The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence & Cultural Restitution

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A call for western museums to wash their hands of colonial blood

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Walk into any European museum today and you will see the curated spoils of Empire. They sit behind plate glass: dignified, tastefully lit. Accompanying pieces of card offer a name, date and place of origin. They do not mention that the objects are all stolen.

Few artefacts embody this history of rapacious and extractive colonialism better than the Benin Bronzes – a collection of thousands of brass plaques and carved ivory tusks depicting the history of the Royal Court of the Obas of Benin City, Nigeria. Pillaged during a British naval attack in 1897, the loot was passed on to Queen Victoria, the British Museum and countless private collections.

The story of the Benin Bronzes sits at the heart of a heated debate about cultural restitution, repatriation and the decolonisation of museums. Hear Professor Hicks, author of 'Brutish Museums', make a powerful case for the urgent return of such objects, as part of a wider project of addressing the outstanding debt of colonialism.

The Brutish Museums: the Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution was published by Pluto Press in November 2020

"a startling act of conscience" Ben Okri OBE

"a real game-changer" The Economist

“beautifully written and carefully argued” The Guardian

"destined to become an essential text" Sunday Times

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Organiser Rachael Unsworth

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Leeds Phil & Lit organises a wide range of events each year, most of which are free to all.

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