For the MFA, Benin Bronzes are a troubling gift – The Boston Globe

Can a stolen object ever be ethically owned? Amid growing calls for restitution, museums mull consequences of keeping precious artifacts looted during a colonial era.

By Malcolm Gay Globe Staff,Updated November 27, 2021, 2:33 p.m.

In 2012, the Museum of Fine Arts received what seemed like an unimaginable promised gift: a trove of centuries-old masterworks from the Benin kingdom, located in present-day Nigeria.

The gift was not without its complications. Many of the 32 works, known as Benin Bronzes, had been among the estimated thousandsforcibly seized by the British in 1897, when troops captured Benin City and ransacked the royal palace.

The precious loot would be parceled out over time and scattered to various museums and private troves. More than a century later, intact collections of the Bronzes were not only rare, they were also controversial. But former MFA director Malcolm Rogers was determined to secure the collection for Boston, where the museum had only begun assembling its modest African holdings in 1991.

“This is the transformation of our collection,” Rogers said at the time. “It’s some of the greatest art ever produced in Africa.”

Today, the MFA finds itself at a crossroads as Bronzes around the worldhave become a central focus in the ongoing struggle over artifacts looted during that colonial era. The debate has intensified in recent months with a number of European museums moving to return the objects amid intensifying calls for restitution.

Today, the MFA finds itself at a crossroads as Bronzes around the worldhave become a central focus in the ongoing struggle over artifacts looted during that colonial era. The debate has intensified in recent months with a number of European museums moving to return the objects amid intensifying calls for restitution.

(read more).

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