The return of Benin’s looted bronzes is about restoring a century’s worth of heritage—and pride

Title: The return of Benin’s looted bronzes is about restoring a century’s worth of heritage—and pride
Author: Yomi Kazeem
Media Outlet: Quartz Africa
Publish Date: November 30, 2018

“(…) Indeed, Igun Street in Benin, known for bronze sculpting, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (…) “The language that’s been used is patronizing. I don’t like the word ‘loan’,” says Ehikhamenor. “It really offends my sensibilities as a Nigerian or as someone from Edo. They [the artworks] belong to the kingdom and the Oba’s palace where they were taken.”

But Enotie Ogbebor, an Edo artist who’s been a party to some of the restitution talks suggests it’s a prudent stop-gap measure. (…) Returning the artworks hasn’t won unanimous support in Nigeria.

(…) For Edo-born artists like Ehikhamenor and Ogbebor, the restitution of the bronzes is also personal. While the artworks will showcase local artists’ cultural influences, crucially, they will also serve as a reference for a budding generation of artists and bridge the gap in Benin’s art heritage. ”Imagine if in the last 100 years, all the works of Picasso, Monet and Michelangelo were removed from society for 100 years?” Ogbebor posits. “That is what the British invasion did to Benin by removing those things.”

Returning the art, Ehikhamenor argues, is the first step to fixing that lost connection to indigenous art heritage which has also forced local artists to look abroad for more validation, appreciation and income. ”When I make an artwork, if a white man does not endorse it, I can not grow in the art world,” Ehikhamenor says. “The hole that the African artist has to climb out of was dug a long time ago and the ladder to climb out of that hole is held by the Western world.””