Kwame_Opoku – DID EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE AUTHORIZE DAKAR-DJIBOUTI EXPEDITION TO REMOVE RELIGIOUS PAINTINGS?August 7, 2014 – 14:09
LOST ETHIOPIAN PAINTING REAPPEARS
DID EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE AUTHORIZE DAKAR-DJIBOUTI EXPEDITION TO REMOVE RELIGIOUS PAINTINGS?
Painting of St John, Ethiopia, now in Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France
We read with great interest and attention a report entitled “Stolen Ethiopian Saint John Turns Up at Paris Auction” which was published by the Museum Security
Network and other websites. (1)
The report states that a 17th century Ethiopian painting representing Saint John that had been stolen from the Musée de l’Homme, Paris, in 1989 turned up at an auction at Drouot, Paris.
According to the report, the painting had been in an Ethiopian Coptic Christian church, Abba Antonios, in Gondar, former capital of Ethiopia but was, with eleven others, collected in 1932 by the French ethnologist, Marcel Griaule during the Dakar-Djibouti Expedition (1931-33). Griaule had been able to persuade the church authorities that the Abba Antonios church was not suitable for these paintings and obtained from the local ecclesiastical authorities the permission to replace the original paintings with copies supplied by the artist of the French mission.
According to the report, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry had complained about the removal but the Emperor had decided in favour of the French.
After the work had disappeared from the Musée de l’Homme in 1989, it was bought by the wife of a painter at the Vanves flea market in Paris in the 1990s. The painting will now join the other eleven that are held in the Musée du Quai Branly which inherited works from the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée des Arts Africains et Oceaniens in Paris.
I was very uneasy with the report as presented. It seemed unspecific, referring to the emperor at that time, without giving the name of the emperor who was Haile Selassie. I got more suspicious as I read that the recovered work with eleven others had been acquired by Marcel Griaule during the notorious Dakar-Djibouti Expedition. Readers will recall that this rapacious mission went through the former French colonies taking, looting, stealing and seizing artefacts it thought useful for understanding those countries and their cultures, armed with the authority of a French government decree. The methods used by this expedition have been detailed by the secretary-archivist of the mission, Michel Leiris in his fundamental book, Afrique Fantôme. (2)Members of the expedition did not shrink from using bribery, intimidation, corruption, blackmail, threats, undue pressure and plain stealing in obtaining objects they desired.(3) Michel Leiris
wrote in his dairy of the expedition:
“Yesterday, we were refused with shock several statuettes which were used to cause rainfall, as well as a statuette with raised arms, found in a sanctuary.
Taking away these objects would have been like taking away the life of the country, said a young man who, even though had been in the army, had remained faithful to his customs, almost crying at the thought of the disasters that our impious gesture would have provoked, and opposing our evil design with all his strength, had alerted the old men. Feeling like pirates: saying good-bye this morning to these affectionate old men, happy that we had spared them a disaster, we kept an eye on the huge green umbrella which was normally used to protect us but was today carefully bound. There was a strange bulge looking like the beak of a pelican: it contained the famous statuette with raised arms which I had myself stolen at the foot of the earth mound which served as its altar. I first hid it in my shirt… and then I put it in the umbrella… pretending to urinate in order to divert attention.
This evening, at Touyogou, where we are camping at a public place, my chest is full of earth:my shirt served again as a hiding place for a kind of double edged blade, as we left the cave of masks of this village
Paintings from the Church of Abbas Antonios, Gondar, Ethiopia. now in Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France.
The recovered painting apparently will be returned to the Musée du Quai Branly without any compensation or payment to the consignor, the artist whose wife had bought the painting at the flea market. This is interesting. We will probably never know the whole truth about the deal between the consignor and the museum. If the consignor or his wife bought the painting in good faith, he surely could expect some compensation from the museum. Anyone buying such a piece of work in Paris would know where to look for help if they were not sure of the origin of the work and its history. The museum is, of course, not very interested in a general discussion on the origin and history of any of its works since this would involve discussing the sources of the works from the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée des Arts d’Afrique et de l’Oceanie which are largely due to colonial plunder and deceit.
