The planned auction of a 16th century mask stolen from Benin in modern day Nigeria is slowly helping to create awareness of the wider issue of stolen African artefacts. Prof. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, an art historian, is one of a few Africans who has for several years drawn attention to this issue.
As controversial as the planned sale of the 16th century mask of Benin is, the attention that this has garnered could also serve as a platform to start a more sustained campaign on restituition and rapatriation of stolen African artefacts.
It is, therefore, with great pleasure that we publish a note from Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie to his colleagues on the H-AfrArts Network. H-AfrArts is composed of two parts, a discussion list and a web site cosponsored by Humanities and Social Sciences OnLine (H-Net) and the Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA). Its content focuses on the expressive cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora.
In this note Prof. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie asks some of the difficult questions that will invariably shape debate on this subject and ponts us to a couple of information sources that one could pick up a thing or two about stolen African artefacts.
Prof. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie’s note below in full:
The ongoing comments on the identification of the Benin Ivory mask pending sale at Sotheby’s are very erudite. I am however interested in more fundamental questions:
1. By what right does Sotheby’s sell this stolen artwork?
2. By what right does it belong to the descendants of Sir Gallway who now stand to reap massive financial rewards for artworks created in Benin, paid for by a Benin King, and belonging to his rightful and legal descendants?
3. Can anyone ever hold legal claim to artworks that are known to have been stolen?
5. How much of the money from the sale of this artwork accrues to Oba Erediauwa as the sole and undisputed owner of all Benin bronzes anywhere in the world?
See my comments on the above at :
I have also started a Facebook page to engage the issue of African Cultural Patrimony:
African Cultural Patrimony
As scholars, we have become used to discussing Benin artworks and other African artworks held in Western collections as if the prevailing issues of the day doesn’t apply to them. However, claims of cultural patrimony and demands for its repatriation are the main issues of this age and we should at least discuss this in greater detail. Many of us have made our careers working on Benin art (and other forms of African art) and our discussion reflects our expertise clearly. However, by sidelining the credible issue of African claims to its cultural patrimony, we fail to fully extend our expertise in these subjects.
As a wise person once said, all that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. I think we can no longer afford to operate as if these issues are unrelated to the artworks we study. Please visit the new Facebook page and disseminate it widely. If we are unable to stop Sotheby’s from selling the artworks, we can at least try to bring attention to the sheer injustice of its disdain for African concerns about its cultural patrimony.
Prof. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie
A special thanks to Dr AC Solomon for bringing this to our attention
Click here to sign a wider petition: Looted African artefacts belong to Africans