Smithsonian museum to join other institutions in returning Benin bronzes to Nigeria

Smithsonian Benin bronzes
Smithsonian Benin bronzes
Smithsonian Benin bronzes
Posted at 6:39 PM, Mar 09, 2022

The Smithsonian Museum of African Art is reportedly planning to return around 12 Benin bronzes that it currently claims ownership of in an agreement that has yet to be signed, in order to repatriate the items back to Nigeria, the Washington Post reported.

As ARTnews detailed, the head of Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments said that a plan to return the bronzes could be signed as early as next month.

The Benin bronzes are part of a lot of objects that were said to have been looted in 1897 from the Kingdom of Benin by British troops. The area is now known as Nigeria. The bronzes were brought to England and then were dispersed throughout the world in the years that followed, landing in some of the world's top museums, including the British Museum in London, ARTnews reported.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has already sent back two objects from that group. The University of California in Los Angeles's Fowler Museum has also begun discussions to return similar items.

The Met has returned a small portion of Benin bronzes and is believed to own around 160 pieces from the looted lot. The Smithsonian's repatriation is believed to be extensive and could push other U.S. institutions to return their bronzes.

A spokesperson for the Smithsonian said, “Under the new policy, we will ask the Board of Regents to approve the return of Benin bronzes taken from a raid in 1897 to the National Commission of Monuments and Museums in Nigeria.”

Nigerian officials have reportedly said that once the bronzes are returned some will be on display in Benin City at the Edo Museum of West African Art, which is set to be opened in 2025 according to an announcement released two years ago, ARTnews reported.