Made curious by the vague and very general reports and the mention of the notorious Dakar-Djibouti Expedition which brought some 3500 looted/stolen artefacts including 70 skulls from Africa to France, I decided to read a little more for I had the impression that there was more in this matter than meets the eye.
I consulted Afrique Fantðme by Michel Leiris. To my surprise, Leiris who is usually prolific about the itinerary and activities of the expedition, giving details about whom the group met and what precisely was taken, was not very forthcoming this time. Commenting on the account of Leiris of the activities of the mission’s acquisition of objects at Gondar, Hélène Joubert, Senior Official responsible for the African section in the Musée du Quai Branly writes;
‘The acquisitions in the region of Godsr in mid-July are shrouded in mystery.’’
(5) But what Leiris wrote was enough to convince that the group did not hesitate to resort to its usual unorthodox methods of intimidation and deception. (6)
The corruption used by the Dakar-Djibouti Expedition comes out clearly in a passage from Leiris in which he writes that villagers who had wanted to help in removing the canvases from the church did not turn up; no doubt instructed by a chief who had not received the bribe he had expected. (7)
The expedition seemed to have favoured most of the time deception and dissimulation; Marcel Griaule and Roux packed the painting like ordinary materials and were decided to show only part of their loot to customs. (8)
Dissimulation is obviously, the preferred method of the French expedition. Michel Leiris wrote that the group had spent a whole morning packing items in such a way that custom officials may not discover the paintings and other items they had in their bags. (9)
The conduct and acts of the expedition as described by Michel Leiris do not reflect the conduct of persons who had received permission from the local authorities and the Emperor to carry away religious paintings. Why should they dissimulate the paintings at customs? Would it not have been logical and natural to expect them to tell all who wanted to know that they had permission from the local authorities and ecclesiastical authorities as well as from the Emperor to take them away? The overall impression one gets from the account of Michel Leiris is that of a marauding looting party of scholars.
I looked at the interesting book of Claire Bose-Tiessé and Anaïs Wion,
Peintures sacrées d’Éthiopie: Collection de la Mission Dakar-Djibouti. (10)
According to the authors, the expedition’s artist, Gaston Loius Roux, demonstrated to the local church authorities the resistance to rain of the oil painting he had done by throwing water on the work whereupon the churchmen agreed to the expedition taking down all the old paintings and replacing them with new paintings by the artist. When the expedition tried to do the same at another church, there was resistance and the matter was reported to the governor of the province and the Emperor. However serious political problems in autumn 1932 pushed the matter to the background and thus there was no decision from either the governor or the Emperor that would have allowed us to assess how far the expedition was authorized to remove the old religious paintings that had been in the church for centuries. (11)
We also looked at Éthiopie Millinaire; Préhistoire et Art Religieux , catalogue of an exhibition in 1974 with some pages on the paintings from Abba Antonios church. The issue of authorization is not discussed in the catalogue but the authors state that if the Dakar-Djibouti Expedition had not taken those paintings away, they would have been destroyed. (12) This is of course the classic defence of many Westerners when discussing looted artefacts but this does not justify illegal acquisition of artefacts. In an article entitled ‘’Conjuring tricks’’ Clementine Deliss describes the tricks used by the expedition to intimidate and pressure the local clergy. The author states that Griaule secured the deal to remove the old paintings and replace them with new ones by threatening the clergyman with imprisonment. (13)
So it does not seem that any political authority and certainly not Emperor Haile Selassie gave any authorization for removal of religious paintings. But where did the Figaro article, translated into English and reproduced at various websites, get the notion that the Emperor at that time sided with the French against his own Ministry of Foreign Affairs? (14)
In view of what has been said above, it would be enlightening to receive more precise information on the following;
1. How did the French expedition manage to persuade the local church and the ecclesiastical authorities to allow them to take away 12 canvas paintings of the saints, 60 square meters of religious material that had been in the church for hundreds of years and replace them with copies made by a member of the expedition?
2. How did the French expedition manage to have the Emperor of that time, as the report puts it, back the French against his Foreign Ministry that was opposed to the removal of religious paintings from the Coptic Christian church?
3. Did the Musée de l’Homme advertise widely the loss of the painting in 1989 before the establishment of the Musée de Quai Branly in 2006?
