by Hicks, Dan | The arts
Published 20/10/2021 by Pluto Press in the United Kingdom
Paperback | 368 pages, 4 Tables, black and white; 18 Halftones, black and white; 16 Plates, black and white
Walk into any Western museum today and you will see the curated spoils of Empire. They sit behind plate glass: dignified, tastefully lit. Accompanying pieces of card offer a name, date and place of origin.
They do not mention that the objects are all stolen. Few artefacts embody this history of rapacious and extractive colonialism better than the Benin Bronzes – a collection of thousands of metal plaques and sculptures depicting the history of the Royal Court of the Obas of Benin City, Nigeria. Pillaged during a British naval attack in 1897, the loot was passed on to Queen Victoria, the British Museum and countless private collections.
The Brutish Museums sits at the heart of a heated debate about cultural restitution, repatriation and the decolonisation of museums. Since its first publication, museums across the western world have begun to return their Bronzes to Nigeria, heralding a new era in the way we understand the collections of empire we once took for granted.