On 13 January 1897, the British Empire launched a devastating punitive expedition in Benin City, which was then capital of the Kingdom of Benin. In what the Times of London reported as a ‘Disaster’ in Benin, modern-day Nigeria - the Benin King, Oba Ovonramwen (who consistently defied the empire) was ousted and his palace was stormed while the troops looted the royal treasures: delicate ivory carvings and magnificent copper-alloy sculptures and plaques, known as the Benin Bronzes. Around 700 of the 4,000 objects ended up in the British Museum, and the rest were swept up by Germany, Austria, France, and then the US.
For decades, these culturally significant artworks have been kept out of their home countries, leaving a gaping hole in Nigeria’s art history and denying citizens of their rightful participation in its OWNERSHIP.
Who gets to keep, exhibit and reap the commercial benefits of ownership?