4. Has anyone seen a written authorization of Emperor Haile Selassie or his representative to the expedition? Ethiopians were used to writing long before many other nations and by 1932 most authorities would issue such important decisions in writing, to be shown where necessary.
5. Has anyone thought of returning the original canvas painting of Saint John as well as the other 11 paintings to Ethiopia as requested by several United Nations and UNESCO resolutions? (15)
6. Has the Musée du Quai Branly that has as motto ‘the “place where cultures dialogue”, (là où dialoguent les cultures) been in dialogue with Ethiopian authorities with regard to these paintings that are more relevant to the culture and history of Ethiopian Coptics than to the culture and history of the French?
Kwame Opoku, 4 August 2014.
Gallimard, Paris 1934. Another edition of Afrique Fantôme may be found in Michel Leiris, Miroir de l’Afrique, with other writings of Leiris edited and annotated by Jean Jamin in 1996.
3. K. Opoku ‘’
Benin to Quai Branly: A Museum for the Arts of Others or for the Stolen Arts of the Others?’
4. Afrique Fantôme, p. 156.
Translations from the French are by K. Opoku.
5. H. Joubert :
“Les mentions d’acquisitions dans la région de Gondar a la mi/juillet
restent enveloppés de mystère`
in Nicolás Sánchez Dura and Hasan G. Lopez Sanz (eds.) La Misión etnográfrica y lingüística Dakar-Djibouti y el fantasma de África, p. 287.
“ Il a été décidé que nous irions remplacer les peintures de Gondarotch Maryam comme si de rien n’était et comme si nous ignorions les deux phonogrammes que l
’alaga Sagga a envoyés. Mais, pour parer à tous incidents, .nous partons en force: une douzaine d’achkars armés de sept fusils, Griaule,Larget,Roux,Lutten et moi, tous armés, plus Abba Jérôme avec son habituel parapluie.’
Dès que nous sommes arrivés, Griaule, apprenant que l’alaqa Sagga se trouve là, l’envoie chercher. Les paysans, bien que nous les traitions avec aménité, ont très peur. Abba Jérôme, de son coté, n’est nullement assuré. Il est visiblement ennuyé d’être embarqué, en tant que représentant officiel du gouvernement dans une pareille histoire. Il sait que Griaule a l’intention si l’alaqa Sagga se présente et refuse de laisser remplacer les vielles peintures de l’église par les peintures neuves que nous avons apportées,de traiter l’alaqa Sagga de fourbe e d’exiger de lui un garant
pour le procès qu’il lui intentera à Addis Ab
.Michel Leiris, op. cit. p 450.
Aucun des hommes qui à l’origine étaient venus eux-mêmes demander à Griaule de s’occuper du remplacement des peintures, n’est là. C’est évidemment un coup monté par l’alaqa Sagga qui devait s’attendre à un fort pot-de-vin et est furieux de n’avoir encore rien reçu.
’Leiris, ibid. p.451.
8. ‘Méthodiquement, Griaule et Roux mettent les peintures d’Antonios en ballots. Une partie seulement sera exhibée aux douaniers. Le reste est roulé, entouré de papier et emballé dans des peaux. Les paquets ne seront pas différent des charges d’abou-gédid que transportent les caravanes.’’
Leiris, ibid p. 580.
9. ‘Toute la journée s’est passeé à dissimuler des peintures: un triptyque a été simplement revêtu de papier portant, dessinés et coloriés par Roux, les motives mêmes des ses propres panneaux; cela passera pour une copie. D’un diptyque également recouvert de papier, Griaule s’est fait un joli portefeuille dans lequel il a rangé des timbres et différents papiers. Un grand tableau, enfin, a été caché (sous du papier d’emballage collé) au fond d’une caisse qui contiendra des oiseaux empaillés.’’
Leiris, ibid., p. 584.
10. Éditions Sépia, 2005, Paris.
11, Bose-Tiesse, and Anaïs Wion op cit. pp 83-84.
12. Petit Palais.
Paris, November 1974-February 1975 p. 263.
