The organizers of this exhibition of Benin bronze and Ivory works requested us to write an introductory note to this catalog. They also sought permission for courtiers of the Benin Royal Court to come over and model some of their ceremonial outfit. We have granted both requests in the hope that by animating the exhibition of these ancient works with the presence and involvement of the descendants of the original owners of the works, their appreciation would be further enhanced.
The exhibition is showcasing some of the works that made Benin (Nigeria) famous. It once again reminds the world of a civilization truncated by the imperial forces of the colonialist. The works on show at this exhibition are some of the 3,000 odd pieces of bronze and ivory works forcibly removed from my great grandfather's palace by some Britons who invaded Benin in 1897. The British kept some of the loot for themselves and sold the rest to European and American buyers. These works now adorn public museums and private collectors' galleries, all over the world.
As you step into the exhibition hall today, you will behold some of Africa's most exquisite works. But it is important to note that they were not originally meant to be mere museum pieces simply to be displayed for art lovers to admire. They were objects with religious and archival value to my people. They were made only under royal command. Whenever an event of significance took place, the Oba (King) commissioned the Igun-Eromnwon (members of the guild of bronze casters) to make a bronze-cast of it. Thus the bronzes were records of events in the absence of photography. Those of the works which were not made for record keeping, were made for a religious purpose and kept on altars. So as you step into the hall today, you will be viewing objects of our spirituality, albeit, you may not fully understand its import.
We are pleased to participate in this exhibition. It links us, nostalgically with our past. As you put this past on show today, it is our prayer that the people and the government of Austria will show humanness and magnanimity and return to us some of these objects which found their way to your country.
Omo N'Oba Erediauwa CFR
Oba of Benin.
Oba's statement taken from © Barbara Plankensteiner (ed). Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, 2007.