Walker and the Restitution of Two Benin Bronzes.
June 20, 2014 would go down in history as a memorable day for the people of Benin and advocates for the return of looted Benin artefacts taken during the infamous 1897 British expedition to Benin. About 4,000 objects were reportedly stolen from Benin by the British while some were destroyed during the imbroglio that occurred in 1897. The King of Benin, Oba Ovoranmwen was exiled to Calabar where he later died in 1914. This important return comes on the centennial commemoration of his passing.
I arrived at the Benin Palace at about 10am, two hours before the presentation ceremony was to begin on that fateful day. As I alighted from the car, I could hear Christian choruses blaring from the direction of the harem. It was difficult to reconcile the choruses and the shrines I just saw as I came onto the palace grounds. There was a huge tree tied with red and white cloth with chalk configurations at the entrance to the palace. I later found out that the music was emanating from a music shop located along right behind the palace. I had wondered- in a postmodern and postcolonial society, there could be many possibilities. The possibility that came to my mind was stretching the imagination too far. As is usual of large events, the palace grounds were filled with several canopies and chairs. From the quality of chairs under a particular canopy, it was obvious where the distinguished visitors were to sit. From afar, Segun Alile, a popular Edo musician and his band were setting up for the day. Cars were beginning to arrive. All of a sudden a black jeep arrived with armed policemen literally flying out from the doors. The car stopped close to the shelter under which the several wall plaques and cement statuary made by an Edo artist, Ovia Idah were mounted. Very gently, a tall slim ‘Oyinbo’ man, suave and impeccably dressed in a suit alighted from the car accompanied by two other men. This was the man everyone had been waiting to see in Benin, Dr Adrian Mark Walker.
In the past two weeks television stations had been announcing the event of the return. Posters of the event were pasted in front of the palace and around the central part of the city. The last time such an event had occurred in Benin was seventy eight years ago when the British returned the regalia of Oba Ovoranmwen to Oba Akenzua II in 1936. There were armed police men everywhere- understandably so. Two priceless works of art were about to be unveiled to the pubic. It was difficult to tell if anyone had a different plan. It was safer to have these fierce looking officers around and about to scare away kidnappers or thieves in a city where the duo gangsters, Lawrence Anini and Osunbor had held sway in the mid 1980s.
History was about to be made again with the return of two looted Benin bronze works looted. Amidst fanfare and emotionally-laden speeches by government functionaries, Edo personalities, the Oba and members of the Benin royal family the guest was heartily welcomed Dr Adrian Mark Walker is a grandson of Captain Herbert Sutherland Walker. His grandfather was not primarily a fighter but was a Special Forces agent, otherwise known as a spy attached to the British Expeditionary forces that conquered Benin. On seeing the mammoth crowd that had gathered in the Benin palace he remarked to the King ‘I would like to stress how very honoured I feel to be invited here by you and how very humbled I am by the warmth and enthusiasm that my colleagues and I have been given. It makes me feel that this is a very special occasion and not just for me… I was very aware of the importance of this myself but I had no idea that it would cause so much excitement. Seeing all these proves to me that this is the right thing to do’. He presented the king with two bronze works – a bird (Ahianmwen Oro) and a bell (Egogo) looted by his grandfather. The works had been in the possession of the Walker family since 1897. He also donated a copy of Captain Walker’s war dairy to the king. I would be discussing Adrian Mark Walker’s return in the context of contemporary Benin history as it relates to the restitution of looted Benin artifacts objects. Restitution being the willful return of artifacts that have been looted, or taken by force and had been in possession of an institution, museum or Individual to the rightful owners.
Adrian Mark Walker is the son of Richard Sutherland Walker. Captain Walker, his grandfather, was a specialist in discovering potential enemy strains and had spent many years in East Africa. After the Benin expedition he went off to Ghana to continue with his profession as a spy. As a young boy, Captain Walker was born and had lived in India for thirty-five years. This perhaps gave him the opportunity of living with people of different classes and appreciating them for whom they were. His own father had been a surgeon attached to the Indian army. On his return from his sojourn in Africa, Captain Walker rose to the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel and later became the Chief Constable of Worcestershire until he retired in 1902. He died in 1934 and was buried in a churchyard at Powick, Worcestershire, UK.
Adrian Mark Walker is a retired medical doctor. He spent a sizeable part of his childhood in South Africa, having done his primary education in Johannesburg. After the Sharpeville Massacre, he moved over to England where he studied at Leighton Park, Quaker School in Reading and Cambridge University. He later studied medicine at the Middlesex Hospital in London after obtaining a degree in natural sciences from Cambridge. Inspired by the earlier donation of a carved Benin 6 foot tall Benin Ivory tusk his grandmother, Josephine Walker, to the Jos museum, in 1957, Mark Walker believes that the two works should be returned to Benin where they are likely to be of the greatest cultural and historical significance.
He narrates a long personal history of how he came to return the Benin objects.
‘These objects have come on a rather long journey. These objects only came into my formal possession recently with the death of my mother. I remember seeing them in my grandmother’s house fifty-five years ago and really coveting them. I thought I would really be proud to own such beautiful objects. However, as soon as they came into my possession, I realized that if they meant a lot to me because of their connection with my grandfather, they must mean a lot more to the people of the place from where they had come. Before my mother died I took the precaution of asking her if I could take care of them… I knew that she would not consent to my returning them at that stage because she is one from a very materialist generation. My children, on the other hand, had no such materialist ambition. I was very pleased to be in possession of them because they reminded me of my grandparents. But when I heard from my children that they were not interested in the stuff (Objects), I knew that I had to do something to protect their future’.
I have quoted Walker in extenso to understand and appreciate the commitment Walker has to correct the ills of the past. Paraphrasing would lose the strength of his conviction. It becomes obvious that his urge to make peace overrode his desire to keep the Benin objects for their artistry and links to his family ties. Furthermore, Mark is convinced that neither his children nor himself would be adversely judged by posterity since he had done the right thing by coming to Benin to return works that were stolen one hundred and seventeen years ago. He remarked ‘I will not be condemned as the grandson of a racist’. He went an extra mile to prove this by extracting excerpts from his grandfather’s diary. Walker remarked that his grandfather was far ahead of his time in the civil manner he referred toBenin natives. Although accounts by ‘white men’ at that time used derogatory words in describing the natives, he on the contrary, had described them as gentlemen as much as his own countrymen and women and showed them milk of human kindness particularly natives at his mercy. In welcoming Mark Walker to Benin, the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, remarked that by this kind gesture, he has become a friend of the city and would be welcome anytime. More importantly, he added that he was free of age-long curses the Edo people had placed on the looters. The Oba remarked: ‘Walker would now have peace having done what is expected of him’.
The unending debates over Benin looted treasures have thrown up obnoxious theories emanating from the west. Kwame Opoku, a lawyer, known as one of the most vocal advocates for the return of stolen objects to countries of origin has consistently responded to some of these theories. The proponents of a shared and universal heritage, acquiesce to the keeping of illegally acquired works in foreign so-called ‘encyclopedic’ or ‘universal’ museums. Their claim is to keep the art of the world in trust for mankind- a view popular amongst directors and curators of these universal museums. It is important to note that these Universal museums are all located in the Western world. Benson Osadolor, a History lecturer at the University of Benin describes them as the ‘Museums of Loot’ following the ‘Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums’ signed in 2002. This concept has become very popular amongst curators of western museums and help propagate and legitimize the continued keeping of looted works. To better appreciate the brazenness of this argument, it is important to quote excerpts from the declaration.
