“My great grandfather carved a looted treasure”

On Monday Egbe stood next to the statue of his great-grandfather, one of the famous Benin bronze sculptors

In the bustling streets of Benin City, Nigeria, residents can’t wait to get their bronzes back—for them, their return symbolizes compensation for some of the mistakes made by the British army during the colonial era.

After Jesus College, the rooster statue is an invaluable craft that will soon be welcomed home It was handed over to the Nigerian delegation at a ceremony held at the University of Cambridge on Wednesday.

It is one of thousands of metal sculptures and ivory carvings made between the 15th and 19th centuries. It was looted by British troops from the Kingdom of Benin in West Africa (located in the state of Edo in modern Nigeria) in 1897.

A man photographed a rooster statue sent back to Nigeria by a college at Cambridge University

Benin Bronze Rooster was presented to Jesus College in 1905

“My great-grandfather’s work will return to Benin, and I am very happy,” said Monday Egbe, who was a sculptor like his ancestor.

He runs a foundry in Benin, the capital of Edo State, where his craftsmen quietly make brass statues.

Skilled workers have made countless shapes out of metal, including the bust of Oba-the title of the traditional king of Benin-as well as animal statues and carved doors.

They have been making bronzes here for six generations. In the middle of the foundry is a large statue of Mr. Egbe’s great-grandfather.

He worked for Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi when the raid occurred at the palace more than 120 years ago.

“It frustrated me because they came, they destroyed the palace, and they let my great-grandfather run from the city to the village,” Mr. Egbe said.

These trophies are one of the most valuable African artworks ever, and are sold or given away to private collectors and museums around the world.

A worker at the Monday Aigbe foundry in Benin, Nigeria

The bronzes are still made using the same technique in Benin City-the sculptor works at the foundry in Aigbe on Monday

As more and more stolen artifacts are expected to return to Nigeria-on Thursday, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland will return one of the bronzes-Mr. Egbe plans to take his children to see them when they are on display .

Big design

This will be held at the Edo West African Art Museum-a grand initiative by the governor of Edo Prefecture to collect all returned Benin bronzes.

Authorities say it will not be completed for at least five years-construction of the building designed by the famous British Ghanaian architect David Adjaye has not yet begun.

But for Theophilus Umogbai, deputy director and curator of the National Museum of Benin, this is not an excuse to postpone the return of the bronzes.

He said that these handicrafts are similar to libraries because they tell the history of the Kingdom of Benin.

“You have empty shelves now. The return of these items is like filling these shelves. There is a gap in our history because these items have been taken away.”

Map showing the ancient kingdom of Benin

Map showing the ancient kingdom of Benin

The British government argued that Benin’s bronzes were “properly stored” in the British Museum, which has the largest collection in the world-more than 900 pieces.

British authorities said that hosting these ancient objects in London would also ensure that they are available to the world.

But Mr. Umogbai disagreed with this argument, saying that given the visa and travel costs, most Nigerians will never be able to see them there.

“I went to the British Museum because my trip was sponsored. Otherwise I would not be able to go, even as a civil servant.

“Compared with Africa, it is easier for people from abroad to visit us because of the booming economy in Europe.”

For him, bronzes do not belong to Western museums at all.

“When I saw the bronzes in the British Museum, I was very happy at first. Then this idea was replaced by the feeling that these items were inconsistently placed where they shouldn’t be. They should go home.”

“Inspiration” in the past

The 28-year-old artist Joe Obamina agrees—because he believes that the past will inspire the future.

In his sunny studio in Benin, he created pixelated paintings-inspired by his childhood indoors, playing Tetris.

“These returned cultural relics will be of great significance because it will help me establish contact with my ancestors”, source: Joe Obamina, source description: artist from Benin City, picture: v

From a distance, these paintings look like a group of colorful boxes, with small symbols scattered on strange squares. But if you squint your eyes, or better yet, watch these paintings through your phone camera, the overall image will become clear.

“Each pixel is a continuous story. In addition to the overall image, I also tell other stories in each cube,” Mr. Obamina said.

Despite the use of modern images, some of his works do reflect the history and culture of Edo State.

A painting depicts the mask of Idia, which is one of Benin’s most famous bronzes. It is said that this is a facial sculpture of the mother of Obama from the first half of the 16th century.

L: Queen Idia's mask R: Joe Obamina's painting of Queen Idia

The picture on the right shows Joe Obamina’s pixelated interpretation of the Queen Idia mask

“My painting of the Idia mask was inspired by the continued return of Benin bronzes,” said Mr. Obamina.

“When we grew up, we didn’t see the real masks, only replicas. Our heritage has been scattered, so I had to paint something to depict: the scattered heritage of foreign countries.

“But despite this, we still have our own identity and cultural customs. That’s why when you take a photo with your phone, you can still see the complete mask.”

Obama’s great-grandfather was a sculptor. Although he doesn’t know if he has ever worked on any ancient bronzes, he believes that seeing them will help connect him to the past.

“I am a Nigerian, I am an Edo citizen-so I can’t really get rid of it, it is rooted in me.

“These returned cultural relics will mean a lot because it will help me establish contact with my ancestors.”

Benin Bronze Medal Battle:

A bronze plaque from Benin depicting the Auba warriors on display at the British Museum

A bronze plaque from Benin depicting the Auba Warriors on display at the British Museum

  • A series of elaborate brass and bronze sculptures and plaques from the Palace of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi

  • Created by a professional guild working for the court

  • These plaques provide historical records of the Kingdom of Benin, including the first contact with the Portuguese envoy

  • Many works were made for the ancestral altars of past kings and queen mothers

  • The term “Benin Bronze” is also used to refer to handicrafts made of ivory, leather, coral and wood

  • In February 1897, after seven British officials and businessmen were killed, Britain launched a punitive expedition against the kingdom.

  • Benin City was occupied; British troops ransacked the burned palace. oba, or king, was exiled

  • European museums have agreed to take turns to lend some of the bronzes to a new museum built in Benin City more than 60 years after Nigeria’s independence

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