Above from left: Commemorative head of a Oba (king) of Benin, 18th century and a Bronze Plaque, mid-16th to 17th century.

The Smithsonian has agreed to return looted Benin Bronzes in it’s collection to their homeland in Benin city, Nigeria.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, In a deal to be signed with Nigeria this spring, will create a partnership for future exhibitions and programs.

The Bronzes which is set to return to Nigeria later this year, are part of the over 10,000 thausand arts and artifacts that were looted from Benin Kingdom (Present day Nigeria), by British forces who invaded the Kingdom in 1897.

According to Washington Post, the Director General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments Abba Isa Tijiani said the repatriation of the 39 priceless artworks is the cornerstone of an agreement that could be signed as early as next month.

He Further discribed the agreement as a significant milestone in the global effort to repatriate looted objects to Nigeria.

“I commend the Smithsonian,” Tijani said. “We have not encountered another museum that has done as much,” he added.

Two Bronzes from the University of Cambridge in the UK, and the University of Aberdeen was returned to Nigeria last year. The Nigerian Government however, handed over the bronzes last month to the Current Oba Of Benin, His Royal Majesty Oba Ewuare II, who’s great grand father (Oba Ovanranwen) saw the invasion and looting of his kingdom by British forces.

Oba of Benin Ewuare II, left and the Nigerian High Commissioner to UK Amb Sarafa Tunji, right During the physical handing over of the Benin Bronzes from The Nigerian Government to the Oba of Benin, on the 19th of February, 2022.

The innovative move by the world’s largest cultural organization will set a new bar for how museums respond to changing attitudes about cultural heritage and the legacy of colonial violence.

The Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Ngaire Blankenberg said the new partnership is built on the Smithsonian’s relationship with Nigerian cultural agencies that began in 2015. It will help to transform the African art museum into a vibrant space that connects these treasures of the past to the present and future.

“Using the bronzes as almost archival material, alongside photographs and oral histories and other forms of art, that contemporary arts can draw from them,” she said, explaining how the works might be exhibited in the future. “This is part of a thorough process of reimagining the African art experience … and what a regenerative, decolonized African art museum can be.

“The Smithsonian is a huge bureaucracy, and doing things like this really challenges the system, not because they don’t want to do it but because it is not set up for this kind of thing,” she added.

Last Year, Blankenberg removed the artwork from the galleries, a move Tijani described as “respectful.”

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