* British soldiers looted Benin bronzes in 1897
* Looted casts are exhibited in museums around the world
* Edo State in Nigeria to build museum to house artefacts
* Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye to create a museum
LAGOS, Nov. 12 (Reuters) – Nigeria hopes to recover more of its Beninese bronzes looted from Western museums and collectors as early as next year, as global Black Lives Matter protests spur repatriation campaigns, a said a senior official.
Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo State whose capital is Benin City, said discussions were underway on several returns that would spur building a wider movement across Africa and beyond. search for loot from the colonial era.
Plans had been made to build a center to store and study the returned artefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025, Obaseki told Reuters.
“The whole Black Lives Matter movement has… added some urgency to the conversation,” he said.
British soldiers seized thousands of metal casts and sculptures in a raid on the then-separated Benin Kingdom in 1897.
The “bronzes” – actually copper alloy relief sculptures, many of which show figures from the court – were auctioned off and then distributed among institutions from New Zealand to Germany and the United States, with the largest collection in London.
The British Museum has long resisted calls for the full repatriation of its collection of bronzes – as well as treasures from Ethiopia’s Magdala and Greece’s “Elgin Marbles” – often citing legislation prohibiting it from disposing of artifacts.
But Obaseki said the global protests against racism, which forced Western countries to re-examine their colonial past, had helped advance negotiations on finding a compromise.
Several museums, including the British Museum and the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, have formed a Benin Dialogue Group to discuss the sculptures and work on their exhibition in a museum in Benin City, some of which are officially on loan.
“FOR AFRICANS FIRST”
The British Museum said discussions were underway, but did not give details on times.
“The question of which objects will be in the new museum in Benin and how many will be determined by discussing with our Nigerian colleagues,” he said in a statement.
A private collector returned an item in August and four others have expressed interest in recent months to do the same as early as next year, Obaseki said.
Funds will be raised over the next two years to build the three-story Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), and work on a research desk to store the first returns would begin in March, a t -he declares.
This would be part of an estimated $ 100 million regeneration program that would involve the excavation of the original walls and moats of Benin City, once the main hub of the Kingdom of Benin, which covered much of what today is southern Nigeria from medieval times until the British arrived.
An independent trust has been set up to collect funds comprising representatives of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Royal Palace of the Oba, or King, of Benin.
More details will be announced on Friday, Obaseki said.
The new museum would encourage foreigners to come to Nigeria to view the bronzes, widely recognized as some of the masterpieces of African art, he added.
He would try to “make the world understand that there was a civilization in sub-Saharan Africa that compares to what happened in Europe 400 or 500 years ago”.
Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, who will oversee the project, told Reuters it was “ridiculous” that Nigerians currently have to travel to Europe to see objects of their own culture.
“This museum is really for Africans first,” he said. (Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Andrew Heavens)