13. Clementine Deliss, ‘Conjuring Trikcs ’centropecci.it
‘C’est en juillet 1932 que le grand ethnologue Marcel Griaule avait fait halte sur le site. Constatant l’état très dégradé de l’église, en particulier sa toiture, et les risques encourus par le décor mural datant du dernier tiers du XVIIe siècle, il avait obtenu des autorités ecclésiastiques l’autorisation ce déposer celui-ci et de le faire remplacer par des copies à l’huile exécutées par le peintre
, membre de la mission Dakar-Djibouti. La mission avait gardé les originaux. Une plainte à ce sujet avait été déposée par le ministère des affaires étrangères éthiopien mais l’empereur
avait tranché en faveur des français. Au musée de l’Homme, les toiles avaient été restaurées dès 1933
15. K. Opoku,’’
Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria’s Demand for Return of Looted Artefacts?’’http://www.modernghana.com
Ancient Egyptian mask likely to stay at St. Louis Art Museum after feds give up legal fight
ST. LOUIS • The Department of Justice is giving up its fight to reclaim for Egypt a 3,200-year-old mummy mask that disappeared from that country decades ago and later found its way into the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum.
“The Department of Justice will take no further legal action with respect to the mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer,” U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said in response to questions from the Post-Dispatch on Monday, the deadline for the Department of Justice if it wished to prolong the court battle.
Museum officials couldn’t be reached immediately for comment. According to court filings, both sides are still discussing payment of the museum’s legal fees.
The mask was excavated in 1952 from a storage room near the step pyramid of Saqqara and was one of the items found with the mummified body of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, a noblewoman at the court of Ramses II.
The mask disappeared from storage in Egypt sometime between 1966 and 1973. The museum bought the mask in 1998 from a New York art dealer for $499,000.
When Egyptian authorities learned in 2006 that the museum had the mask, they began trying to get it back.
After negotiations failed, the federal government threatened to sue, but lawyers for the museum beat them to the courthouse, filing their own suit in January of 2011.
On March 31, 2012, U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey dismissed the government’s forfeiture lawsuit, saying that the Department of Justice failed to claim or prove that the mask was actually stolen.
“The Government cannot simply rest on its laurels and believe that it can initiate a civil forfeiture proceeding on the basis of one bold assertion that because something went missing from one party in 1973 and turned up with another party in 1998, it was therefore stolen and/or imported or exported illegally,” he wrote. He also said that lawyers failed to identify the law that had supposedly been broken when it was “illegally” imported into the U.S.
Government lawyers appealed.
On June 12, a three-judge panel of 8th U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with Autrey. The panel also said that the government “elected to ‘stand or fall’ on its untested legal theory” rather than add to the lawsuit, and missed a deadline to amend or appeal the suit.
Appeals Judge Diana E. Murphy said in a concurring opinion that the government could have cured the lawsuit’s deficiencies by listing other statutes that were violated by the mask’s importation, and by claiming that art dealers and the St. Louis Art Museum “knew or were willfully blind’ to facts including the mask’s ownership by Egypt, ineligibility for private ownership, and lack of a proper license.”
“While this case turns on a procedural issue,” Murphy wrote, “courts are bound to recognize that the illicit sale of antiquities poses a continuing threat to the preservation of the world’s international cultural heritage. Museums and other participants in the international market for art and antiquities need to exercise caution and care in their dealings in order to protect this heritage and to understand that the United States might ultimately be able to recover such purchases.”
On Monday, Callahan acknowledged that his office only had “a lack of record showing a lawful transfer,” not proof the mask was stolen.
“The evidence that we had showed that the mask was in the lawful possession of the Egyptian authorities for several years, and then there was a period with no activity,” he said. After that, “the mask was not in the possession of the Egyptian authorities anymore and there was no paperwork to support the theory that it lawfully left.”
The museum has said that the mask was part of a private collection in the 1960s, and was purchased in Switzerland by a Croatian collector, Zuzi Jelinek. Jelinek sold the mask to Phoenix Ancient Art in New York in 1995, the museum said.
The museum has said that it researched the mask’s ownership history before buying it, reaching out to Interpol, the Art Loss Register and others.
But critics continue to question whether the museum has a moral and ethical obligation to return the mask.
Monday was the deadline for the department to ask for a rehearing of the June 12 decision by the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals.
Robert Patrick covers federal courts and federal law enforcement for the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter: @rxpatrick.
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?