The colonizers are at it again. 120 years ago, British imperialists stole many rare bronze statues from Nigeria. Nigeria now wants the artefacts back, so what do the British do? They offer to return it to us - ON LOAN. Curators from Europe and the U.S. are negotiating an agreement to set up a permanent exhibition of the bronze statues and other artefacts in Nigeria - on the condition that the pieces are agreed to be on loan from the British Museum.
"Not every artefact was stolen, plundered, looted or "whatever phrase you want to use" but obviously there are certain circumstances or certain events that happened and for certain examples like the Benin bronzes, the art wouldn't have come into our collection in the same way today."
Where they say 'certain events' we read that as SLAVERY AND COLONIZATION.Simple. The artefacts, dating as far back as the 1500s, that they stole (that's the phrase we choose to use) are considered among Africa's most valuable art pieces because of their intricate modelling. But the British would have you believe that at the time, we were barbarians who knew nothing.
Returning stolen art has for a long time being part of a wider campaign for reparations from Western governments to countries that endured the brutalities of slavery and colonization which contributed significantly to wealth of the west and impoverishment of colonized societies.
And while it is more than insulting to say that you will borrow an item to the actual owners, there is, unfortunately, a growing acceptance among African governments that such deals, are the only way western museums will let go of pieces that attract millions of visitors. The governor of Edo state - the modern day Benin kingdom - told Reuters:
"Whatever terms we can agree to have them back so that we can relate to our experience, relate to these works that are at the essence of who we are, we would be open to such conversations."
The Oba of the Benin kingdom has already announced plans for a new museum near his palace to house the art stolen from his forebears. In April, Ethiopia also agreed to a similar move by the Victoria & Albert Museum to have its stolen art loaned to them, saying it viewed “[the] goodwill gesture as a step in the right direction.”
What is their moral justification for loaning us our own art? The British and other colonizers are afraid that the artefacts will not be handed back to western museums and they are worried about the safety of these items once they get back. There are fears that returning the pieces to poorly resourced African museums could expose them to poor maintenance or even ending up on a black market, where they could fetch millions of dollars.
Honestly, we're worried too. But the fact remains that African art does not belong to the British, French, or other Europeans. It belongs to Africa, so give us maintenance advice, help us preserve the art here at home and keep it moving.