The Ben Enwonwu Foundation in collaboration with the Society of Nigerian Artists and supported by Alliance Française/ Mike Adenuga Centre Lagos and Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos hosted the seventh edition of its monthly series of talks ‘Point of View’ (POV 7) on the 25th of May, 2021. This edition coincided with the World Africa Day Celebration, Africa Day is an opportunity for Africans to remember that on May 25, 1963, 32 African countries signed the Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which later evolved into the African Union (AU). Only 30 of them were independent from colonial rule at the time including Nigeria.
The Executive Director, The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, Oliver Enwonwu, gave an opening speech to kick-start the event. He analyzed the theme and shared a brief documentary of previous POV editions.
A screening of the performance, “Rawson’s Boat” by celebrated artist, Jelili Atiku followed. The artist then gave a general overview of the performance including the events of 1987 when British forces sacked and looted the Oba’s palace in Benin Kingdom. He also spoke about museums around the world and how most of their artifacts were collected from Africa during the precolonial era.
Dan Hicks a Professor of Contemporary Archaeology, University of Oxford; was the first presenter, he joined virtually from Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Speaking about culture in the precolonial era, he said ‘Many of the relics in the museum are Nigerian, Pitt Rivers Museum is one of the most violent spaces in Oxford’. He gave a brief history of the British who collected the renowned Benin bronzes and artifacts.
Moving forward, Prof Peju Layiwola from the Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, gave a presentation themed ‘Benin Massacre, Memories & Experiences. As part of her presentation, she shared of experiences of visiting several museums around the world and of collecting artifacts.
Introducing the panelists was the moderator foe the evening: Peter Okotor an Assistant Curator at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos. He called three panellists to the podium who were to engage in the discussion on ‘The Restitution Debate: Diaspora Affairs, Migration and the Reinvention of Identity’; Kofo Adeleke, President Legacy 1995, Dr Vincent Hiribarren the Director Institut Francais de Recheche en Afrique (Nigeria) University of Ibadan and Azu Nwagbogu the Director/Founder African Artists Foundation .
Talking on restitution, Kofo Adeleke was of the opinion that our precolonial history has been taken away from us, and that bringing these artifacts back will go a long way in giving that back to us. She said that we have to come up with our own ideas and plans and not try to copy other countries in a bid to properly plan our museums, ‘every local government in Nigeria should have a museum’.
However, Azu Nwagbogu opinionated that ‘we need not look back too much at the colonial interruption, it is almost distracting from the core work that needs to be done’. He said that measures should be put in place to receive these artifacts if they are indeed returned, we need a reversal of cultural imperialism which is not done by returning a bunch of objects!
Also on the matter was Dr Vincent Hiribarren, who stated that most European countries are actually ignorant and oblivious about the precolonial history of Nigerian artifacts. These people do not even know the value of these relics hence they are not holding back from restitution with a particular motive to withhold such priced African artifacts.
This edition lent voice to increasing global calls and debates for the restitution and repatriation of looted art to Nigeria. It also analysed current efforts and preparedness of Nigeria to receive and preserve these relics.
After the eye-opening discussion session, room was given for questions and answers. Mr Oliver Enwonwu drew the curtains with his vote of thanks and acknowledgement of all partners and sponsors of Point of View including, Business Day, Omenka, Vanguard, Five Cowries Art Education, WildflowerPR and the Jelili Atiku Foundation . He stated that Point of View holds on the last Tuesday of every month.