There's a world of difference between taking inspiration from someone's work and outrightly plagiarizing their work. That difference seems to be lost on Damien Hirst, the English artist who replicated one of Nigeria's oldest artworks and passed it off as his.
Damien Hirst’s exhibition “Treasures From the Wreck of the Unbelievable” opened in Venice last month, ahead of the Venice Biennale, featuring a variety of sculptures, including a barnacle-encrusted sculpture of a golden sculpted head, simply titled “Golden heads (Female).”
The piece would have gone unrecognized, but one of the Nigerian artists exhibiting at the Venice Biennale, Victor Ehikhamenor noticed, while looking at Hirst’s exhibition, the bust's uncanny resemblance to an iconic Nigerian artwork - and one of Africa's oldest bronze artworks, the “Bronze Head from Ife,” or “Ife Head.”Especially obvious was that there was no reference to Ife or Nigeria. Victor took to Instagram to rightly vent his frustration.
"For the thousands of viewers seeing this for the first time, they won’t think Ife, they won’t think Nigeria. Their young ones will grow up to know this work as Damien Hirst’s. As time passes it will pass for a Damien Hirst regardless of his small print caption.
The narrative will shift and the young Ife or Nigerian contemporary artist will someday be told by a long nose critic “Your work reminds me of Damien Hirst’s Golden Head”. We need more biographers for our forgotten."
The British are back for more from 1897 to 2017. The Oni of Ife must hear this. "Golden heads (Female)" by Damien Hirst currently part of his Venice show "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" at Palazzo Grassi. For the thousands of viewers seeing this for the first time, they won't think Ife, they won't think Nigeria. Their young ones will grow up to know this work as Damien Hirst's. As time passes it will pass for a Damien Hirst regardless of his small print caption. The narrative will shift and the young Ife or Nigerian contemporary artist will someday be told by a long nose critic "Your work reminds me of Damien Hirst's Golden Head". We need more biographers for our forgotten. #ifesculptures #classicnigerianart #workbynigerianartist #ifenigeria #lestweforget #nigeria #abiographyoftheforgotten
The bust was unearthed in 1938 in Ife, Nigeria dating around the 15th to 17th century - before Britain colonized Nigeria, or Europe had any impact on African culture. The piece signified, for Africans and Nigerians, our civilization when it was untouched by Western practices. But for the many visitors flocking to Hirst’s "amazing" show, the statue is stripped of its historical context and now appears as a part of Hirst’s vision and talent.
Damien Hirst is one of the richest living artists; his works sell for up to $5 million each, so this particular act- this is not his first time - of cultural appropriation feels especially exploitative. He simply could have just credited the sculpture properly and paid homage to its Nigerian origins.
The bust was not the only piece in Hirst's exhibition that was of African origin. Adoption of African traditional art by foreigners like Hirst (with proper credit) is not a sin, but the question is why? Africa has long been perceived as rustic and primitive, so isn't co-opting African art once again emphasizing the unjust power imbalance between Africa and the rest of the world?
This postcard of "Golden heads (Female)" by Damien Hirst with no reference to Ife and great artists that originally made these timeless classic will travel far and wide. Once again the hunter has glorified his tale in the absence of the lion. #abiographyoftheforgotten #madeinnigeria #lestweforget #ifehead #ifenigeria #myforefathersdidit
Damien Hirst. I have read many reviews of "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" and yet to see the words "primitive" or "ethnographic". These are two of the frequently used words to describe classic art from Africa. Una welldone. #knowthyself #madeinnigeria #abiographyoftheforgotten #venice