Past Event

The Benin Bronzes: Towards the Resolution of a Long-Standing Dispute?

April 9, 2021
9:30 AM - 2:00 PM
Event time is displayed in your time zone.
View video here (Panel 2 starts at 1:59:49).

The Benin Bronzes were looted in 1897 from the Royal Palace of Benin City during a punitive expedition amid the British colonial expansion into West Africa. Their status is now central to the worldwide discussion about restitution claims and the return of cultural objects to their place of origin. At stake is what will become of these thousands of pieces from the Benin court, the most famous of which are cast metal heads and commemorative plaques.

Featuring speakers from Africa, Europe, and the U.S., this conference addresses Nigeria’s claims and the preparations for the physical return of the Bronzes, outlines collaborative international projects, and looks at alternatives to restitution such as those proposed by institutions in Europe and elsewhere. Speakers (including some from the Benin Dialogue Group, which gathers Nigerian authorities and global museum delegates) will focus on key issues in critical heritage studies such as the decolonization of Western museums; the role of digitization; decontextualization; and the essential relationship between local communities and objects from their past.


David Freedberg (Director of the Italian Academy; Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art, Columbia University, New York)
Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Director of the Institute of African Studies, Columbia University, New York)
Pierre Losson (Italian Academy Fellow 2020, Columbia University, New York)

Panel 1: From the Global North Back to Nigeria? Museums, the Benin Dialogue Group, and the Future of the Bronzes

Barbara Plankensteiner (Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt [MARKK], Hamburg)
Christine Mullen Kreamer (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.)
Phillip Ihenacho (Legacy Restoration Trust, Lagos)
Dan Hicks (University of Oxford; Pitt Rivers Museum)

Moderator: Chika Okeke-Agulu (Princeton University)

[Break: 11:30AM-12PM]

Panel 2: Restitutions and Returns: Why, How, and for Whom?

Felicity Bodenstein (Digital Benin Project; Sorbonne Université, Paris)
Kokunre Agbontaen-Eghafona (University of Benin, Benin City)
Abba Isa Tijani (National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja)

Moderator: Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University, New York)

Pierre Losson, David Freedberg 

Organizer: Pierre Losson (Italian Academy Fellow 2020)
Co-sponsor: Institute of African Studies (Columbia University)

See here for biographical notes on all participants.

See also: The Restitution Debate: African Art in a Global Society.

This event is part of the Academy's International Observatory for Cultural Heritage.

Image: A display of Benin Bronzes in the British Museum (Photo: Joy of Museums CC BY-SA)