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Art market/culture wars: Benin’s boomeranging bronzes

23 May 2022 · 2 min read

“These items aren’t for sale,” the museum director snootily informs movie supervillain Erik Killmonger in the Black Panther. The items include Benin bronzes, sacred artefacts that are also stunning works of art. They were looted from Nigeria by British armed forces in 1897. Irony aside — “you think your ancestors paid a fair price?” Killmonger taunts — the curator’s comment was prescient. As calls for repatriation grow louder, Benin bronzes are becoming unsaleable on the open market.

Just last month auctioneers Burstow & Hewett withdrew a Benin bronze because of “uncertainty over provenance”. That euphemism relates both to authenticity and the ugly tale of how Benin was pillaged.

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