Africa has always been known for its rich heritage and cultural value. While it was known as the land of “darkness” in the colonial times, the continent also had valuable cultural possessions, which were collected and have been placed in different museums around the world. The most common African artefacts reside in European and American museums with artefacts originating from predominantly the Belgian, French and British colonies which include West Africa, some parts of East Africa and the Middle belt. Here is a list of notable African art which has been removed from their homeland.
The Congolese Chokwe mask
The Tshokwe people (Chokwe) produced a great number of masks; the majority of them are painted in three basic colours and made from vegetable fibres, pieces of cloth and paper. The mask is located at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, carved by the Chokwe people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most powerful and significant Chokwe mask is known as chikunga. The sacred mask is generally used during investiture ceremonies of a chief and sacrifices to the ancestors. The chief of the group can only wear the chikunga. The mukanda mask is another important mask used during male initiation in the mukanda institution, a process through which religion, art, and social organization are passed on from one generation to the next.
“Thousands of artifacts looted from African towns over a century ago line European and British Museums and institutions. After decades of campaigns for the return of African pieces, such as the Benin bronzes, the homecoming of looted artworks finally began looking like a real possibility”.
But in the middle of the global economic crisis sparked by the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has devastated economies, a new market for African artifacts and art has emerged.
Christie’s, the British auction house, announced a curated ”Arts of Africa, Oceania and North America” sale in Paris which includes African art such as the newly discovered Akan terracotta head (Ghana), Benin Bronze, and an Urhobo figure (Nigeria). The artifacts from all around Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are valued from €30,000 to €900,000.
The Christie’s auction is embroiled in controversy. Christie’s can only guarantee the origin of the Bronze head as far back as 1890-1949 as a part of the Frederick Wolff-Knize collection that was shown in Vienna and New York.
Christie’s did not respond to a request for comment.
The Benin Bronze plaques that are offered by Christie’s are very similar to Bronze plaques from the St Petersburg and Berlin Museums; artworks with a well-documented history as part of looted artiefacts from the Royal Court in the invasion of Benin City in 1897.
Sotheby’s, the storied British-founded American auction house, on May 27 announced an ambitious sale of “The Clyman Fang Head,” a statue with an estimated value of between $2.5 million and $4 million, from the collection of Sidney and Bernice Clyman. A total of 32 African artworks from the collection will be offered across a series of auctions at Sotheby’s.
Auctions of valuable African artiefacts, some of which could be identified as candidates for repatriation to their lands of origin by activists, would be controversial in normal times but particularly so during the ongoing global pandemic and its attendant economic fallout.
Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have moved auctions online for this reason. Sotheby’s said in March it has seen an expansion of interest in African art auctions with a more diverse customer base online.
Some have assumed auctions like these ones might dwindle after a high-profile report by Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and French historian Bénédicte Savoy called for thousands of African artworks in French museums taken during the colonial period to be returned to the continent.
The report, commissioned by French president Emmanuel Macron, called for a change in French law to allow the restitution of cultural works to Africa. In a meeting with students in Burkina Faso in 2017, Macron said ”Africa’s heritage must be showcased in Paris—but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou. This will be one of my priorities. Starting, today and over the next five years, I want to move toward allowing for the temporary or definitive restitution of African cultural heritage to Africa.”
Plenty of African art is domiciled outside the continent, including statues and thrones, with hundreds of thousands of historical arteifacts housed in Belgium, the UK, Austria and Germany. The French report estimates the British Museum alone has a collection of around 69,000 works from Africa.
“Most of the artworks are already a part of global art conversation and the global economy and it needs to continue to do so,” says Kola Tubosun, a Nigerian linguist and Chevening research fellow at the British Library. “Many of [the artworks] influenced the way art was discussed in Europe in those days.
They present opportunities to celebrate global and not only African development.”
In 1897, British troops destroyed a large portion of Benin, a city in southern Nigeria burning the palace to the ground and looting 4,000 works of art including the famous Benin brass heads and bronzes. Today, the British Museum in London has about 700 Nigerian historical artiefacts with around 100 of them displayed in an underground gallery.
As the global clamour for repatriation of African artiefacts, including Benin’s, have come to the limelight, the British Museum has announced plans to “lend” some of the artworks to a proposed new museum in Benin City billed to open in 2021.
A part of the report stated that unless it could be proven that objects were obtained legitimately, they should be returned to Africa permanently, not on long-term loan. But one of the major criticisms of demands for the returns of artworks back to African countries especially Nigeria has been the general absence of museums and a proper maintenance culture.
While a few galleries and art shows are acting as custodians for African art in Nigeria, the older museums in the country are decrepit and generally underfunded. New museums are springing up in Africa, including Dakar, Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations and Lagos’ Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art. But the museums are not enough.
The demand for the return of a lot of the artifacts has not only been sentimental. A few of the artifacts and art pieces are religious monuments and represent a dying segment of African culture. “Many of the taken works have ritual significance from the places they are taken,” says Tubosun. “When the owners of the art insist they want them [artworks] back in those places, it is their right to do so. But the ownership needs to be established.”
But the artiefacts are already a part of a global ecosystem that is seemingly moving on without Africa. For Prince Yemisi Shyllon, a Nigerian art collector, the value ascribed to many artiefacts taken from Africa exist because of their current location.
“There is a working industry and infrastructure to support the works of art. The moment those works come back to our control, they will lose value just like the ones that are here. The conversation moving forward should be to claim ownership and then claim annual royalties to these works of art even as they remain where they are,” says Shyllon.
