BENIN DIALOGUE GROUP: Benin Royal Museum--Three Steps Forward, Six Steps Back.

Author:Shyllon, Folarin
 
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INTRODUCTION

The Benin Dialogue Group has now convened five times. The inaugural meeting was in December 2010 with 'New Cultures of Collaboration: Sharing of Collections and Quests for Restitution: the Benin Case' as the theme. It was hosted by the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna. The second meeting in October 2011 in Berlin was entitled 'New Cultures of Collaboration--Sharing of Collections'. The third meeting, from 19th to 20th February 2013 in Benin City, was called 'Meeting of Nigerian Officials and European Museum Representatives over the Benin Bronzes in European Museums'. The British Museum was designated to host the fourth meeting in the following year but it never took place and instead the University of Cambridge filled the void by organising the fourth meeting in 2017. The University's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology hosted the meeting which convened at Trinity College on 29th March 2017. (1) The fifth meeting--the subject of this report--was held at the National Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden, the Netherlands on 19th October 2018.

It was at the first meeting of the Group in Vienna in 2010 that the issues of sharing and restitution were discussed. Thereafter, the emphasis has been on how to loan the Benin bronzes to Nigeria. The second meeting in Berlin was about 'Sharing of Collections', the main focus was about sharing the joint heritage and to work with African museums on the basis of an equal partnership. Sharing of the cultural heritage through loans or common exhibition projects was considered and accepted as desirable.

The Benin City meeting that produced the Benin Plan of Action addressed issues including a digital and printed publication of the Benin collection of the participating parties, the accessibility of the collections to the staff of the collaborating institutions, the waiving of reproduction fees, assistance with expertise, scholarship and support for curatorial education, and support for development of libraries and archives of the National Commission of Museums and Monuments of Nigeria. All this is aimed at creating an enabling environment for exchange, joint exhibitions and loans in both directions. The highlight of the Joint Agreed Statement of the Cambridge meeting is that in taking forward the Benin Plan of Action, it was agreed to take concrete steps towards the establishment of a permanent display in Benin City, rotating material from a consortium of European museums, in collaboration with Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Royal Court of Benin. In addition steps would be taken to raise funds for a first rate and standard museum in Benin City--Benin Royal Museum. (2)

FORWARD STEP

The participants at the Leiden meeting were the Government of Edo State, Nigeria; The Royal Court of Benin, Benin City; National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria; British Museum, United Kingdom; Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University; Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (the Humboldt Forum), Germany; Museum am Rethenbaum, Kulturen und Kunste der Welt (MARKK), Hamburg, Germany; National Museums of World Culture, Sweden; Weltmuseum, Vienna, Austria; and National Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden,' the Netherlands. The Governor of Edo State presented concrete plans for the Benin Royal Museum being developed by the Government of Edo State and the Royal Court of Benin with the support of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments Nigeria. The Benin Dialogue Group discussed the timeframe for the development of the new museum in Benin City to which all the listed European and Nigerian museums would contribute from their collections. The agreement is that all parties will work to a three-year time frame for delivery of a substantial display of the historic arts of Benin, including some of the most iconic pieces.

As the planning of the Benin Royal Museum moves forward, the European partners undertook to provide advice, as requested, in areas including architecture, design and exhibitions. European museums...

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