‘Whether (acquired) by purchase, gift or partage- (the artifacts) have become pat of the museums that have cared for them, and by extension part of the heritage of the nations which house them’
In other words, since the Benin objects were first looted and then sold to collectors, the buyers of these looted objects now have the right to own them because they have so ‘graciously’ cared for them. Being able to pay for them gives a buyer of stolen objects the right to own them. Additionally, the nations who have acquired these objects or house buyers or museums with illegally acquired objects are now by this declaration free to assimilate the objects as part of their national heritage. It has been noted that almost all the signatory museums to this preposterous declaration belong to the nation states that signed the final document of the 1884/1885 Berlin Africa Conference. On the other hand, there are those who argue for works to be retained within their national jurisdictions. They are often referred to as nationalist retentionists. The British government has been constantly reminded of its need to return looted objects. Nigeria and Greece have been consistently demanding for the return of their objects housed in the British Museum. The Greek’s demand for the Elgin marbles has gone on for a long time, the same way the Benin monarchy have been on the case for the return of their heirloom.
In support of the nationalist retentionist’s position, Walker clearly states
‘I believe the international community is guilty of double standards with regards to such artifacts. When for example at the end of Second World War came, looted works of art where discovered in Nazi home, we went through a great deal of trouble to return them to the families from which they had come. I cannot understand what the difference is between Nazi and looted objects of Benin… If you ask the British Museum they would say ‘well, they are only custodians’. If you ask (British) politicians they say ‘it is the business of the British Museum’. So, we go round in a circle. We need to persuade not just the British public, but the international community that it is unethical and immoral to be holding on to items which were not legally acquired. To this end I think, this event is important particularly if it achieves publicity not just here but also in Britain. I am confident that within another generation we should see a lot more of these objects returned to Benin.
While this return has come out of a private collection in the UK, it is pertinent to add that several thousands of looted Benin works still remain in public museums in the UK, Germany and the US. Soon after the invasion of Benin, the works were first collected in the courtyard of the king from where they were later shipped to Britain. On arrival in London, the Admiralty auctioned them. Later in 1897, the British Museum exhibited well over three hundred bronze plaques loaned from the Foreign Office. Charles Read the curator of the British Museum at the time facilitated the auction of the pieces, which got into several British, and other foreign private and public collections. Today, a large number of looted Benin works can be seen in the galleries of the British Museum as well as many other museums across Europe and America. Ever since, there has been no return made to Nigeria from the British Museum despite several requests from Nigeria for the objects in their kitty. In 1977, the British government turned down the request made by the Nigerian Government to loan the popular Queen Idia mask stolen from the bedchamber of the king which later became the symbol of the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ‘77) in Lagos. This mask along with four other similar pectoral masks can be found in the Linden Museum, Stuttgart, The Metropolitan and Seattle Museums in the US and the most popular one at the British Museum. The fifth mask in a private collection surfaced at the Sotheby auction in 2010. After the 1977 request came another, this time on the occasion of the 30th anniversary commemoration of FESTAC. In February, 2007 Professor Tunde Babawale, Director of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) made a fresh request to the British Museum for the mask. The Director of the British Museum, Neil Mcgregor, glossed over his request replying that the British Museum had been invited by the NCMM to offer assistance and advice on the development of the Lagos Museum. In the 1950s the British Museum sold a number of Benin art objects to Nigeria. These were purchased to beef up the collection in the newly founded museums.
Several attempts at retrieving Nigeria’s stolen art objects have been carried out over the years. Bernie Grant an MP in the British House of Commons made a request to the Director of the Art Gallery and Museums in Glasgow in 1997. As a follow up to this letter, Emmaneul Arinze, Chairman West African Museums also wrote letters of request for Benin objects. By 2000, Prince Edun Akenzua, the Enogie (Duke) of Obazuwa and brother of the Oba (king) of Benin gave testimony before the British House of Commons. In 2008, I hand delivered a requet letter from Prince Edun Akenzua to the Art Institute of Chicago. In all of these cases, there has been no response to mails. The lack of response has however not dissuaded people from reacting to this historical injustice. Fresh requests and responses occur as often as the issues of the looted artifacts resurface. One of such was the sale of Benin artifacts by Sotheby in 2001. A 16th century Benin ‘Oba’ mask was to be auctioned for about 4.5 million pounds sterling. The consignee was a descendant of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Gallwey, Deputy Commissioner and Vice Consul in the Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1891 who took part in the infamous British Expedition. Protests organized by civil society groups and Nigerian intellectuals against this sale spread from the streets of London to social network sites. The consignee was forced to pull down the work from the auction. It is no longer business as usual to profiteer from the loot – a loot which was forcibly removed during a very bloody contest between British soldiers and Benin defenders. At another occasion, Nigerians living in Chicago protested in 2007 when news came that the Art Institute was selected as a venue of the travelling exhibition of Benin art titled Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Art from Nigeria. In 2013, the controversial donation of 32 Benin objects by the Lehman Brothers to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, USA and the Museum’s search for legitimacy from the Benin Royal family caused another stir.
It is important to mention here that the British expeditionary soldiers had a field day picking some of these Benin objects as mementoes for themselves. Captain Egerton took for himself about half a dozen objects. Admiral Harry Rawson, the commander of the expedition and Sir Ralph Moor, the Consul General of the Niger Coast protectorate, sent to Queen Victoria a pair of exquisitely carved leopards as well as two carved ivory tusks as gifts from the troupe. It was in this context that Captain Walker acquired his own pieces. While descendants of Sir Henry Gallwey have resorted to making money from the loot of their grandfather, Walker has decided to return to the original owners what his father himself described as ’loot’ in at least three entries in his diary. This act of honour is the reason Edo people came out in large numbers to show immense gratitude to a man who has followed the path of nobility and conscience. He has resisted the temptation of profiteering from works that were taken forcibly from a people who defended their kingdom with their lives. One can only hope that other individuals and descendants of British soldiers and particularly, foreign museums and institutions keeping Benin works would return them and in good time too.
Peju Layiwola is Associate Professor of Art History and currently Head of Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos
A SEASON OF “MIRACLES’’? BOSTON MUSEUM RETURNS LOOTED NIGERIAN ARTEFACTS
“It is indeed unfortunate that so much Nok material has been looted over time to supply the international market. Properly excavated, such pieces might have shed valuable light on the Nok culture.” Ekpo Eyo. (1)
When I read the news that the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was returning 8 looted antiquities to Nigeria, I could not believe my eyes or the title of the article until I read the full report and was convinced that it was genuine.(2)
I asked myself whether it was the same museum that had been trying to convince us a few months ago that it was better for Benin bronzes to be in the Boston museum where more people would see them. The curators of the museum had also tried to convince us that they had a duty to tell the history of Benin. It seemed then that the museum would never return any object once it had entered its records. (3)
Have the museum officials who a few months ago seemed to be convinced of their right to hold other peoples cultural artefacts experienced a conversion? Whatever may be the cause of the change of position and attitude regarding restitution of looted cultural artefacts, the Museum of Fine Arts must be congratulated for this change of policy or practice which seems to be on the right path. Gone from the museum’s policy then are lengthy legal process and interminable arguments and counterarguments between the museum and artefact owners.
Coming a few days after the return of Benin artefacts by Mark Walker, the return of 8 artefacts by the Boston museum may incline us to think a season of “miracles” is at hand. This is not the first time that the museum has been involved in restitution of looted artefacts. The museum has returned artefacts to France, Greece and Italy but this was done, especially in the case of Italy, under pressure of legal action and threats of other measures (4). In the case of the Nigerian artefacts, the return appears to have been voluntary and under no pressure as far as we can tell.
If we understand correctly this change, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts does not wait for an owner to claim ownership before it acts. The museum has a designated official who undertakes the examination of provenance. If the official has sufficient doubts about the legitimacy of the acquisition of an object, she makes her own enquires and informs the museum accordingly. The burden of proof is no longer on a claimant to establish ownership but for the museum to establish the legitimacy of acquisition of the artefacts.
