Dispatch exhibition of 179 objects looted in Hamburg marks ‘start of return’ of German bronzes from Benin to Nigeria
Hamburg should become the first German city to officially return its Beninese bronzes.
The Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK), the ethnological museum in Hamburg, is giving the objects a consignment with the exhibition “Benin: looted history”, which opened on December 16. The exhibition features the 179 works looted from the museum’s collection, including not only bronzes but also ivory and jewelry.
Facing Germany’s colonial heritage, curators are presenting the collection in its entirety for the first time in a century. The works are presented alongside contemporary objects and testimonies from Nigerians celebrating the importance of their return.
“I want us to say goodbye to these works by once again honoring their quality and importance to a global art history,” said MARKK Director Barbara Plankensteiner, “while doing justice to their provenance in as pillaged colonial property “.
German Culture Minister Monika Grütters announced in April that all Beninese bronzes in German public collections would be returned to Nigeria from 2022. The MARKK exhibition is expected to run until the exact date of return is coordinated.
“With this exhibition, we clearly promise that all Beninese objects in Hamburg will be returned,” Hamburg senator for culture Carsten Brosda (SPD) said at the opening of the exhibition, according to Monopol.
The Benin bronzes were looted by British soldiers during a punitive expedition in 1897 in which the royal palace of Benin was ransacked and set on fire. But it was the Hamburg merchants and forwarders who distributed the artifacts across the west, which is why Germany is home to so many. (According to Art journal, around 1,100 Benin bronzes are expected to be returned to German museums in the second quarter of next year.)
The Edo West African Art Museum is currently under construction across from the former Benin City Palace site to house the returned artifacts. The Quai Branly museum in Paris recently organized a ceremony to mark the return of 26 looted objects from its collection (like the MARKK, it first organized a farewell exhibition).
“This is the beginning of the return of Beninese bronzes to Nigeria,” Abba Isa Tijani, director of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, told Monopol. “The importance cannot be overstated.”
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