August 12, 2022


A nice shiny new Art

African artwork in US museums: Colonial-period parts prompt ethical rethink

Enotie Ogbebor, a Nigerian artist, works with European establishments and governments on the repatriation of stolen artifacts, significantly the well-known Benin Bronzes that British forces seized in 1897 in current-day Nigeria. Lately he’s been obtaining phone calls from museums in the United States that have begun to look at their own collections and question difficult inquiries about their provenance. 

U.S. museums that individual Benin Bronzes could not be directly implicated in their colonial-period looting. Nonetheless, even artifacts and artwork bought at auctions are becoming scrutinized as African nations push for the repatriation of artifacts that represent their cultural heritage. 

Why We Wrote This

Big European museums are right implicated in the colonial-era looting of artifacts from Africa and deal with growing tension for repatriation. U.S. collections also facial area their own moral and lawful concerns.

The Metropolitan Museum of Artwork in New York built headlines lately when it agreed to return two Benin Bronzes. But other products are scattered across the country in scores of other museums, not all of which have the time and experience to audit their collections. 

Carlee Forbes, an artwork historian, is employing a grant to reexamine African works held at the Fowler Museum at the College of California, Los Angeles. The museum has recognized functions from South Africa and Ghana as possible merchandise for restitution, as effectively as 6 Benin Bronzes. Ms. Forbes says it’s a no-brainer. “Don’t retain the stolen items. Like, that’s it,” she states.


The guy is seated, his legs and hands outstretched, sporting a colorful ensemble of blue and pink stripes. His back is straight – he’s alert and all set to safeguard his descendants from misfortune and health issues. 

This knee-superior reliquary made of wooden pegs, break up cane, vegetable fiber, and cloth was after employed to dwelling precise ancestral spirits, scientists feel. These kinds of figurines are developed by ethnic Bembe in central Africa and were historically made use of to hold human stays that, according to Bembe beliefs, will go via stages of an countless cycle of getting. 

This figurine took its possess zigzag journey out of Africa to close up in a smaller Midwest museum. Just don’t expect to obtain all that information and facts on its accompanying sign. 

Why We Wrote This

Major European museums are instantly implicated in the colonial-period looting of artifacts from Africa and experience growing strain for repatriation. U.S. collections also encounter their personal ethical and legal issues.

“Straight up donation. And which is really a lot all we know about it,” claims Laura De Becker, an associate curator at the University of Michigan Museum of Artwork in Ann Arbor. 

Not figuring out the figurine’s provenance raises lawful and ethical inquiries at a time when museums across Europe are grappling with a colonial legacy of looted artwork and artifacts. In modern several years, amid escalating phone calls for restitution, some European governments have repatriated objects to Africa. Germany not too long ago agreed to return hundreds of artifacts to Nigeria that experienced been earmarked for a new museum in Berlin.