In Cooperation with the Ethnologisches Museum: The Benin Dialogue Group Consolidates Plans for a Museum in Nigeria

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

The plans to build a new museum in Benin City, Nigeria, featuring an exhibition of historical artefacts from the former Kingdom of Benin are coming along. That was the news shared by the Benin Dialogue Group in a statement at this year’s meeting, which was held in Benin City from 5 to 7 July. At this meeting, the state government of Edo in Nigeria invited the renowned British architect Sir David Adjaye to present an architectural vision for the new museum.

Cooperation with the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin

Jonathan Fine, curator for the collections from West Africa, Cameroon, Gabon and Namibia at the Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, remarked: “It is impossible not to be impressed by the Nigerian interest in the progress of the work of the Benin Dialogue Group and in the planning of a new royal museum. It is extremely fascinating to work together with colleagues from Nigeria and other European countries in an effort to reunite these extraordinary artworks in Benin City.”

Statement of the Benin Dialogue Group in original text (PDF, 278 KB, English)

The Initiative: The Benin Dialogue Group

The Benin Dialogue Group is an initiative that was brought to life in 2010, and brings together museums from Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden with partners from Nigeria and representatives of the royal court of Benin. The Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has been an active member of the initiative since its first meeting.

Humboldt Forum Planning an Exhibition on the History of the Kingdom

Comprising more than 500 pieces, the Ethnologisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is home to a major collection of historical artefacts from the former Kingdom of Benin, which is located in present-day Nigeria. At the Humboldt Forum, which is set to open soon, planning is underway for an exhibition showcasing this collection and exploring the history of the Kingdom. Currently, a number of objects are on display in the exhibition Incomparable. In that exhibition, the historical context of the sculptures is one of the aspects that is explored.

The History of the Kingdom of Benin

For more than 500 years, the Kingdom of Benin was a regional power in West Africa located near the Niger Delta. The territory of the erstwhile kingdom is located in what is now Nigeria. The 15th to 19th-century bronze sculptures and ivory carvings from the former Kingdom of Benin are among Africa’s most spectacular works of art. They bear testimony to the grandeur and historical significance of the kingdom, which for centuries maintained close trade ties with Europe.

The collections of courtly art in Benin came to be scattered across the world in 1897 as a result of Britain’s colonisation of the region. Many of the artworks that adorned the king’s palace were looted. British soldiers brought a portion of the objects to the United Kingdom, where in the following years they were often auctioned off in London or sold privately. Other objects made their way onto the market in Africa. The artefacts from Benin in today’s Ethnologisches Museum (formerly the Museum für Völkerkunde) were purchased on the art market.