The policy of the museum seems fairly reasonable to us but why does the museum not employ more provenance officers, considering the large amount of artefacts, 500.000, the museum holds? Although not explicitly stated in the report, it seems the museum’s policy as far as African artefacts are concerned, deals only with objects that have been looted or stolen since 1970 (year of the UNESCO Convention).are to be considered. We read from the homepage of the museum, under its Acquisitions and Provenance Policy. (5)
“Following the AAMD Report on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art (dated June 4, 2008), the Museum recognizes the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (dated Nov. 17, 1970) as providing the most pertinent threshold for the application of more rigorous standards to the acquisition of archaeological materials and ancient art. The Museum will therefore not normally acquire archaeological materials and ancient art unless research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before Nov. 17, 1970, or was legally exported from its country of probable modern discovery on or after Nov. 17.”
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is here following the line of defence much beloved by Western museums when confronted with African claims of restitution: They advance the 1970 UNESCO Convention as an obstacle to restitution. They set 1970 as a cut-off date for restitution claims and will not consider claims of looting or stealing of artefacts occurring before 1970 even though the convention itself does not contain any such barrier. True, the Convention, like most legal instruments, does not have a retrospective effect but it does not approve or disapprove of previous lootings nor does it prevent claimants from seeking restitution on grounds other than those provided in the convention.
So what appears at first sight to be a “miracle”, due to the unexpected return of looted artefacts from a museum that has not been very sympathetic to the idea, is in reality nothing more than a happy coincidence of many factors or a clever presentation of results that are in accordance with the declared policy of the museum and which happens to coincide with African expectations on different grounds.
The museum has not agreed to return the Benin artefacts that form the Lehman collection though the museum itself has admitted that all those artefacts were looted from Benin in the notorious invasion of 1897. (6)
Whilst congratulating the Museum of Fine Arts on returning 8 looted artefacts to Nigeria, we must remind ourselves and others that the museum follows the same line as many other western museums: they refuse to consider the issue of the return of artefacts looted in the colonial epoch. They have provided themselves with a cut off date of 1970 which conveniently happens to be a date when most African artefacts had already been looted and were lying quietly in Western museums. This factor of date must be brought to the attention of the African peoples, especially as some African officials entertain consciously or not, the illusion that Western museums are willing to discuss the restitution of artefacts looted at an earlier period.(7)
Western museums have repeatedly stated they are not willing to envisage the return of the Benin bronzes but African officials continue to act as if these artefacts were on their way home.(8)
Some have even said that Nigeria has received more than 100 artefacts back. What is not explained is that these returns, mostly looted objects intercepted by customs and police, are to be distinguished from the famous artefacts in the British Museum and other Western museums.
There is no shame in being unable to recover cultural objects looted by a powerful foreign State a century ago. But it is a dangerous tactic to entertain the illusion amongst people that we are succeeding in recovering those objects when we cannot concretely demonstrate that these looted objects have left Western museums and have now been returned to Nigeria. We do not know of a single instance where any of the famous Nigerian artefacts has left a Western museum and gone back to Nigeria. (9)
The return of the eight looted Nigerian artefacts by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is undoubtedly a very important step in the right direction. However, our enthusiasm for an action which a few months ago would have been considered improbable, if not impossible, should not blind us to the fact that this return involves a very, very tiny part of the thousands of looted Nigerian artefacts in the museum and in other American museums.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, must return the Benin artefacts in the Lehman Collection which it received by way of donation. The museum itself has admitted that the artefacts in the collection were all looted in the nefarious British invasion of Benin in 1897. What else does one need to know that these are stolen and looted artefacts of others? Both the National Commission on Museums and Monuments and the Benin Monarchy have requested the return of these items.
.More of such returns would be expected not only from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston but also from Western museums that have until now acted as if there were nothing wrong in holding well-known looted artefacts of others. Western museums must also contribute to the respect for the rule of law and ordinary morality. That attitude of exempting artefacts looting from the moral the commandment “Thou shall not steal.” may not be unconnected to the increase in robberies in religious places, museums, art galleries and other institutions in the West.(10)
A museum in a city that is associated with the struggle for American Independence surely would have no difficulty in understanding the desire of other peoples to keep and hold freely their own cultural artefacts without hindrance or interference by foreign museums and other institutions.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has described in a current exhibition, Magna Carta as“the foundation for many liberties that Americans enjoy”. This principle of liberty must also apply to Africans and peoples of African descent even though; racism, slavery, colonialism and imperialism have obscured the perception of many. Liberty surely includes the right to develop our culture as we wish and with instruments and materials of our civilization.
Kwame Opoku, 4 July, 2014.
1. Ekpo Eyo, From Shrines to Showcases: Masterpieces of Nigerian Art, 2010, Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Abuja. p.23.
2. Martin Bailey, “Boston museum returns works to Nigeria”
Museum of Fine Arts returns artifacts to Nigeria http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/style/2014/06/26/museuhm-fine-arts-returns-artifacts-nigeria/z2RenPtuhh9qyPoSi05fRO/story.html
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts Returns Nigerian artifacts
The Boston MFA Returns 8 Looted Antiquities to Nigeria http://artery.wbur.org/2014/06/26/mfa-returns-antiquities-nigeria
The MFA Returns Stolen Art to Native Nigeria
3. K. Opoku, “Blood Antiquities in Respectable Havens: Looted Benin Artefacts Donated to American Museum”.http://www.modernghana.com/news/405992/1/blood-antiquities-in-respectable-havens-looted-ben.html
4. K.Opoku, “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project”,
6. K. Opoku, “Blood Antiquities in Respectable Havens”
7. K Opoku, “What we understand by “Restitution”, “
8. K. Opoku, “Benin Plan of Action(2): Will this Miserable Project be the Last Word on the Looted Benin Artefacts?
(9). See attached annex “Locations of Nigerian Masterpieces in USA and Europe”.
10. “South Bend parishioners grasping for understanding following theft of statues of saints”therepublic.com/view/story/6bfd0700611f448992541470e0deb862/IN–Stolen-Saints
“Vicar describes theft of 400-year-old Bible from Datchet church as sacrilege’windsorexpress.co.uk/News/Areas/Datchet/Vicar-describes-theft-of-400-year-old-Bible-from-Datchet-church-as-sacrilege-26062014.htm
“Stolen Objects from Greek Churches Exhibited Abroad”http://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/06/29/stolen-objects-from-greek-churches-exhibited-abroad/
“2 antique ivory images in Pampanga church stolen”,newsinfo.inquirer.net/615773/2-antique-ivory-images-in-pampanga-church-stolen
LOCATIONS OF NIGERIAN MASTERPIECES IN USA AND EUROPE
Those interested in knowing where Nigerian masterpieces are may consult the following list compiled from indications in the last book by the greatEkpo Eyo, Shrines to Showcases: Masterpieces of Nigerian Art, 2010, Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Abuja, We mention here only those locations mentioned in Eyo’s book. http://www.modernghana.com/news/312372/1/excellence-and-erudition-ekpo-eyos-masterpieces-of.html
There are many more locations of Nigerian art in Western museums which are not mentioned here.
Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France.
Musée Barbier-Müller, Geneva, Switzerland.
Dept. of Art History and Archaeology, University of Maryland, US British Museum, London, United Kingdom.
Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, USA.
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institutions, Washington, USA.
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, USA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.
Museum Rietberg, Zürich, Switzerland.
Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, USA.
Volkerkunde Museum, Vienna, Austria.
Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, London, United Kingdom.New Orleans Museum of Arts, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA.
Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut, New Haven, USA.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, USA.
Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, Idiana, USA.
IMAGES FOR A SEASON OF “MIRACLES”
Returned- Nok terracotta male figure 500 BC- AD 200.
