Glasgow Life is moving forward with plans to return more than 50 cultural artefacts in what would be the largest ever repatriation of objects from a single collection in Scotland.
The cultural trust, which oversees Glasgow’s museums on behalf of the city council, held talks with a delegation from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) last week about the return of 19 Benin objects.
Abba Isa Tijani, director general of the NCMM, and the organisation’s legal advisor Babatunde Adebiyi were invited to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum to discuss the transfer of ownership and future dates for the return of the artefacts.
The meeting was arranged after Glasgow City Council approved a recommendation made in April by the cross-party Working Group for Repatriation and Spoliation.
Glasgow Life has been working towards the repatriation of the Benin bronzes since it was established the artefacts – which were acquired as gifts, bequests and from auction houses – were taken from sacred sites and ceremonial buildings during the British punitive expedition of 1897.
The Benin objects are among 51 items that the city's museums are planning to repatriate to Nigeria, India and the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux Tribes in South Dakota, US.
Duncan Dornan, head of museums and collections at Glasgow Life, said: “The visit to Glasgow by the NCMM delegation marks an important milestone for the city, as it continues its positive history of repatriation by returning the Benin bronzes to their rightful owners.
“Glasgow Life Museums is committed to being transparent about such artefacts’ origins and how they came into the city’s possession. The meeting with the NCMM delegation presented an opportunity to build on the international relationships we have already developed, and lay solid foundations for the next stages of repatriation.
“By addressing past wrongs, we believe the returns will help to strengthen existing relations with these descendant communities.”
Glasgow Life’s chair Bailie Annette Christie said: “Glasgow has led repatriation efforts in the UK since 1998, when the city agreed to hand back the Lakota Sacred Ghost Dance shirt to the Wounded Knee Survivors’ Association. We’ve since engaged with partners around the world to find a respectful and constructive outcome for all parties, and this latest round of conversations will play a pivotal part in helping the city to fulfil this agreement.”
The other items earmarked for repatriation include seven Indian antiquities, which will be handed back to the Government of India and the Archaeological Survey of India in the first return of its kind for a UK museum service. Six of the artefacts were stolen from temples and shrines in different states in Northern India during the 19th century, while the seventh was illegally purchased as a result of theft from the owner. All seven objects were gifted to Glasgow’s museum collections.
Meanwhile 25 Lakota cultural items, which were sold and donated to Glasgow’s museums by George Crager, an interpreter for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, will be returned to South Dakota-based descendants of the late Marcella LeBeau, a Lakota elder, politician, nurse and military veteran who died last year.
Some of the objects were taken from the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 1890, while others were ceremonial artefacts or personal items belonging to named ancestors.