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The Kingdom Of Benin Essay

1528 words - 6 pages

This essay will attempt to discuss the reasons why the ownership and location of the art of Benin have been consistently debated between the European Museums and the people of Africa, specifically Nigeria who were once known as the Kingdom of Benin. How both parties are actively seeking a negotiated method that will allow both sides to have their needs met; this is of course a method that has yet to be resolved. The Museums, who want to display the artwork to the world next to countless other historical artefacts from other countries and the Africans who want their cultural sculptures back within their territory due to the provocative method in which the art of Benin was originally taken and for the dismissal in the acknowledgement of their right to have a decision on what happens to the Bronze pieces.

In the early years of the nineteenth-century, Western Europeans believed that much of the art of Benin, such as ‘Plate 3.2.27’ would not have been created without their interaction through trade with the Kingdom of Benin. ‘There is no consensus about where Benin obtained its copper before the arrival of Europeans’ (Woods, 2008, pg.6). It is already coherent that the Benin art did exist before the arrivals of the Europeans, yet since the artworks seizure in 1897, it is believed to be rightfully owned by people of the world and it is locked away in Western Museums in the worlds trust. ‘British Museums now display its treasures, including the Benin artworks, as an archive of global, intertwined histories kept in trust for all mankind’ (Woods, 2008, pg.4). Africans however consider the art to belong to all Africans and that it is part of their cultural heritage, ‘In Benin, history has traditionally been recorded through the arts – rather than written down’ (Woods, 2008, pg.4). Both opposing sides believe that they should have a rightful say in both the ownership and location of the art of Benin. Arguably, it would appear that the Africans have no actual say on the sculptures and it is down to the discretion of the Western Museums alone as to who should rightfully keep the art and where the art should be located. This is evident by the fact all the sculptures remain in Europe and Africa is still fighting for the right to have a choice in what happens to the art. It may be the aesthetic value of the Benin art that gives motive to the Western Museums wanting to keep hold of all the pieces, whereas Africa’s desire is purely on the grounds of their heritage.

Of course, European museums, such as the British Museum, understand that they cannot defend the way the art of Benin was acquired in the late nineteenth century. Not so much in the brutality, yet In Reading 2.6, it states ‘official representation was made to the Government on behalf of the British Museum, so as to secure at any rate some of the specimens’ (Reading 2.6, 2008). In the Museums belief, keeping such artefacts within the confines of the museums allows the art to become ‘as accessible as...

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