Nigeria recently gave signals that it may accept the loan of Benin Bronzes in the collections of museums abroad. The art historical treasures from the former Kingdom of Benin (modern-day southern Nigeria) were plundered by the British in 1897 during a punitive expedition. In total, some 4,000 of intricate sculptures were removed from the Oba’s (king’s) palace, gifted and sold, and many ended up in museums in Britain, Germany, and the US. For decades, Nigeria has been trying to work with European governments and museums to retrieve some of it lost art, with little success. Now, it seems like reconciliation may finally become a reality.

No timeline for the return of the bronzes has been established, and the process is in its early stages. However, a representative for the British Museum, which currently holds the largest collection of Benin’s treasures in the world, recently told artnet News that talks have had a promising start. In conclusion to a meeting with the Benin Dialogue Group, which was established in 2007 to create a conversation between Europe and Nigeria about returning the works, the parties arrived at the suggestion of a proposal that would “work towards a permanent, but rotating, exhibition of loaned objects” to Nigeria, according to the representative.

Many are skeptical about whether the potential outcome is fair or even ethical. Some think that a loan agreement is simply not enough and just a continuation of colonialism. Read more