The National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria is demanding the return of 32 artifacts from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, which were said to have been illegally taken by the British during the Benin Massacre of 1897.
The artifacts were reportedly a gift from collector Robert Owen Lehman (great-grandson of a founder of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers financial services firm) who purchased the Benin sculptures between the 1950s and the 1970s.
A spokesman for the Nigerian commission said:
“Without mincing words, these artworks are heirlooms of the great people of the Benin Kingdom and Nigeria generally. They form part of the history of the people. The gap created by this senseless exploitation is causing our people untold anguish, discomfort and disillusionment.’’
No word on whether there have been any talks between the Nigerian Museum and Monuments commission and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Will they comply?
The Huffington Post has more of the story HERE.
It was just 2 weekends ago when, while at the Metropolitan Museum here in NYC, while looking at some of the museum's holdings, a friend asked a question that many of us have wondered: why these artifacts (sculptures and such) from continental Africa that originated from other countries, weren't sitting in museums in their home countries, for the people who live in those countries to appreciate.
It further made me think of movies like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, in which artifacts (whether real or fictional) originating in neither country are fought over by Americans and Europeans, without the locals really having an authoritative say on what happens to those artifacts.
And then it reminded me of this report we posted in 2009, in which officials from Egypt and Germany were negotiating the possibility of the Germans "lending" the bust of Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen, back to Egypt. The Germans had housed the statue for the last 100+ years, and the Egyptians claimed that they were tricked into letting the bust go in the first place. It was an interesting converstion on "ownership" of cultural artifacts.
There's a movie in this for any filmmakers willing to tackle the theme: