Art director

The director of the National Museum of African Arts gives details on the bronzes of Benin

Bronze artifacts from Benin housed at the Smithsonian. The Journal of Art / Facebook

Last week, reports surfaced that the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art would pledge to repatriate several Beninese bronzes from its collection. Now, clarifications are emerging: according to Smithsonian Magazine, 10 of these previously discussed bronzes have been removed from view at the museum. In addition, the National Museum of African Art obviously has at least 16 objects related to the British colonial raid on Benin in its collection; the museum is also currently in talks with the National Commission of Museums and Monuments of Nigeria to determine how best to facilitate the repatriation.

“We know that [the works of art] are looted,” said Ngaire Blankenberg, director of the National Museum of African Art. Smithsonian. “I am extremely determined to give back to them. But it’s not for me to decide when and how that happens.

Blankenberg became the director of the museum very recently: she took office in July 2021 and, according to her own account, decided to remove the Beninese bronzes from the museum within 11 days of taking office. “I took them off because I think it hurts so much to show them,” Blankenberg continued. Smithsonian. “For Africans, seeing this is like a slap in the face. So while we’re busy trying to [repatriate these items]I intend to minimize the damage.

In the spaces of the museum where the bronzes were previously exhibited, Blankenberg installed photographs of the objects and an explanatory text instead. “When I walk into a museum and see things that have been acquired through violence or dehumanization, I feel like I don’t belong there,” Blankenberg told Smithsonian. “And I don’t want anyone to feel that way in my museum.”

National Museum of African Art director says showing Benin bronzes hurts