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9 Benin Bronzes Loaned from Nigeria on view at the National Museum of African Art

Over the weekend, The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art showcased nine Benin Bronzes on loan from the Government of Nigeria as part of a special exhibition to mark the museum's 60th anniversary.

These special pieces were previously part of the museum's collection but were legally repatriated alongside 20 other artefacts transferred back to Nigeria in 2022 after it was determined they had been stolen during the 1897 British raid on Benin City. In an effort to reach an agreement, a formal consensus was given and the Smithsonian negotiated a loan agreement to house nine of them at the National Museum of African Art.

The works to be displayed include a rare 15th-century copper alloy trophy head, a large architectural plaque depicting warriors, several larger-scale copper alloy figurative sculptures, personal items, and two large ivory tusks that were part of ancestral altars in the Benin palace. An additional female figure representing an attendant to a queen mother will also be on view.

This exhibition is developed in collaboration with Nigerian museum professionals, and the credit lines for the artworks acknowledge their origins from the "collection of the Oba of Benin, British raid of Benin 1897". This accords as an important step in the repatriation and shared stewardship of cultural heritage between the Smithsonian and Nigeria. As John K. Lapiana, the interim director of the museum notes, “Sixty years ago the U.S. Civil Rights Movement inspired the founding of the National Museum of African Art by diplomat and collector Warren Robbins who believed that an understanding of the African continent and its cultural heritage would benefit all Americans.” He continued, “Now, six decades later, it is entirely fitting that we are presenting this exhibition in collaboration with our museum colleagues in Nigeria as the first exhibition of our anniversary year.”

The exhibition opened on June 3, 2024, and is part of the National Museum of African Art's 60th anniversary programming, which aims to highlight the museum's role in promoting understanding of Africa's rich cultural heritage.

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9 Benin Bronzes Loaned from Nigeria on view at the National Museum of African Art

June 3, 2024

Art Report Africa

2 min read

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