Prince Shyllon believes that the Nigerian ecosystem for art isn’t where it should be yet especially as local attitudes towards historical artifacts are very often demonized.The museum named for him has been touted as a potential home for any African art pieces coming back home.
Additional reports from Beatrice Porbric
By: Jacob Obinna
Dean Tasks New Law Students Exco On Service
The Dean of the Faculty of Law of the Rivers State University, Prof. Ovunda Vincent Okene, has urged the new executive members of the Law Students Association of Nigeria (LAWSAN), RSU Chapter, to live up to expectation and give academic and social welfare of members top priority, as well as discharge their duties with a sense of responsibility, to justify their choice.
Okene, who gave the charge during the inauguration ceremony of the new executive at the university campus in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, said the faculty has existed for over 40 years, describing it as the pride of the university and even one of the best in West Africa, having the best learning facility, and challenged the new executive to add value to the faculty.
The university teacher also stressed the need for the law students to imbibe the spirit of cleanliness and dress code compliance, for which the faculty is known, contending that it is incumbent upon them to comport themselves on campus in such a way that portrays the Law profession as a noble profession.
In his response, the new President of the Law Students Association of Nigeria (LAWSAN), Rivers State University Chapter, Mr Ken-Saro Chukwu assured that the new executive would put the association first in all it does, saying, the new normal has begun.
While thanking God, the Dean, the Eleco and the members for the opportunity to serve and for ensuring a hitch-free election, Chukwu said the members of the association should “expect value and utility in everything we do”.
Other members of the executive include Victoria Isikinma, Vice President; Juliet Francis, Financial Secretary; Nimi Amachree, Secretary General; Kendrick Iyalla, Director of Socials; and Princess Amadi, Auditor General.
Others are Treasure Sam-George, Treasurer; Eze Chinedu, Public Relations Officer; Nsinem Bob Essiet, Assistant Secretary General; and Henry Howells, Provost.
The occasion was also graced by the Associate Dean, Faculty of Law/Head of Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, Prof. C.C. Wigwe, Head of Department, Business Law, Dr. Nwuzi, Head of Department, Private and Property Law, Dr. Felix Amadi, and Prof. S.I. Orji, among other dignitaries.
Don’t Say Something You Regret Out Of Anger
There once was a little boy who had a very bad temper. His father decided to hand him a bag of nails and said that every time the boy lost his temper, he had to hammer a nail into the fence.
On the first day, the boy hammered 37 nails into that fence.
The boy gradually began to control his temper over the next few weeks, and the number of nails he was hammering into the fence slowly decreased. He discovered it was easier to control his temper than to hammer those nails into the fence.
Finally, the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father the news and the father suggested that the boy should now pull out a nail every day he kept his temper under control.
The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
‘You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.’”
Celebrating Day Of The African Child
On June 16th, 1976, thousands of black students from Soweto, South Africa, took to the streets to protest the disparity in the education system that preferred quality education for the whites over the black population in Africa. Today, millions of children in Africa do not receive proper education and the onus just doesn’t fall on the world leaders but on every privileged member of the society to acknowledge that they deserve quality education to eradicate poverty in the country.
In commemoration of the Day of the African Child (DAC) 2021, the AUC Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security and Save the Children International, join Africans throughout the continent in celebrating this special day.
This presents a unique opportunity to reflect on the advances made towards realizing children rights as well as remaining challenges.
Today, under the theme: “30 years after the adoption of the Charter: Accelerate implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children”, we recommit to scale up the promotion of the rights and welfare of children of Africa.
Despite important strides made by AU Member States in realizing children rights, grave violations continue to be committed against children in conflict settings. A study conducted by Save the Children in 2020 revealed that the number of children living in conflict zones is highest in Africa.
Among the six major violations committed against children is the attack on education, which continue to have devastating impact on students and teachers, with particularly debilitating long-term consequences for girls and women. In addition, female students and educators suffer horrific acts of violence within their schools and universities.
To remedy attacks on education, the Safe Schools Declaration is a key policy tool towards ensuring safe education for All. The COVID-19 pandemic and the consistent attacks on schools have had terrible impact on children across Africa, but it’s been worse for girls whose risk for gender-based violence or child marriage has been exacerbated. Hence, it is the responsibility of all stakeholders to ensure access to education and all children continue to learn while schools are closed through inclusive distance learning, that every child is supported to return to school when it’s safe to do so, and no child is left behind.
Governments and partners should also invest more in education to build back better education systems for all children.
The AUC Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security will continue to offer commendable support for the safe school’s agenda as evidenced by AU Organs’ commitment to implement the Safe Schools Guidelines.
In addition, the AUC PAPS Department will soon launch the Africa Platform for Children Affected by Armed Conflict (AP-CAAC) to drive action within at all levels.
The advocacy efforts made towards the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines at the national level has created the momentum. The upcoming Fourth International Conference on Safe Schools to be held in Abuja on October 25-27, 2021, with the AU as a co-host with Norway, Argentina, Spain, and Global Coalition for Protection of Education from Attack, is another opportunity to concretize action in support of safeguarding the future of African Children.
International Day of the African Child was set aside to raise awareness of the importance of education for children in Africa. The day not only honours the participants of the Soweto Uprising in 1976 but also raises awareness of the imperative need for improvement of the education of African children. International Day of the African Child is celebrated on the 16th of June every year to highlight the economic strifes suffered by these children and the adverse effects it has on their right to good education in the country.
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