Loot. Britain and the Benin Bronzes by Barnaby Phillips - Big Hardback
In 1897, Britain sent a punitive expedition to the Kingdom of Benin, in what is today Nigeria, in retaliation for the killing of seven British officials and traders. British soldiers and sailors captured Benin, exiled its king and annexed the territory. They also made off with some of Africa’s greatest works of art.
This is the story of the ‘Benin Bronzes’: their history before the British took them, their fate since 1897, and the intense debate about their future.
When they were first displayed in London their splendour and antiquity challenged the prevailing view of Africa as a continent without culture or history. They are now amongst the most admired and valuable artworks in the world.
But seeing the Benin Bronzes in the British Museum today is, in the words of one Benin City artist, like ‘visiting relatives behind bars’. In a time of huge controversy about the legacy of empire, racial justice and the future of museums, what does the future hold for the Bronzes?