Monday, November 29, 2021

Virgil Abloh (1981-2021)

He looked Whiteness in the eye

And with a steady hand

Turned it Off.

(For Virgil Abloh)

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Metropolitan's Gambit

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.

Saturday, November 13, 2021


November 18, 2021 - 8:00pm – 9:30pm

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 32022.

How to Watch

This Penny Stamps Speaker Series event will pre­mière on Novem­ber 182021 at 8pm and can be viewed on this page, at dptv​.org, or on the Penny Stamps Series Face­book page.

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,

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

Yesterday, I have two interviews on the return of these treasures, first on radio with Matt Galloway of CBC News, and second, on TRT World.

Here is the link to the CBC interview:

And here is the link to the TRT interview: