British Museum commissions building in Nigeria for stolen art

Adjaye Associates will design the Edo Museum of West African Art, a project spearheaded by Nigeria’s Legacy Restoration Trust (LRT) and the British Museum in Benin City, Nigeria.

The museum will reunite local art works held by international collections and present the "wider histories" that the pieces represent, according to a press release from the British Museum.

Adjaye Associates will undertake initial concept and urban planning, and will assemble a team of local professionals to work on the project.

The museum will incorporate the remains of walls, moats and gates of the historic city. Its galleries will draw on traditional courtyard designs, and contain pavilions that allow the exhibits to be "arranged in their pre-colonial context".

As part of the project, an archaeological excavation will take place below the museum itself.

The British Museum has previously been accused of being the "world’s largest receivers of stolen property". Its collection includes the "Benin Bronzes", which will be displayed in new building alongside contemporary artworks.

The Benin Bronzes (Minacarson/Dreamstime)

The project also aims to "engage in new forms of cultural exchange and understanding" concerning the invasion and destruction of Benin City by British forces in 1897, through interaction with local communities and young people with workshops, publications, and talks.

David Adjaye, said: "I am humbled and deeply inspired to design the museum, a project that will establish a new paradigm for Africa. From an initial glance at the preliminary design concept, one might believe this is a traditional museum but, really, what we are proposing is an undoing of the objectification that has happened in the West through full reconstruction.

"Applying our research into Benin’s extraordinary ruins, the city’s orthogonal walls and its courtyard networks, the museum design reconstructs the inhabitation of these forms as pavilions that enable the recontextualisation of artefacts."

Top image courtesy of Adjaye Associates

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  1. I lived and worked in Nigeria from 1970 to 1972, just after the Biafran war.
    I had great pleasure in visiting the Nigerian National Museum in Lagos, near the disused Parliament building. The bronze heads from Ile-Ife and the bronze plaques from Benin are remarquable works of art from times preceding the first arrival of Europeans. I understand that most of those artefacts have since been pillaged and dispersed.
    It is to be hoped that the projected new museum building will be securely protected. It would be regrettable if the British Museum were to donate their own marvellous collection of Benin bronzes, only to see them subsequently stolen.

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