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Reflecting on the Restitution of Art from the Benin Kingdom in the Wake of the Sarr-Savoy Report

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Hip ornament: leopard head. Nigeria, Court of Benin, Edo people. Late 18th century
Hip ornament: leopard head. Nigeria, Court of Benin, Edo people. Late 18th century. Bronze, copper, iron. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, Salinger Bequest Fund

Koret Auditorium

Come and hear from two international experts of Nigerian historical art, Barbara Plankensteiner, director of the Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg, Germany, and a founding member of the Benin Dialogue Group, and Ndubuisi "Endy" Ezeluomba, the Françoise Billion Richardson Curator of African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art, as they discuss the restitution of looted Benin Kingdom artifacts in a conversation moderated by Constantine Petridis, curator of African art at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The release in November 2018 of a report on the restitution of African cultural heritage, written by academics Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy upon the request of French President Emmanuel Macron, has reopened thinking and conversation about issues of cultural patrimony and heritage in light of Africa's colonial history. This past year, the complex subjects of restitution and repatriation have been debated from various disciplinary perspectives in numerous conferences and colloquia around the world. These debates have also caught the attention of social and cultural groups on three continents and incited demands for the return of human remains as well as of archives and cultural objects from collections in former colonial nations. Responses to the Sarr-Savoy report have ranged widely but all agree on the many challenges it poses, and few doubt its far-reaching impact on the status of African art in Europe and the United States.

The famous so-called bronzes from the Benin Kingdom in Nigeria, which were mostly looted during a raid by British colonials in 1897, have long been at the center of the restitution debate pertaining to the African continent. Inspired by recommendations of the Benin Dialogue Group in October 2018, prior to the release of the Sarr-Savoy report, officials of the British Museum in London and other museums in Europe that house important numbers of works stemming from this military expedition have agreed to loan important artifacts back to a new museum for art looted from the Benin Kingdom that Nigeria. However, as demonstrated by the recent failed attempt by the RISD Museum (Rhode Island School of Design's art museum in Providence, RI) to return one 18th-century brass commemorative sculpture of the head of a Benin king, tracing the provenance of colonial-era artifacts is far from simple and implementing their actual repatriation is quite complicated a matter.

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Free lecture. No ticketing required. Does not include admission to permanent galleries or special exhibition.

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(415) 750-3600