Monday 29 June 2020

Against Nigeria's objection, sales of 'stolen' artefacts go ahead in Paris

Pair of Igbo Statues Attributed To The Master Of Awka Couple, Nri-Awka Region, Nigeria. Pic: From Christie's website.
Today, some allegedly stolen artefacts of Nigerian origin are heading for sales in Paris, France, despite several efforts to stop the auctioning.

Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), under the Ministry of Information and Culture, as well as some art scholars in the diaspora have raised alarm over the auction house, Christie's legitimacy to sell the artefacts. In fact, the NCMM, in a letter dated June 17, 2020, has asked Christie's to stop the scheduled sales.
On Sunday, Legal Adviser to NCMM, Babatunde Adebiyi disclosed that a reply received on Friday, June 25, from Christie's indicated that the sales of the artefacts will go ahead as scheduled. According to Adebiyi, Christie's stated that the artefacts were legitimately acquired for sales.

The NCMM letter, addressed to Victor Teodorescu, Head of Sale, African and Oceanic Art Department, Christie’s Gallery was also copied Bruno Claessens, European Head of the African and Oceanic Art Department Christie’s Gallery. Signed by the Acting Director-General, NCMM, Aliyu Abdu, excerpts from a copy of the letter reads: "We are surprised to discover the advertisement of the under-listed artefacts on your website for a planned auction scheduled to hold on the 29th of June, 2020, 3pm at 9 Avenue Matignon, Paris. France.

"These artefacts as you have stated are from Nigeria and they lack the proper providence. We thus request that you suspend the auction and provide us with the provenance of these artefacts because we are of the opinion that they belong to classes of antiquities that Nigeria will object to their exchange or transfer.

"Some of them are not just mere objects in some fancy collection. They have sacred purposes within the community." The letter listed Lots 29, 30, 31, 47 and 49 as the contentious artefacts."

Christie’s proposed-sales today, of Arts of Africa, Oceania and North America include sculptures with Nigerian, Benin Republic and Gabonese origins. Listed among the lots in the online catalogue of Christie's website for the June 29 auction are Belt Mask Edo and Edo Hip Mask, Kingdom of Benin, selling for EUR 10,000-EUR 15,000 (USD 11,247-USD 16,870); Edo Bronze Plate, estimated for EUR 30,000-EUR 50,000 (USD 33,740 - USD 56,233); Pair of Igbo Statues Attributed To The Master Of Awka Couple, Nri-Awka Region, Nigeria, selling for EUR 250,000-EUR 350,000; Urhobo- Meeting-House Posts, estimated.for EUR 80,000 - EUR 120,000(USD 89,973 - USD 134,959); and Urhobo Figure, going for between EUR 600,000 - EUR 900,000(USD 674,797 - USD 1,012,195).

One of the voices from the diaspora, against the sales came from Prof Chika   Okeke-Agulu of African and African Diaspora Art, Princeton University, Department of Art & Archaeology. He said, the artefacts “were taken from shrines and community houses in Eastern Nigeria in 1968-1970." He explained that being of wood medium, irrespective of how old the works are, the condition would still be fairly good. He suggested that the sculptures "must have been made in the 20th century, with a few perhaps even late 19th century."             

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