Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Benin Bronzes in London

© David Gill
I have commented on the acquisition of the Benin Bronzes before (see here). The display of what can only be interpreted as plunder as a result of the 1897 Benin Punitive Expedition sits uncomfortably in an internationally important encyclopaedic museum. 

I feel unhappy with the emphasis presented by Tiffany Jenkins (p.288):
In some circumstances ... the very sculptures and plaques that some would like to see returned to Nigeria were made from the proceeds of slavery, exchanged for men and women. Are these artefacts tainted by how the material was acquired?
She somehow seeks to justify the continued presence of the bronzes in London by looking back over the centuries to the context for how these works of art were created.

Johanna Hanink makes an important point about the Benin Bronzes in her review of Jenkins:
When not ignoring them outright, Jenkins over-simplifies, mocks, and dismisses the arguments in favor of artifact repatriation that detail the more abstract, lasting damage their (oftentimes violent) seizure caused.
Kwame Opoku adds in his important response to Jenkins:
Jenkins should be careful. If we apply her argument to Britain we could argue that Britain derived all her wealth from slavery and colonization and therefore all objects made in Britain, ignoring British industry, agriculture and manufacture, may be looted/stolen because they derived from slavery and colonization. Surely, this would be going too far. She should abandon this way of thinking which stretches ideas as far as possible to cover whatever view she shares even if the result is patently absurd.
If anything Jenkins has strengthened the cause for those who actively seek the return of cultural property.

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