Why Is the Ownership of Benin Art so Controversial?

  • Submitted by: winiwhitingstall
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  • Category: Arts
  • Date Submitted: 08/07/2010 07:29 AM
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Why Is the Ownership of Benin Art so Controversial?

Question:

Why is the Ownership of Benin Art so Controversial? (1000words)

The ownership of Benin art is still a greatly contested area, and there are a number of opinions which should be looked at, on whether or not they should be returned to their place of origin. It is important to note that there has been a change in the relationship between Europe and Africa, From when Benin’s artefacts were first forcibly removed after the British invasion of Benin in 1897. These works of art were made in Benin in the fifteenth and eary sixteenth centuries, they were things of great beauty and on par with art of some European courts of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. This did not fit in with Victorians   racist picture of   an ‘African primitive way of life’ ( Loftus, Wood, 2008, p. 76.). To recently, where there has been a shift in the way Western museums set about displaying Benin art to best represent it   as a way of enlightening people on the history of the Benin kingdom and court life.
      It is important to consider the circumstances as to how these artefacts came to be in western hands. When Benin was conquered by the British, the Europeans perceived the city as a brutal and savage land. Uncovering   the artefacts was a revelation to the Europeans. They were seen as the only valuable things they could take back to Britain and sell. Consequently, they were ripped from their locations, and much of the details about their context were lost forever. However, the artefacts As well as being objects of beauty, were culturally very important and served very specific purposes, to the Benin people. This was disrupted when they were moved. So seeing the bronzes or sculptures just as pieces of art in western museums could undervalue the importance and meaning they hold back in Africa.   Therefore, there are some opinions, like that of Kevin Dalton-Johnson (Black Arts Alliance), who feel the art should be returned to Africa, where the original ownership was. ‘They...
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