More than 131 museums and institutions from 20 countries have worked together to create a digital platform that brings together the art treasures from the Kingdom of Benin that were looted in the late-19th century and scattered across the world.
The two-year €1.5m Digital Benin project has collected documentation for more than 5,200 objects from organisations in Australia, New Zealand, US, Canada and Israel, as well as 14 European countries, including the UK.
The project was led by Museum am Rothenbaum Kulturen und Künste der Welt in Hamburg and funding came from Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, a foundation based in Berlin that promotes fine art.
“What we are launching is a platform that will enable the young generation of Benin/Ẹdo people to learn about the rich historical and cultural heritage of Benin with a sense of national consciousness that speaks to the essence of the civilisation from our past that is present in our daily ceremonies and rituals,” said Osaisonor Godfrey Ekhator-Obogie, the research lead on the project in Benin City.
“The platform has and will preserve for future generations the significance of our cherished cultural values and practices as an educational tool with materials like oral traditions, which will help Ẹdo people learn about their ancestors as if the contributors are speaking to them in a real life situation.”
Digital Benin features new scholarship that connects digital documentation of the objects to oral histories, research into the artefacts and the historical context. It also offers an Edo language catalogue, a map of the Kingdom of Benin, and the location of Benin collections in museums worldwide.
The objects were looted by British forces from the Kingdom of Benin (now Edo State, Nigeria) in February 1897. Many museums across the world that obtained the objects have been returning them to Nigeria.
The Horniman Museum & Gardens in south London will return its Benin bronze holdings to the Nigerian government later this month. Glasgow Life is also moving forward with plans to return its Benin artefacts.
The University of Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is also considering a request from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments to return its Benin items.