RISD Returns Benin Bronze To Nigeria

Last Tuesday the RISD Museum of Art returned this bronze head of a West African king to the Nigerian government. Known as “The Head of a King (Oba)” it was one of the many bronze sculptures and plaques looted by the British from Benin in the 19th-century. The museum had deaccessioned the piece two years ago with a statement from then RISD museum director John W. Smith:

Museum curators are convinced the bronze head was stolen by British soldiers during the 1897 massacre of the Benin Kingdom in present-day Nigeria. British forces looted the Royal Palace in Benin City, taking thousands of objects of cultural and historical significance.

Cultural institutions around the world are being urged to evaluate artifacts in their collections that may have been plundered during international conflicts and the years of European colonization. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art has transferred ownership of its 29 Benin bronzes to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria.

John Oliver handled this very topic earlier this month on Last Week Tonight. The segment includes details and photographs of that British assault on Benin that will make you very glad that the RISD Museum, unlike the British Museum, has come down on the right side of history.




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