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Major European Institutions Will ‘Loan’ Looted Artifacts to New Nigerian Museum

In 1897, a British diplomatic mission was sent to Benin City, once the seat of a great kingdom in modern-day southern Nigeria, to demand that its ruler stop imposing customs on colonial traders. The mission was ambushed, and in response, 1,200 British troops were dispatched on a “retaliatory expedition.” They razed large portions of Benin City and, before reducing its royal palace to smoldering ruins, made off with some 4,000 artworks, many of which ultimately ended up in some of the world’s most important museums.

More than a century after the destruction, the Benin Dialogue Group, which comprises museum representatives from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, along with Nigerian officials, have spearheaded an agreement to establish “a new museum in Benin City…where a permanent display of Benin art works from European and Nigerian museums will be shown.” While the display is permanent, the objects from European museums, will rotate periodically. They are, in other words, loans.

As Kate Brown reports for artnet News, precisely what items will be sent to the Benin Royal Museum, set to open in Nigeria in 2021, has not been confirmed, but the loans will include a number of “Benin bronzes,” intricate sculptures (which are actually made from brass, according to Encyclopedia Britannica) that were a coveted hallmark of the Benin Kingdom’s artistic output. Some 2,500 bronzes were looted during the 1897 expedition.

Read entire article at Smithsonian