Tuesday 30 June 2020

Christies's "Black Claims Don't Matter"?

Igbo figures (Christie's)
Celestina Olulode, 'Nigeria saddened by Christie's sale of 'looted' statues' BBC News 29 June 2020
Nigeria is "saddened" by the sale of two sculptures belonging to the south-eastern Igbo community, an official from the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, has said. [...] Prof Chika Okeke-Agulu told the BBC the two objects were "looted" from shrines during the civil war in the late 1960s. The items were sold for just under $240,000 (£195,000) in Paris. Christie's rejected the claim that the sculptures were stolen, saying the Monday sale was perfectly legal.
Central to the controversy is when the statues were taken and where from. Prof Okeke-Agulu from Princeton University says the objects were looted from communal shrines in his native Anambra state, with the help of local conspirators. He said they could not have been acquired legally because they were removed during the 1960s Biafran civil war, when the Igbo community attempted to secede from Nigeria.
He accused Christie's and other art collectors of "expropriation". "To pretend we don't matter - what we think doesn't matter - is for me a recast of the colonial arrogance that we are still dealing with in other parts of the African continent," Prof Okeke-Agulu said.
Christies's claims ignorance: "The auction house believes there is no evidence these statues were removed from their original location by someone who was not local to the area, or that the area they came from at the time they were acquired was part of the conflict at the time," it said in a statement. "Our understanding is that even prior to the conflict, local agents were trading in objects such as these and they were starting to circulate more widely," it said. It added that at no stage "has there been any suggestion that these statues were subject to improper export". But then, there is no evidence either that they or the seller can demonstrate (for example by showing the documentation) that they were legally acquired or exported before they were bought by French art collector Jacques Kerchache, before his death in 2001.

It's about time, isn't it, that Christie's and the London art market became decolonialised. 

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