The Brutish Museums
The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution
A call for western museums to wash their hands of colonial blood
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. In The Brutish Museums, Dan Hicks makes a powerful case for the urgent return of such objects, as part of a wider project of addressing the outstanding debt of colonialism.
Dan Hicks FSA is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. He was awarded the 2017 Rivers Memorial Medal by the Royal Anthropological Institute, and was Visiting Professorat the musee du quai Branly Jacques-Chirac in Paris in 2017-18. Dan has published eight books including The Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (CUP, 2006).
'A startling act of conscience. An important book which could overturn what people have felt about British history, empire, civilisation, Africa and African art. It is with books like this that cultures are saved, by beginning truthfully to face the suppressed and brutal past' - Ben Okri
'An epiphanic book for many generations to come' - Victor Ehikhamenor, artist, photographer and writer, and 2020 Artist in Residence at the Neon Museum
'Unflinching, elegantly written and passionately argued, this is a call to action' - Bénédicte Savoy
'In his passionate, personal, and, yes, political account, Dan Hicks transforms our understanding of the looting of Benin. This book shows why being against violence now more than ever means repatriating stolen royal and sacred objects and restoring stolen memories' - Nicholas Mirzoeff
'A real game-changer' - Fiammetta Rocco, The Economist
'Destined to become an essential text' - Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times
1. The Gun That Shoots Twice
2. A Theory of Taking
5. World War Zero
6. Corporate-Militarist Colonialism
7. War on Terror
8. The Benin-Niger-Soudan Expedition
9. The Sacking of Benin City
14. The Museum of Weapons, etc
16. A Declaration of War
17. A Negative Moment
18. Ten Thousand Unfinished Events
Afterword: A Decade of Returns
Appendix One: Provisional List of the Worldwide Locations Of Benin Plaques Looted in 1897
Appendix Two: Sources of Benin Objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (the ‘first collection’
Appendix Three: Sources of Benin Objects in the former Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham (‘the second collection’)
Appendix Four: Current Location of Benin Objects previously in the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Farnham ('the second collection’)
Appendix Five: A Provisional List of Museums, Galleries and Collections that May Currently Hold Objects Looted from Benin City in 1897.
eBook ISBN: 9781786806840
150mm x 230mm