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Nigeria, U.S. gallery row over stolen 1897 Benin artefacts

THE donation of 32 works of Benin Art - 28 Bronze and six Ivories - looted during the Benin Massacre of 1897 by one of the heirs of the beneficiary of the expedition, Mr. Robert Owen Lehman, to the Museum of Fine Art Boston U.S.A, may have sparked up diplomatic row between Nigeria and the United States of America (USA).

The donor, Owen Lehman, has been traced to have ancestral link to the famous American banker and collector, late Philip Lehman, who was reported to have founded the defunct investment firm, Lehman Bros, that was renowned for “buying West African artworks at auctions in the 1950s and has since amassed a prized group of bronze figures from Benin, as well as several ivory objects from 15th Century Sierra Leone.”

Already, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has renewed call for the restitution of these priceless stolen artefacts as the donation continues to generate criticism in the global art scene.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we hereby place it on record that we demand, as we have always done, the return of these looted works and all stolen, removed or looted artifacts from Nigeria under whatever guise,” Director-General of NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman stated, while calling on the management of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, U.S. “to, as a matter of self-respect, return the 32 works to Nigeria, the rightful owners forthwith.”

Reacting to the Boston deal, which filtered into the public domain through the Internet during the week, NCMM head said, “we have read with trepidation the donation of 32 works of Benin Art precisely 28 Bronze and six Ivories looted during the Benin Massacre of 1897 by one of the heirs of the beneficiary of the expedition, Mr. Robert Owen Lehman, to the Museum of Fine Art Boston U.S.A.”

The collections, which, according to Usman, form part of the exploits of the British Expedition, “were taken out illegally on the pretext of spoils of war,” he decried, adding, “Without mincing words, these artworks are heirloom of the great people of the Benin Kingdom and Nigeria generally. They form part of the history of the people. The gap created by this senseless exploitation is causing our people untold anguish, discomfort and disillusionment.”

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http://mondaymidnitevision.blogspot.be/2012/07/nigeria-us-gallery-row-over-stolen-1897.html

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