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In a recent move by London museum to auction a 16th century Benin Ivory Pendant Mask, with a price tag of 4.5 million pounds, the Government of Edo State has expressed with dismay and in strong terms, condemned the plan describing it as a criminal act.
Edo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Hon. Abdul Oroh, who frowned on the development, made the disclosure in an interview with pressmen recently said every move would be made to stop it.
According to Oroh, “the mask was stolen and it remains a product of crime. Any attempt to sell it will mean a perpetration of criminal act. They should be returned because they were taken under false pretence.”
Recently reported in Financial Times of London, the mask to be offered for sale at Sotheby’s, London in February 2011, was described as one of the last great masterpieces of Benin sculpture remaining in private hands and the mask is believed to have been worn by the Oba.
The mask, a-22centimetre tall was reported to have been sold by the descendants of Lt. Col. Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey, Deputy Commissioner and Vice-Consul in the Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1891, who took part in the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 in Benin, Edo State.
Oroh explained that “about 3,000 various descriptions of antiquities like leopard skins, masks and different artworks were looted from the palace of Oba of Benin during the notorious expedition.
After the expedition, Oba of Benin, Oba Ovrewemem Nogbaisi was tried and acquitted. This meant that the whole exercise was designed to loot the kingdom’s treasures. There was a report which said that the treasures looted from the Oba’s palace were enough to pay for the cost of the war.”
Oroh however added that he has personally seen many great works of Benin kingdom in different museums all over the world.
“There are many others in the hands of the private people. We believe these people have no right to benefit from this crime. We believe the art work should be returned to Oba of Benin, whose fore-bearer is the right owner of these artworks.
“The Edo State Government has called on the international communities and the UNESCO to compel the British Government and its people to return all the antiquities stolen from Benin. Also, the international communities should prevail on all other countries in possessions of Benin heritage to return them forthwith,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Director of African Oceanic Arts, Sotheby, Mr. Jean Fritts has described the mask as having a unique and untouched surface which attracts antiquity collectors the world over.
“Its honey colour attests to years of rubbing with palm oil,” he said. A bronze head of an Oba of around 1575 to 1625 was sold for a record amount of 44.7 million pounds in 2007. While the auction record for any work of art from African is 5.9 million pounds.
(Wale Olapade, Nigerian Tribune, Wednesday, 29 December 2010)
This article was written by Folarin Kolawole
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