Oct 11, 2022 - World

Smithsonian returns 29 Benin bronzes to Nigeria

Dr. Abba Isa Tijani, a Nigerian professor, shakes hands with Lonnie Bunch fromthe Smithsonian at a repatriation ceremony at the National Museum of African Art on October 11 in Washington, DC.

Abba Isa Tijani (left), a Nigerian professor of museology and anthropology, with the Smithsonian's Lonnie Bunch at a Benin Bronzes repatriation ceremony at the National Museum of African Art in Washington on Tuesday. Photo: Shannon Finney/Getty Images

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art held a ceremony Tuesday to mark the return of 29 Benin bronzes that were stolen during a British raid on Benin City in Nigeria in 1897.

The big picture: Global anti-racism protests sparked by the 2020 murder of George Floyd renewed calls to return relics that were looted during the colonial era. Benin bronzes have become a focal point of this drive, as more Western cultural institutions move to give back previously plundered artifacts.

A screenshot of a tweet from a Smithsonian spokesperson showing some Benin bronzes that were repatriated to Nigeria.
Screenshot: Lonnie Bunch/Smithsonian/Twitter

Of note: Tuesday's ceremony transferring ownership of the Benin bronzes to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria follows similar ones in Europe last year — with Paris' Quai Branly Museum among those returning bronzes.

  • Now, the "Smithsonian — the largest museum system of its kind in the world — hopes to inspire other museums to follow suit," the Washington Post notes.

Details: The ceremony was held in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art, which returned the Benin bronze from its collection, per a statement from the Smithsonian.

  • "The return of these Benin Bronzes is the first return under the Smithsonian’s new ethical returns policy announced this spring," the statement noted.
  • "This policy authorizes Smithsonian museums to return collections to the community of origin based on ethical considerations."

What they're saying: "By returning the artefacts, these institutions are together writing new pages in history," said Lai Mohammed, Nigeria's minister of information and culture, in a statement.

  • "Their brave decision to return the timeless artworks is worth emulating."

What we're watching: The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History has a collection of 20 Benin bronzes.

  • "Provenance research for that collection has been undertaken and will be submitted to the Board of Regents as a request to deaccession bronzes obtained during the 1897 expedition and return them to Nigeria," the Smithsonian said.
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