The Society for the History of Collecting
invites you to its Online Lecture
Organised by the French Chapter
‘The long history of the return and restitution of the Benin royal treasures to Nigeria’
Felicity Bodenstein, Sorbonne Université, Paris
2 February 2022, 7.30pm (CET), 6.30pm (GMT)
This talk considers the long history of requests for return, restitution, lending and buying back of the so-called Benin bronzes, infamously pillaged in 1897 by the British admiralty and Protectorate forces. It places initial requests made by the Oba of Benin, Akenzua II in the 1930s into relation with the initiative undertaken by the first Nigerian director of antiquities, the British-born Kenneth C. Murray, to buy back some of the most important Benin artworks that came on to the international art market in the 1950s. This long history of return will be used to help better understand the post-colonial efforts for the restitution of the Benin objects which have culminated in Germany’s recent promise to return its collections.
Felicity Bodenstein is an art historian working in Paris, specialized in the history of archaeological and ethnographic collections and the social, economic, and cultural processes involved in their creation, classification, interpretation, display, and reception during the 19th and 20th century. After completing a Ph.D. on the history of the collections of the department of coins and medals at the National Library in Paris in the 19th century, she now works on questions of representation in the display of contested, translocated objects. Her on-going research since 2015 is dedicated to understanding the global destiny of the Benin pieces looted in 1897 by British Naval forces in present-day Nigeria and considers the value transformations and narratives that have accompanied their initial looting and the successive displacements through the market and through collections. She is also interested in the long history of the restitution debates that they are currently part of. Her research was supported by post-doctoral fellowships from the Max Planck Institut at the Kunsthistoriches Institut in Florence, by the musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris and by the Technische Univeristät in Berlin; where she worked for two years in the project translocations, piloted by Professor Bénédicte Savoy. Since 2019, she is a lecturer in the history of museums and heritage studies at Sorbonne Université, Paris.
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