Returned artefact - Oron ancestral wood figure (Ekpu)
Returned artefact – Memorial screen from late 19th century
Returned – Brass altar Benin figure stolen from the Oba’s Palace in the 1970s
Returned artefact – Terra-cotta head from Nigeria dating to 500 B.C. to 200 AD
A BRITON RETURNS TWO LOOTED BENIN ARTEFACTS
RETURN OF TWO LOOTED BENIN BRONZES BY A BRITON: HISTORY IN THE MAKING
“Culture is the soul of a nation. The illicit removal or destruction of cultural property deprives peoples of their history and tradition. Restitution is the only means that can restore damage and reinstate a sense of dignity”.
Anastassis Mitsialis, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations.
Presentation of the Resolution titled, ‘Return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin ‘A/RES/67/80, 12 Dec. 2012.
We are overjoyed by the news coming out of Benin City, Nigeria, that a British citizen has returned two looted Benin artefacts, a long beaked bird, and a gong, to Oba Erediauwa of Benin on Friday 20 June 2014.
As readers will remember, we mentioned some weeks ago the intention of Dr.Mark Walker, a British citizen, to return to Benin two looted Benin artefacts he had inherited from his great grand-father who participated in the notorious invasion of Benin in 1897, the so-called Benin Punitive Expedition. http://www.modernghana.com/news/533823/1/will-other-holders-of-benin-bronzes-also-return-th.html
Readers may also recall the controversy surrounding the question whether the returned objects should be received in Abuja, the Federal capital of Nigeria or in Benin City from where they were removed in 1897.http://www.modernghana.com/news/546819/1/who-should-receive-returning-benin-artefacts.html
It appears the Minister for Culture and Tourism and officials of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) who had been invited were absent from the events in Benin.
Dr Walker and all those who supported him in his desire to return the objects to Benin should be congratulated. By his personal action, he has demonstrated beyond all doubt that there are individuals who believe that justice should be done in cases of looted artefacts taken from African peoples by Europeans through their overwhelming might. Persons of conscience are troubled by historical wrongs and try to do whatever they can to alleviate patent injustice.
By his action, Walker has dealt a singular blow to the spurious argument, surprisingly advanced by many Westerners that by seeking the return of looted artefacts we are trying to re-write history. By returning the Benin artefacts, Walker has not sought to rewrite British colonial history; he has made history by returning two artefacts that relate to the present imbalance where other peoples-Americans, British, Dutch, French, Germans and others have more valuable historical and cultural Benin artefacts than the Benin people themselves. This obvious imbalance seems to escape some persons who declare their attachment to the Benin people and their culture but oppose restitution of the looted artefacts. To seek to correct this present unjust situation brought about by massive violence is not to attempt to rewrite history: it demonstrates concrete acceptance of the ideas of the Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and other instruments that aim at equality of all humankind, irrespective of race, religion culture and sex.
To hijack the cultural artefacts of a people is to prevent them from developing their culture freely and to practice their religious traditions, including veneration of ancestors and respect towards departed elders. Confiscation of the artefacts of other peoples is a step towards the destruction of that culture through stagnation and immobility. It cannot be said of Western museums that they should be forgiven for they know not what they are doing. They know.
We have examined in several articles the issues relating to the nefarious invasion of Benin and the looting/stealing of more than three thousand artefacts that are now mostly in Western museums.
As the Oba of Benin has stated several times and again on the return of the two artefacts by Walker, the holders of Benin artefacts, public and private, are urged to return some of these artefacts that are the records of Benin history. Western museums,_ the British Museum, London, Musée du quai Branly, Paris, the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Museum fur Völkerkunde, Vienna, now called World Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Field Museum, Chicago, should examine honestly the issue of restitution and return some of the Benin artefacts they have in their collections.
The World Museum in Vienna has had its African Section where the Benin Bronzes were displayed, closed for the last 14 years. Western museums do not need looted artefacts that are records of Benin culture and history. Nothing can justify the continued detention of some 580 Benin Bronzes by the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin. How can Germans who are very keen to keep records of their history withhold the records of Benin history and culture? Do Germans need the Benin artefacts more than the Benin people? Can Western museums not imagine the implications for Western countries if their historical and cultural artefacts were to be detained in China or some other country in Asia or Africa?
The noble gesture of Dr.Mark Walker should be an example for all persons of goodwill and good conscience to follow. Western holders of looted Benin artefacts should take note of this historical gesture and stop advancing baseless arguments. Instead they should return some of the looted artefacts.
The Benin Monarchy and the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments must take advantage of Dr.Walker’s gesture and step up the campaign to inform the public in both Nigeria and abroad about the Benin artefacts and their history. There is in the Western world an amazing lack of knowledge about these famous artefacts. How can private holders return these objects if they are not well-informed about the circumstances of their acquisition and their cultural importance for Benin? A website should be set up where individuals could send and receive information about the artefacts.
Queen-Mother Idia (British Museum, London), Oba Ewuakpe (Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany), Oba Akenzua I (Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany), Oba Ozolua (World Museum, Vienna) and the other Benin nobles, their attendants with their weapons, officials, musicians with their instruments, and families, must return home. They cannot be kept in Western exile for ever.
Kwame Opoku, 24 June 2014
LIST OF HOLDERS OF BENIN ARTEFACTS
Almost every Western museum has some Benin objects. Here is a short list of some of the places where the Benin Bronzes are to be found and their numbers. Various catalogues of exhibitions on Benin art or African art also list the private collections of the Benin Bronzes. Many museums refuse to inform the public about the number of Benin artefacts they have and do not display permanently the Benin artefacts in their possession since they do not have enough space. A museum such as Völkerkundemuseum, Vienna, now World Museum, has closed since 14 years the African section where the Benin artefacts were, apparently due to renovation works which are not likely to be finished before 2017.
Berlin – Ethnologisches Museum 580.
Boston, – Museum of Fine Arts 28.
Chicago – Art Institute of Chicago 20, Field Museum 400
Cologne – Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum 73.
Hamburg – Museum für Völkerkunde, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 196.
Dresden – Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 182.
Leipzig – Museum für Völkerkunde 87.
Leiden – Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde 98.
London – British Museum 900.
New York – Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art 163.
Oxford – Pitt-Rivers Museum/ Pitt-Rivers country residence, Rushmore in Farnham/Dorset 327.
Stuttgart – Linden Museum-Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 80.
Vienna – Museum für Völkerkunde now World Museum 167
IMAGES FOR RETURN OF BENIN BRONZES
Two artefacts returned by Dr. Mark Walker. rbp.blogspot.com
Dr. Walker (right) presenting to the Oba a diary of his great grand father on the British invasion of the Benin kingdom in 1897.
Members of the nefarious Punitive Expedition of 1897 posing proudly with their looted Benin artefacts
Queen-mother Idia, Benin/Nigeria, now in the British Museum.
Seized by the British during the nefarious invasion of Benin in 1897.
Will she ever be liberated from the British Museum?
Oba of Benin never endorsed donation of artefacts to foreign museum
WILL OTHER HOLDERS OF BENIN BRONZES ALSO RETURN THE LOOTED ARTEFACTS?-INTERVIEW WITH PRINCE EDUN AKENZUA, BROTHER OF OBA OF BENIN.
Members of the notorious British Punitive Expedition of 1897 against Benin, posing proudly with looted Benin ivories and bronze objects
We reproduce below an interview with Prince Edun Akenzua, younger brother of the Oba of Benin,published in the Nigerian Guardian.
The brother of the Oba makes it clear that the Benin Monarch never assented to the donation of looted Bronzes to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts nor did the King send any representation to Boston for the celebration of the acquisition of the looted artefacts. The group of Edos who pretended to represent the Oba of Benin had no permission from the Oba.
