of Okwui Enwezor celebrates premiere
Christian Wißler Pressestelle
Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Today, June 1 at 9:40AM EST, WNYC's popular program, The Takeaway, guest-hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry for Tanzina Vega, featured a discussion on the restitution of African Art by European and American museums and collections. Here below is the information published on the program page and a link to the podcast. The other program guest, along with me, is Karen Attiah who is the Global Opinions Editor and award-winning journalist at Washington Post.
|Undated photo put out by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, shows an illegally smuggled, artifact repatriated from the United Kingdom|
( Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities / Associated Press )
The murder of George Floyd — and last summer’s protests against systemic racism — reignited conversations about the racist and colonialist legacies of so many institutions across the globe, including museums.
Now, some museums are making good on their promises to fight systemic racism in very tangible ways. This April, in a historic move, Germany announced it would return stolen African artifacts currently in its museums back to Nigeria including the priceless Benin Bronzes of the then-Kingdom of Benin. And in March, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland agreed to repatriate its Benin Bronze. France also indicated similar plans last year.
Yet some museums — including the famed British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art — have not committed to doing the same, despite having sizable collections of looted objects like the Benin Bronzes.
Karen Attiah, global opinions editor at the Washington Post, and Chika Okeke-Agulu, professor at Princeton University in the Department of Art & Archaeology, joined The Takeaway to discuss the calls to repatriate stolen items to their origin countries.
Click here to listen to the radio program
Thursday, May 27, 2021
African Artists from 1882 to Now (Pre-order)
Phaidon Editors with introduction by Chika Okeke-Agulu and glossary by Joseph L Underwood
A groundbreaking A-Z appraisal of the work of over 300 modern and contemporary artists born or based in Africa
In recent years Africa’s booming art scene has gained substantial global attention, with a growing number of international exhibitions and a stronger-than-ever presence on the art market worldwide. Here, for the first time, is the most substantial survey to date of modern and contemporary African-born or Africa-based artists. Working with a panel of experts, this volume builds on the success of Phaidon’s bestselling Great Women Artists in re-writing a more inclusive and diverse version of art history.
Size: 290 x 250 mm (11 3/8 x 9 7/8 in)
Pages: 352 pp
Illustrations: 315 illustrations
About the author
Conceived and edited by Phaidon editors.
Chika Okeke-Agulu is Professor of African and African Diaspora Art at Princeton University. He is the author of several books including Postcolonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria (2015), and is a co-editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art.
Thursday, May 20, 2021
How time flies! It is already more than six years ago that my friend and teacher El Anatsui was in Princeton as the Sarah Lee Elson, Class of 1984, International Artist-in-Residence. The highlight was, of course, the acquisition of his work, Another Place (2014) by the Princeton University Art Museum.
|El Anatsui, Another Place, 2014|
And then there was our public conversation on campus, April 22, 2015, which I cherish, as I have several others we have done over the years.
Last week, "The World", the radio program on PRI, published a podcast in response to the news from Germany to the effect that the German government plans to return the Benin Bronzes in its state museums. The story was anchored around an interview with me by the reporter Sarah Birnbaum. Listen to the 5-minute feature here:
On May 17, the Cambridge Union, reputedly the world's oldest debating club, at Cambridge University hosted one of its debate panels, this time on the question: "Should Museums Return their Colonial Artefacts"? The four invited debate participants were: Dr. Monica Hanna who is acting Dean of the College of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT) in Aswan, Egypt; Dan Hicks, archaeologist and anthropologist and Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. He is also the author of the hard-hitting book, The Brutish Museums (2020); Felwine Sarr, a humanist, philosopher, economist, and the Anne-Marie Bryan Chair in French and Francophone Studies at Duke University, and is the author of Afrotopia (2019); and me. Cambridge Union Speakers Officer Tara Bhagat moderated. I really liked this panel--among the many that I have been involved in this past year, on the subject of restitution of African artefacts in European and American museums and institutions.
If you are interested in learning news stuff about the issues pertinent to the vexed question of colonial-era looting of African artefacts and cultural heritage, the fate of the captive objects, and the broader meaning and scope of restitution, the full panel can be found here on Youtube.