A Nigerian sculpture that was looted by British troops in the late 19th century, one of thousands taken from the kingdom of Benin, will be returned to its country of origin by the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
According to Artnews, similar works stolen from Benin (what is now Edo State, Nigeria) have ended up in European institutions, but as of press time, no additional organization has fully committed to repatriating the Benin Bronzes except for the University of Aberdeen, whose sculpture depicts the ruler of Benin, known as the Oba.
University of Aberdeen principal and vice-chancellor, George Boyne, said in statement, “It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances. We therefore decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take, and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners in Nigeria.”
Some institutions are offering not to display the sculptures instead of repatriating them, initially including the Humboldt Museum in Berlin, Germany. However in March, they announced they would begin to seek repatriation of the 530 works from the group in the collection of Berlin’s Ethnological Museum.Others, including the Church of England, are just now beginning talks to consider returning the works. The Church of England claims the pieces were gifted to them by the Benin kingdom and do not originate from the 1897 looting by British troops. According to a document being circulated by another institution, the Horniman Museum whose holdings include 15 Benin Bronzes, said it would consider returning objects that were removed from their respective homes as a result of “colonial violence." Although a small step in the right direction, experts estimate that there are somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 sculptures still out there, making this insufficient at best.
Digital Benin, an organization whose mission is to "digitally network the globally dispersed works of art from the former Kingdom of Benin," has been tracking which institutions possess Benin Bronzes. Their hope, along with building the digital database, is to see works returned and displayed at the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, Nigeria, which opens in 2025. We look forward to following their work and seeing the Benin Bronzes returned to their rightful home.