In the interview, Prince Edun outlines the function of the Benin Bronzes as records of the history of the Benin people. Thus those who hold the Bronzes are withholding evidence of Benin history and culture. How will a people write its history or record its culture when others have stolen the relevant evidence? It is true though that there are many in the British Museum and in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who believe it is their function to write the history of Benin. That the people themselves can and would write their own history has never occurred to the people in London and Boston,
An important fact. mentioned in the interview. is the decision of a British citizen, Mr Mark Walker to return Benin artefact. Walker inherited two Benin Bronzes from his great-great-grandfather who was one of the soldiers that invaded Benin in 1897 . He wants to return the object to Benin, convinced that this is the right thing to do since he considers it wrong for others to withhold the artefacts of another culture. He is taking the artefact himself to Benin City.
Will the people at the British Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts,, Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin and World Museum, Vienna, take a lesson from Mr. Walker and examining their own consciences, determine whether, after all that has been written and said about the notorious invasion of Benin in 1897, it is correct for them to hold on to illegal artefacts, forcibly taken from a people who now seek their return.
Kwame Opoku. ,7 April,2014.
LIST OF HOLDERS OF BENIN BRONZES
Almost every Western museum has some Benin objects. Here is a short list of some of the places where the Benin Bronzes are to be found and their numbers. Various catalogues of exhibitions on Benin art or African art also list the private collections of the Benin Bronzes. Many museums refuse to inform the public about the number of Benin artefacts they have and do not display permanently the Benin artefacts in their possession since they do not have enough space. A museum such as Völkerkundemuseum, Vienna, now World Museum, has closed since some 10 years the African section where the Benin artefacts were, apparently due to repair work which are not likely to be finished before 2017.
Berlin – Ethnologisches Museum 580.
Boston, – Museum of Fine Arts 28.
Chicago – Art Institute of Chicago 20, Field Museum 400
Cologne – Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum 73.
Glasgow _ Kelvingrove and St, Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life 22
Hamburg – Museum für Völkerkunde, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 196.
Dresden – Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 182.
Leipzig – Museum für Völkerkunde 87.
Leiden – Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde 98.
London – British Museum 900.
New York – Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art 163.
Oxford – Pitt-Rivers Museum/ Pitt-Rivers country residence, Rushmore in Farnham/Dorset 327.
Stuttgart – Linden Museum-Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 80.
Vienna – Museum für Völkerkunde now World Museum 167
Friday, 04 April 2014 00:00 Written by Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu
Over six months after the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston, U.S. opened a Benin gallery for the donated controversial artefacts in its possession, Prince Edun Akenzua, a younger brother to the reigning Oba Erediauwa insists that the foreign museum used some Nigerians resident abroad to impersonate the Oba and got forged endorsement. Last year, the museum had received donation of 28 pieces of art in bronzes and six ivories from an American, Mr. Robert Owen Lehman. The donor is the heir to the vast collection of a famous banker, Phillip Lehman (1891-1969), who was one of the early collectors of Benin art. The collection is among the cultural objects looted when the British forces invaded old Benin Kingdom in 1897, which eventually led to sending Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1888 -1914) to exile in Calabar. An estimated 4, 000 cultural objects from the Benin palace were allegedly looted by the British military. But confusion set in when some chiefs who claimed to have got the nod of the Oba led a contingent of controversial representatives of the monarch to MFA, late last year in apparent endorsement of the donation. The alleged impersonators led by some chiefs came under the name, Coalition of Committed Benin Clubs in Boston. Akenzua disowns the group and the chiefs as well as their leaders. The Enogie of Obazuwa is the great-grandson of foremost Benin Monarch, Oba Ovonramwen N’ogbaisi who was banished to Calabar by British imperialists after the Benin invasion of 1897 and died in 1914. Akenzua spoke to Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu on the possible ways of re-possessing the looted artefacts. Excerpts:
DO you think the agitation for the return of stolen Benin artefacts is still necessary today? What relevance do these items still have on Benin culture?
Number one, they belong to Benin which is very important, but the reason which most of them were made four hundred, five hundred years ago, no longer exist. At that time, they were all made as diaries for the people here. When there was anything relevant in the Benin Nation, the Oba ordered the iguehon to cast that event in bronze just like you will do today whenever you have any important thing that you want to do, you record it in your diary. In those days, the Benin people didn’t know how to write like the Egyptians who had the Hieroglyphics, so whenever there was any important thing, the Oba would instruct that it be cast in brass or bronze that is what they were doing then. About 75 per cent of those things carted away were done as record and diary for the Benin people. Others were done for the various alters. So today, they don’t need to cast things in bronze to record because we can now write, so I will say they would no longer be used as they were used in the past. But nevertheless, these things belong to Benin and now domiciled in other climes with other people who have now put them in their museums and they are making money out of them for themselves over there. If only for that reason, for that purpose, they have to be brought back to their owners. That is our argument.
But will they ever yield to the agitation to return these artefacts?
They are quite reluctant, putting up various arguments for retaining the artefacts. Although those arguments are not valid because our own argument bothers on the moral grounds of the issues; these things belong to us, they were looted from us, and they should be returned. As a matter of fact, the institutions in Europe, and all those places are mainly the ones making the argument. I was in the UK last year and I was also doing the same campaign. Wherever I had the opportunity, I would tell them the need to return those things, not only to Benin. But all those cultural property that have been removed forcibly by the British or by anybody else should be returned to their owners. Most of them were being returned to the Europeans, to the Jews, to the Irish, Welsh to Ethiopia so why not to Benin? We are bringing that argument up and luckily, there are some individuals particularly in UK who listened to this kind of argument we are putting up, who believe that what the British did in those days taking other peoples’ property was wrong. And in fact, one of such people, a private British citizen, Mr. Mark Walker who is now the great grandson of one of the soldiers who fought in Benin, and has two of those bronzes has agreed to return them to the Oba of Benin. And I think he will come around April to come and make that presentation because he himself did not quite like the idea of one government going to another country, seizing things and taking them away. Apparently, he is not a soldier like his great-great-grandfather, but he was a policeman in the UK, in the royal security. He is a retiree, about 80 years old and I think he must have been seeing a number of all those things they were taking to the Queen of England from all over those areas called the British Empire, and didn’t like the idea. He has now offered to come to Nigeria and return the works in his possession to the Oba of Benin. He is personally coming to do that.
The Benin community in London had arranged a meeting with Walker and the Nigerian High Commission. They agreed at that meeting, that Walker and his friends mentioned to the High Commissioner that they offered to come to Benin and return those things. I think with him doing this, there may be other people in the same school of thought like this man who may have some of those things and would want to come and present them. As a matter of fact, some years back, I went to UK to try and urge the British government to allow the British museum return Benin artefacts in their possession. I worked in collaboration with the late Benny Grant who was a member of parliament and one of the strategies we had was to appeal to individuals since it is easier to deal with individuals than institutions, to plead with individuals who have those things in their private collections to return them to Benin. One of such people we wanted to reach at that time was Mr. Ted Heath, unfortunately, Benny Grant died before we could reach Heath. Then, I had the opportunity to testify before the House of Commons Committee on these kinds of things.
Last year, there was a ceremony on the donation of some of these artefacts to Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, US. What is the position of the palace on this development?
The event happened around September to October last year. I was in the UK at the time. I didn’t know such thing was going to happen. But I got an SMS from The Guardian, Nigeria, asking the very question you just asked now and of course, it was quite news to me, so I sent from London a message to the Oba and forwarded the query from The Guardian and from the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM) to the Oba and asked to be guided. I got a reply from the palace that the Oba has directed the Secretary to the Benin Traditional Council (BTC) to inform me that the palace did not send any representation to that museum, the palace was not even aware of what was being done and of course after what I got, I now sent my reply to both The Guardian and the NCMM. I told them categorically that the palace did not send anybody there. It is quite clear; the Oba would not have done that. That is a private museum in Boston. The Oba is using all his might and influence, his resources to get all the people including his friends, friends of Benin, the government of Edo State, Federal Government, everybody to join in the demand for the return of those things to Benin because of that, it is just only clear that he could not have endorsed the donation of those things to any museum anywhere in the world. And if people are generous and they want to return those things they don’t have to donate them to another museum at this time in the 21st Century. If they are feeling generous, they are feeling magnanimous, if they want to return those things, they should send them down, donate them to the Oba of Benin who owns them any way. The least they can do is to donate them to these or federal government of Nigeria not to another foreign museum. What is the meaning of that? The Oba didn’t endorse it, he didn’t even know about it.
