The museum said in a statement on Wednesday, June 9, 2021 that two 16th-century brass plaques created at the Court of Benin are ready to be returned to Nigeria.
The Benin artifacts were acquired by the museum in 1991 by a New York collector who had acquired them from the international art market at an unknown date and under unclear circumstances.
The artifacts were part of those looted during the British military occupation of Benin in 1897.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art reached out to the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) to seek clarity on the status of artifacts and has now deaccessioned them and ready to hand over to the NCMM’s Director General, Professor Abba Isa Tijani.
The museum has also facilitated the return of a 14th-century brass Ife Head from the Wunmonije Compound after a seller offered it to the institution for purchase, wrongly believing the legal title to be in proper order.
“The retention of these works within Nigeria’s National Collections is critical to the well-being of the museum community and to fostering ongoing cooperation and dialogue between The Met and our Nigerian counterparts,” Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, said on Wednesday.
He also expressed the museum’s desire to support Nigeria’s existing national museum network, and the establishment of the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, praised the sense of justice displayed by the museum, and commended the new trend of returning artifacts in the West to their local communities.
“Nigeria enjoins other museums to take a cue from this. The art world can be a better place if every possessor of cultural artifacts considers the rights and feelings of the dispossessed,” he said.
This year, The University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and The Church of England have also pledged to return artifacts of questionable acquisition in their possessions to Nigeria.