Three Benin and Ife artifacts from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York have been taken into custody by the Nigerian Consulate-General in New York.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Prof. Abba Tijjani, Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), received the artifacts from the museum with the Consul-General of Nigeria in New York, Amb. Lot Egopija.
NAN also reports that the MET currently houses approximately 160 works of art from Nigeria, the majority of which were donated by individuals who were said to have purchased them on the art market.
Tijjani, who later signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the MET, praised the museum for returning the artifacts to Nigeria, urging other museums with Nigerian artifacts to follow suit.
The director-general stated that the issue of repatriation was now at the forefront of people’s minds when visiting museums, particularly in Europe, where these artifacts were not their own but were displayed.
“We are excited to work with the MET because we cannot exist on an island, for example, the museum cannot work in Nigeria without collaborating with partners outside the country.”
“So, now that we are friends and understand each other, we are looking forward to collaborating with MET and seeing how we can work together,” he said.
“Under the commission, we have about 52 museums across the country, as well as 65 monuments and sites, and staff working in the museums will require modern training.”
Similarly, Tijjani advocated for collaboration between the MET and NCMM on exhibitions, scholarships, and staff capacity building, as well as obtaining the necessary curators.
Noting the importance of exhibition in reaching out to the public, he stated, “Nigeria is very passionate about the way it exhibits its artifacts, and we feel that it will be good if we collaborate and rob minds when it comes to joint exhibitions.”
“There is a need for us to exhibit our works in a way that we understand them, and we want people to understand these artifacts as well,” he explained.
The director-general expressed his eagerness to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with MET in these and other mutual areas.
Also speaking, MET Director Max Hollein stated that the MoU would include a shared commitment to future program exchanges.
“We have long-standing relationships, and the museum is committed to a responsible process of collaborating in areas of standards as well as studying works in our collection.”
“It’s a never-ending effort to learn to exchange and find the right solutions,” he said.
Hollein stated that the MET would be delighted to begin the return of Nigerian works and that it is “committed to transparency and the responsible collection of cultural property.”
He stated that signing the MoU was a meaningful way for MET to demonstrate its dedication to NCMM, adding the possibility of exchanging more on various levels on scholarship, exhibitions, and other ideas that we might have together.
“We at the MET are thrilled to be establishing a framework of exchange with Nigeria, and we look forward to working together,” Hollein said.
According to NAN, the two 16th-century Benin brass plaques and the 14th-century Ife brass head were later taken to the Nigerian Consulate-General in New York before being returned to Nigeria at a later date.
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