I heard later on when they have done it that the museum was going to set up within the Museum of Fine Arts what they call the gallery of Benin Arts. Why should the Gallery of Benin Arts be in Boston Museum and not in Nigeria Museum or Benin Museum? They had their own problem in Boston because the people contacted me after the show. There is a club called the Benin Unity Club in Massachusetts. They called me after the event to ask if it was true that the palace supported that kind of venture and I said no, the palace could not have supported it. They said they were angry too with the management of the museum because at the time they knew that they were going to do that event in that place, they told them to clear with the Benin palace, before anything at all. They promised to get permit but after a while they said they were not going to come to Benin they have been told no one could guarantee their safety in Benin because of kidnapping. The Benin Club of Massachusetts were angry, because at the time they were talking, Bill Clinton was even visiting Nigeria so they could not understand why they were talking about security issue.
The organizers paid some people to come and perform ugho dance on that day, did a few things and as a result of that, they put together quickly, what they called Coalition of Committed Benin Clubs in Boston. As far as we are concerned here, there is nothing of such, I don’t know anything of such, but I do know that the Benin Club of Massachusetts, years ago sent a letter to Oba of Benin appealing to him to allow them name the Oba as their patron and I do know the Oba accepted to be their patron. So, if there was an argument there, it will probably be between the Benin Club of Massachusetts or the so called Coalition of Benin Clubs in Boston.
Is there any possibility of using the instrument of the law to get these artefacts back?
I think maybe our legal experts can answer this better because as far as I can say, it is a little bit complex because those things were looted from palace of the Oba of Benin at the time there was no Nigeria, in 1897. If anybody wants to take action on this issue, we can only think of the International Court in the Hague, we can’t do it in the courts in Nigeria, courts of America, courts of England or anywhere, but I wonder if the International court will accept any brief from individuals. Will they listen to Nigeria government on that issue? We have very many brilliant lawyers that will be able to answer the legal question.
Beyond the Briton that volunteered to return some of these things has there been any other museum that has returned any artefacts to the palace?
No one has done that. Incidentally, some years back, the late Ekpo Eyo, who was the curator of the National Museum in Lagos; through his instrumentality, (General Gowon was the Head of State then) he had to go and buy some of those artefacts back to Nigeria. Nigeria had to pay for them instead of the foreigners paying us royalty.
In 1977, when we wanted to use the Idia plaque for the FESTAC event, they did not even let us have it. At that time, we wanted to borrow if just for a symbol for the period of the festival. Perhaps they were suspicious that if they gave us we would not return it. At first, they asked us at that time to pay 2000 pounds insurance because it was very fragile. But you tell me, how can elephant tusk be fragile, is it is paper? They refused to let us have it, then my father called the Igbesamwan people here, those who made the original one to do the replica. At the end of the day nobody could differenciate the original from the replica, it was the replica that we used for the FESTAC.
One of the things the Benin Club of Massachusetts is quarrelling about now is that even If they are going to see the Benin Gallery at MFA in Boston, they have to pay money. If you are doing that, there has to be some royalty to the original owners
CHINESE PURCHASE A CHINESE ARTEFACT FOR 20 MILLION DOLLARS
CHINESE PURCHASE CHINESE ARTEFACT FOR US$ 20 MILLION DOLLARS
It has been widely reported in the press that a group of private Chinese businessmen and collectors from Hunan Province, China, have collectively bought a Chinese wine vessel for US$ 20 million in a private auction at Christies in New York after a previously announced public auction had been cancelled. The group intends to donate the vessel to the Hunan Provincial Museum which already has the lid of the ritual vessel. (1)
Christies issued a statement:
Christies is pleased to announce that a group of private collectors from Chinas Hunan province has offered to purchase the ‘Min’ Fanglei and donate this magnificent bronze to the Hunan Provincial Museum in China. After close consultation with the current owner over the last several days, Christies has facilitated a private sale, allowing the vessel to be united with the lid kept at Hunan Museum. We are pleased to have brought together our consignor and these collectors resulting in this excellent outcome that will allow the King of all Fangleis to go back to its place of origin in Hunan.
As always, it is our duty to be a responsible steward of the important cultural objects that are entrusted to our care.
said Steven P. Murphy, CEO Christies
Christie’s feels privileged to have acted as custodian of the Min Fanglei and to have facilitated its transfer.
According to Christies the bronze vessel has an impeccable provenance:
This bronze has been extensively published since as early as 1928, and has been handled by some of the most important dealers and collectors of the early 20th century, including A.W. Bahr, C.F. Yau and C.T. Loo.
Readers will no doubt recall that there have been reservations regarding the purchase of ones cultural artefacts from abroad that had been previously looted or acquired under dubious circumstances. (3) What we have not been informed, at least in the press reports on the Chinese purchase of the Min Fanglei, is how this magnificent artefact, said to have been used as ritual wine vessel, came to the western world and the full circumstances of its acquisition. That the vessel has impeccable provenance, having been extensively published since 1928 and handled by some of the most important dealers and collectors of the early 20th century, does not indicate to us how it was initially acquired and brought to the West. At best, this statement must be considered as guaranteeing the authenticity of the artefact as original Chinese product. Readers will no doubt be aware that some important dealers and collectors have been involved in the purchase of artefacts that turned out later to have been acquired under dubious circumstances. (4)
Punting aside for a while the question of how the wine vessel came to the Western world, one may legitimately ask whether spending astronomical sums on such cultural objects has any limits. True that in the present case we have a very magnificent object but in most cases the price required has no direct relation to the intrinsic quality of the object: it is the Western dominated art market that determines the price. This case demonstrates clearly the power of the market. This same vessel was sold in 2001 for US$ 9 million and now in 2014 fetches 20 millions. Are we condemned forever to be ruled by the forces of the Western-dominated art market? Must we Africans subject the return of our looted cultural artefacts to the mechanism of the Western art market?
It is interesting to note that the vessel will be donated to the Hunan Provincial Museum which already has the cover of the vessel. But there is no information about how the cover is in Hunan whilst the vessel itself was in the West. Was the vessel taken away after it had been discovered with its lid or were the two parts discovered independently? The South China Morning Post-CHINA states:
(5) But there is no information on how this separation came about. Are the specialists not interested in telling us the history of this magnificent artefact which is said to have been published several times but in fact only reference to one book has been given by Christies? It reminds us of authors who tell us about the effect of the Benin Bronzes on European attitudes to African art but carefully omit to mention the 1897 invasion of Benin and the burning of Benin City by the invading British Army.
We looked at the book by George Souli de Morant, Histoire de lArt Chinois de lAntiquit jusquՈ nos jours (1928) as well as its English translation but did not find any explanation how the separation of the vessel and its cover came about. (6) We will have to wait until the vessel is in the Hunan Provincial Museum which may tell the full history of the magnificent wine vessel.
Kwame Opoku, 6 April, 2014.
Private buyers from Hunan recover ancient bronze vessel, the Min Fanglei
Published: Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 4:35am
3. K. Opoku,
Chinese Purchase of Looted Chinese Artefacts: An Example for Other States?
4. The various returns of artefacts by US American imuseums and institutions to Italy as well as the trials of dealers and even a curator have shown that important dealers and collectors cannot always be trusted to do the right thing.
Websites such as
Looting Matters. Chasing Aphrodite
have details on recent cases putting in doubt the reliability of dealers.
