The United States has returned 23 stolen Benin Bronzes to Nigeria through the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Rhode Island School of Design.
This was disclosed during the handover ceremony by Nigeria’s information minister in Washington DC on Tuesday. He said that he will soon launch an international traveling exhibition with the artifacts being repatriated
The Benin Bronzes were looted during the British Empire invasion of Benin in 1897. Countries, including Germany, are in the process of repatriating over 1000 to Nigeria.
What the Minister said:
The minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, commended the United States for the repatriation to Nigeria of 23 Benin Bronzes, part of the thousands of artifacts that were looted by the British during their invasion of Benin Kingdom in 1897.
”Please permit me, on behalf of the government and people of Nigeria, to most sincerely thank the United States and her major cultural heritage institutions for the return of these highly-cherished Benin Bronzes to Nigeria – which is the reason we are here today,” he said.
”These artifacts are intrinsic to the culture that produced them. A people ought not be denied the works of their forebears. It is in the light of this that we are delighted with today’s repatriation of the Benin Bronzes,” Alhaji Mohammed said.
He thanked the boards of trustees of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Rhode Island School of Design for engaging in the discussions with Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments that led to the repatriation of the artifacts.
The minister disclosed that Nigeria will soon launch an international traveling exhibition with the artifacts being repatriated ”in a manner that will win more friends and promote greater goodwill for Nigeria and the ethnic groups that produced the artifacts”.
He said the release of the Benin Bronzes found in the US was a testament to the success of the Campaign for the Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted/Smuggled Artifacts from around the world, which was launched in November 2019.
”We have also received or are in the process of receiving repatriated artifacts from The Netherlands, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Mexico, the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and Germany, among others,” Alhaji Mohammed said.
Lonnie G. Bunch III, Secretary of the Smithsonian said “the Institution was humbled and honored to play a small role in transferring ownership of the artworks to Nigeria”adding that ethical consideration should be at the heart of what the Smithsonian as an institution does.
The returned artifacts comprise 21 from the Smithsonian and one each from the National Gallery of Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design.
What you should know
Nairametrics reported in July that The Nigerian government’s recent agreement with Germany for the repatriation of 1,130 Benin bronzes, which were looted from the ancient city of Benin kingdom in 1897, will help to stimulate domestic tourism in Nigeria.
Mohammed added that it will be the single largest repatriation of looted works of art anywhere in the world.
“Our efforts in this regard have started to yield fruits. Last week, in Berlin, Germany, we signed the agreement for the repatriation of 1,130 Benin bronzes that were looted from the ancient city of Benin kingdom in 1897.
“This number represents the single largest repatriation of looted works of art anywhere in the world,” he added.