* British soldiers plundered Benin Bronzes in 1897* Looted castings are displayed in museums worldwide* Nigeria’s Edo state to build museum to house artefacts* Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye to design museumBy Alexis AkwagyiramLAGOS, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Nigeria expects to get more of itsplundered Benin Bronzes back from Western museums and collectorsas early as next year as global Black Lives Matter protests spurrepatriation campaigns, a senior official said.Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo state whose capital is BeninCity, said discussions were underway about several returns thatwould be a boost for a broader movement building across Africaand beyond seeking colonial-era loot.Plans had been drawn up to build a centre to store and studythe returned artefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanentmuseum by 2025, Obaseki told Reuters.”The whole Black Lives Matter movement has … added someurgency to the conversation,” he said.British soldiers seized thousands of metal castings andsculptures during a raid on the then separate Kingdom of Beninin 1897.The “bronzes” – actually copper alloy relief sculptures,many showing court figures – were auctioned off and then spreadamong institutions from New Zealand to Germany and the UnitedStates, with the biggest collection in London. The British Museum has long resisted calls for the fullrepatriation of its collection of bronzes – as well as ofEthiopia’s Magdala treasures and Greece’s ‘Elgin marbles’ -often citing legislation banning it from disposing of artefacts.But Obaseki said worldwide anti-racism protests, which haveforced Western nations to re-examine their colonial pasts, hadhelped advance negotiations on finding a compromise.Several museums including the British Museum and the Museumof Ethnology in Vienna have formed a Benin Dialogue Group todiscuss the sculptures and work on displaying them in a museumin Benin City, some of them officially on loan.
“FOR AFRICANS FIRST”The British Museum said discussions were ongoing, but didnot give details on timings.”The question of the objects that will feature in the newmuseum in Benin and how many will be determined throughdiscussion with our Nigerian colleagues,” it said in astatement.A private collector returned one item in August and fourothers had expressed interest in recent months in doing the sameas early as next year, Obaseki said.Funds will be raised over the next two years to build thethree-storey Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), and workon a research office to store the first returns would start inMarch, he said.It would be part of an estimated $100 million regenerationscheme that would involve the excavation of the original wallsand moats of Benin City, once the main hub of the Kingdom ofBenin, which spanned much of what is now southern Nigeria frommedieval times, until the British arrived.An independent trust has been set up to raise fundsincluding representatives of the National Commission for Museumsand Monuments and the royal palace of the Oba, or king, ofBenin.More details will be announced on Friday, Obaseki said.The new museum would encourage foreigners to come to Nigeriato see the bronzes, widely recognised as among the masterpiecesof African art, he added.It would try “to make the world understand that there was acivilization in sub-Saharan Africa that compared with what wasgoing on in Europe 400 or 500 years ago.” Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, who will beoverseeing the project, told Reuters it was “ridiculous” thatNigerians currently had to travel to Europe to see artefactsfrom their own culture. “This museum is really for Africans first,” he said.
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