6. Payot; A History of Chinese Art-From Ancient Times to the Present Day.
translated by G.C.Wheeler, George G.Harrap & Co, London, 1931
Ritual Wine Vessel, China
‘Een boze neger die zijn eigendommen komt ophalen; dat is emancipatie’ (en een bestuursvoorzitter die dieven uitnodigt)March 24, 2014 – 11:58
“Het is een wonder dat ze (kostbare schilderijen) nog niet gestolen zijn”, zegt bestuursvoorzitter Carel Weeber van het Museo di Korsou in Willemstad, Curaçao. Het lijkt haast een uitnodiging om de schilderijen te komen stelen. Weeber is al een aantal jaren bestuursvoorzitter van dit verwaarloosde museum en verbergt zich ook al jaren achter het excuus dat er geen geld is om het museum te verbeteren. Dat kan zo zijn, maar doordat deze verwaarlozing voortduurt en nu hij het nodig vindt publiekelijk te blaten dat het hem verbaast dat de kostbare schilderijen nog niet gestolen zijn, is de kans groot dat het museum dadelijk niet alleen zonder geld, maar ook zonder schilderijen zit.
Als het al zo is dat er geen geld is kostbaarheden op onverantwoorde wijze te tonen, dan is enige daadkracht op zijn plaats. De huidige sitting-duck opstelling is niet acceptabel. Waarom die schilderijen niet ergens goed beveiligd opslaan totdat er wel fondsen gevonden worden om het museum te verbouwen, of desnoods naar een andere locatie te verplaatsen?
Mochten er schilderijen gestolen worden, dan heeft Weeber in De Volkskrant van 21 maart 2014 anticiperend schuld bekend.
‘Een boze neger die zijn eigendommen komt ophalen; dat is emancipatie’
− 21/03/14, 07:01
© anp. Otrabanda
column Vloekend haalde de Curaçaose kunstenaar Yubi Kirindongo zijn kunstwerk uit het museum in Willemstad, zag Meindert Fennema. ‘Zijn kunstwerk had meer ruimte nodig, maar die ruimte werd hem door de curator van de tentoonstelling, Jennifer Smit, niet gegund. Het oude militaire hospitaal van Curaçao, gelegen in Otrabanda, is thans een museum. Het souterrain, dat eigenlijk begane grond is, is door een overstroming onbruikbaar geworden. De ‘bel-etage’ die je met een lange trap bereikt bevat vier zalen, gescheiden door twee brede gangen die elkaar in het midden kruisen.
In één van die zalen hangen een aantal zeer waardevolle schilderijen van Nederlandse schilders: Jan Toorop, Carel Willink, de meester-vervalser Van Meegeren en Isaac Israëls (in het Museo di Korsou gespeld als Isaak Israels). ‘Het is een wonder dat ze nog niet gestolen zijn’ zegt bestuursvoorzitter Carlos Weeber, in Nederland als architect bekend onder de naam Carel Weeber.
Twee andere zalen staan vol met antiek meubilair, zodanig opgesteld dat het iets van een zolderverkoop heeft. Slechts één zaal bevat schilderijen van Antilliaanse kunstenaars.
Wie beschermt onze Rembrandts? Predictive Profilers!
Keuze op gender blijft omstreden, maar niet bij Broersma. Volgens de journaliste van Het Parool, Lorianne van Gelder, hebben de aanhangers van predictive profiling voorlopig het gelijk aan hun kant omdat er sinds 2006, de aanval op een schilderij van Van der Helst, geen incidenten meer zijn geweest in het Rijks. Wel, in de zestien jaar daaraan vooraf gaand waren er ook geen ernstige incidenten. Je zou met evenveel recht kunnen zeggen dat het 16 jaar goed ging dankzij het ontbreken van predictive profilers. Een nonsensverklaring, evenals de verklaring nonsens is dat aanhangers van predictive profiling hun gelijk aantonen doordat er sinds 2006 geen incidenten zijn geweest. In een eerdere column onder de titel Profiling in musea – geen detectiepoortje kan op tegen een mooie jonge vrouw stak ik al de draak met de reclamefolder bla bla rondom predictive profiling.
De verklaring in Het Parool dat predictive profilers het gelijk aan hun kant hebben is zowel historisch als inhoudelijk op los zand gebaseerd.
Het Rijksmuseum is meer dan tien jaar grotendeels gesloten geweest in verband met een grondige restauratie en verbouwing. Gedurende die gedeeltelijke sluiting was de Zuidvleugel – de Philipsvleugel – voor bezoekers geopend die daar de highlights van het museum konden zien. Dat gecondenseerde museum ontving jaarlijks bijna evenveel bezoekers als toen het museum nog helemaal open was. Tot aan het moment dat het Rijks weer helemaal opende, medio april 2013, werden alle bezoekers bij de entree via een geavanceerd detectiesysteem gescreend. Bijna dagelijks werden er messen, pepperspray, vloeistoffen en zelfs hamers uit de bagage en kleding van bezoekers gevist. Het is pas sinds tien maanden dat geen gebruik wordt gemaakt van dat systeem, maar van predictive profilers. Ik vrees dat al die enge materialen nu dagelijks het museum binnen komen. Dat de aanhangers van predictive profiling het gelijk aan hun kant hebben is historisch strijdig met de vele jaren zonder predictive profiling en zonder incidenten en met de slechts korte tijd dat het nieuwe Rijks weer open is.
Inhoudelijk klopt de conclusie door Lorianne van Gelder, ongetwijfeld ingefluisterd door Emile Broersma, ook niet. Het is namelijk vrijwel onmogelijk de kwaliteit van bewaking en beveiliging af te meten aan het uitblijven van incidenten. Eind jaren tachtig van de vorige eeuw – ja, ja, zo lang lopen we al mee – vergaten schoonmakers in het Van Goghmuseum de buitendeur te sluiten nadat ze het bordes hadden geveegd. Toen de beveiligers hun posten innamen bleken er al toeristen, met rugzak en al, in het museum rond te lopen. Dat incidenten uitbleven, zegt dus niets over de kwaliteit van de bewaking en beveiliging op dat moment. Dat er sinds de opening van het Rijks geen incidenten plaatsvonden, zegt helemaal niets, pro noch contra, over het effect van predictive profiling in de museale context. Dat Broersma zich dit niet realiseert zegt wel van alles over zijn deskundigheid als beveiliger.
De kwaliteit van gebruikte beveiligingssystemen wordt pas duidelijk zodra zich (bijna-)incidenten voordoen. Predictive profiling heeft niet kunnen voorkomen dat een jeugdige bezoeker op een kostbare chaise longue ging zitten. Betekent dit nu dat die predictive profiling tekort schoot? Het zou kwaadaardig zijn als ik die gemakkelijke conclusie trok. Dat het museum overging tot aangifte omdat de schade ‘aanzienlijk’ zou zijn en dat men later spijt had van die aangifte, de schade niets voorstelde en de bedvandaal door de rechter werd vrijgesproken is een smet op het blazoen van het Rijks.
Stel dat er een ernstiger incident in het museum plaatsvindt, moet dan de conclusie worden getrokken dat predictive profiling gefaald heeft? Nee, er zou hoogstens kritisch bekeken moeten worden in hoeverre de investering in predictive profiling rendement oplevert. Bij dat rendement heb ik nu al grote vraagtekens.
Sinds 1984 – ik neem gemakshalve een periode van 30 jaar – ontving het Rijks circa 35 miljoen bezoekers. In die periode deden zich 5 incidenten (1 op de 7.000.000 bezoekers) van enige omvang voor: diefstal 18de eeuws klokje tijdens de gesloten maandag (interne kwestie?), diefstal van een ornamentbeeldje van een kast (op tweede Paasdag eind jaren tachtig), zoutzuuraanval op De Nachtwacht (1990), diefstal fragment Perzisch tapijt (2000) en de aanval op het schilderij van Van der Helst in 2006. Zeker vergeleken met de tijdspanne en het aantal bezoekers een gering aantal incidenten. Bij vier van die vijf incidenten had predictive profiling eventueel een preventieve rol kunnen vervullen. Ik zeg het met grote voorzichtigheid, want er is geen enkele zekerheid en ik heb zo mijn twijfels. Ook toekomstige incidenten zullen alleen dan iets over predictive profiling kunnen zeggen indien PP aantoonbaar een bijna-incident heeft voorkomen. Dat zal niet gemakkelijk te bewijzen zijn.
