New Museum for Looted Art

Nigeria intends to build a new museum over the next four years that could exhibit looted Benin bronzes currently displayed in European and American museums, officials said Friday, a news report in France24 says.

France has reportedly said it will return some looted artefacts to Benin.

Many Benin bronzes — a group of more than a thousand prized metal plaques and sculptures looted in 1897 by British troops from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in modern-day Nigeria — are at the British Museum and the Ethnological Museum of Berlin.

The possibility of having the objects returned to Benin City in Nigeria’s southern Edo state and shown at the future Edo Museum of West African Art has long been a dream for many. France has said it will return some looted artefacts to Benin, the news agency reported.

“I am elated,” Theophilus Umogbai, curator of the existing National Museum in Benin, told AFP.

“The museum will serve as an identity symbol of the rich cultural arts traditions of Benin people.”

Last month, French lawmakers voted unanimously to return artefacts to Benin and Senegal — although it remains a small number compared to the estimated 90,000 artefacts the country holds from all over Africa.

Museums in Europe and America have wrestled with a tangle of legal and ethical problems concerning objects taken during the colonial period.