Is de investering in PP dan zinloos? Ik denk het niet. Wat zinloos en aanmatigend is, is PP te presenteren als ver superieur boven een detectiesysteem bij de entree waar meer dan tien jaar lang, dag-in-dag-uit van aangetoond is dat er resultaat was.
De predictive profiler die deze week, door getuige geconstateerd, in de onderdoorgang een passerende persoon met een capuchon aansprak met: “He, wat moet jij hier?!”, heeft het PP principe niet goed begrepen. Misschien kan het Rijks nog een dure aanvullende cursus kopen….
Toch moet ik een compliment maken, en wel voor de vasthoudende marketing rondom predictive profiling door een kongsi van voormalig politiemensen. Blijkbaar werd ook Lorianne van Gelder, journalist bij een kwaliteitskrant, ingepalmd door de gladde jongens.
Den Haag, 27 februari 2014
Profiling in musea – geen detectiepoortje kan op tegen een mooie jonge vrouw
Volgens Emile Broersma, hoofd beveiliging van het Rijksmuseum te Amsterdam, kan de nieuwste elektronische detectieapparatuur niet tippen aan goed getrainde mensen. Een zeer aanvechtbare appels-met-peren vergelijking. Op grond van goede argumenten kan het tegenovergestelde beweerd worden. De onwetenschappelijkheid druipt van Broersma’s niet gefundeerde opmerking af; niveau STER reclame. Ik krijg er dezelfde kriebels bij als bij de gezondheidclaims van cholesterol verlagende voedingsmiddelen, calorieloze cola’s, wasmiddelen die witter dan wit wassen en auto’s die 1 op 50 rijden. Stuitende borstklopperij. Hier preekt de vos de passie, want wat is er aan de hand?
Broersma, nauwelijks nog verhuld, prijst een beveiligingsmethodiek aan die zijn makkers van Art Secure al enkele jaren aan musea proberen te slijten via cursussen ‘predictive profiling’. Sterker nog: Broersma trad namens Art Secure op als cursusleider in andere musea. Er heeft zich een kongsi gevormd van voormalige politiemensen die, met eurotekens op het netvlies, onbewezen succes claimen bij de beveiliging van musea.
Is predictive profiling dan nutteloos? Ik zal niet in dezelfde kuil als Broersma en consorten vallen door ongefundeerd het tegendeel te beweren van hun promotalk. Goed observeren van individuen in mensenmassa’s zal ongetwijfeld nut hebben, zeker indien die observatie gebaseerd is op instructie en oefening. Niets op tegen. Echter, wanneer succesverhalen komen uit de mond van mensen die direct of indirect financieel belang hebben bij het aanprijzen van een product en wanneer dat product dan ook nog eens aangeprezen wordt als DE oplossing, dan ontstaat bij mij argwaan. Hoed je voor de adviseur die oplossingen verkoopt.
Afgelopen zomer heb ik aan den lijve ondervonden hoe betrekkelijk het succes van die aangeprezen observatiemethodiek is. TV zender AT5 nodigde mij via een e-mail uit mee te werken aan een undercover test van de beveiliging van het Rijksmuseum. Ik wilde daar, natuurlijk, niet aan meewerken en stuurde de mail van AT5 door naar Broersma in het Rijksmuseum en zijn collega Drenth (ten overvloede: ook ex-politie en ook met een lijntje naar Art Secure) van het Van Goghmuseum. Beide heren schoten in een onbegrijpelijke angststuip. Hoewel ze die AT5 mail van mij kregen, nam geen van beiden de moeite met mij contact op te nemen. Vooral Broersma maakte het bont. Hij liet via een PowerPoint presentatie – let wel, in mijn bezit – drie dagen achtereen tijdens de ochtendbriefing in het Rijksmuseum mijn portret aan alle beveiligingsmedewerkers zien onder het kopje ‘verdachte personen’, met de nadrukkelijke opdracht om zodra ik het Rijks betrad de meldkamer te alarmeren en met het even nadrukkelijke verbod met mij in gesprek te gaan. Interessant is dat ik alle dagen waarop mijn portret op diffamerende wijze werd getoond door medewerkers uit het Rijksmuseum werd gebeld. Tot zover de falende solidariteit van die medewerkers met hun beveiligingsbaas. In plaats van die overspannen actie had een telefoontje van Broersma, of Drenth, naar mij alle kou uit de lucht kunnen helpen.
Broersma’s door achtervolgingswaanzin ingegeven geklungel kon niet anders dan als een rechtstreekse uitnodiging om het Rijks te bezoeken worden opgevat. Een riskante onderneming, begrijp ik nu uit het artikel in Het Financieel Dagblad, want lekkere meiden ‘die minder snel dan mannen afgeleid zijn’ en met ‘genetisch meer oog voor detail’ zouden via hun niet te onderschatten observatievaardigheden mij natuurlijk meteen door hebben, de meldkamer zou gealarmeerd worden en niemand zou het aandurven met mij in gesprek te gaan. ‘Genetisch meer oog voor detail’? Heeft Broersma na meerdere feministische golven en jarenlange emancipatie een typisch vrouwenberoep gevonden? Wat een van machismo doordrenkte discriminatie. Medewerkers worden door Broersma zonder enige schroom op basis van genen en uiterlijk geselecteerd. Is dat officieel Rijksmuseumbeleid? Die Dr. Cesare Broersma Lombroso toch! Van alle markten thuis, een multi-talent.
Ik zag tijdens mijn bezoek aan het Rijks bij de ingang slechts geanimeerd met elkaar kletsende beveiligers; het viel mij op dat bezoekers overdreven populair en tutoyerend, of in steenkolenengels werden aangesproken – plaatsvervangende schaamte was mijn deel – en dat een bezoeker een terracotta dubbelportret op de ‘beletage’, in de oostelijke kabinetten, liefkoosde, bekrabbelde en zich met zijn arm om het terracottabeeld door zijn partner liet fotograferen. Nogal afwijkend gedrag, maar geobserveerd door die schoonheidskoninginnen met bijzondere genen? Nee.
Kreeg ik enige extra aandacht bij mijn bezoek? Ik moet, gebukt onder teleurstelling, ontkennen. Werd de meldkamer of een leidinggevende geïnformeerd over mijn aanwezigheid? Nee. Hielden de mij bekende medewerkers zich aan het nadrukkelijke verbod met mij te spreken? Mag ik die vraag onbeantwoord laten? Fantaseert u maar, net zoals Broersma fantaseert over het effect van ‘predictive profiling’ en de observatiekwaliteiten van mooie meisjes.
Ik heb nooit de loftrompet geblazen over enig beveiligingssysteem omdat zulks zich tegen je keert wanneer het fout gaat. Hopelijk valt Broersma niet in de kuil die hij stelselmatig voor zichzelf graaft met zijn lofzangen op mooie dames en observatie van afwijkend gedrag. Ik gun het Rijks alle goeds en hoop van harte dat het op beveiligingsgebied nooit fout gaat, maar diep in mij is een duiveltje dat bijna onhoorbaar bij voorbaat in zijn vuistje lacht.
Overigens: laat ik nu altijd gedacht hebben dat het not-done is mededelingen te doen over je beveiliging. Ik raad iedereen aan die in het Rijksmuseum iets wil uitspoken: beware of beautiful girls.
Den Haag, 26 februari 2014