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The Brutish Museums

The Brutish Museums

The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution

Dan Hicks

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

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. 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 is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford and Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum. His award-winning research focuses on the restitution of African cultural heritage from Euro-American collections, focusing on the place of ideas of cultural whiteness in ongoing histories of colonial violence.

'If you care about museums and the world, read this book' - New York Times 'Best Art Books' 2020

'An epiphanic book for many generations to come' - Victor Ehikhamenor, artist, photographer and writer, and 2020 Artist in Residence at the Neon Museum

'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. It has fired a powerful shot into the debate about cultural restitution. You will never see many European museums in the same way again. Books like this give one hope that a new future is possible.' - Ben Okri

'Dan, your words brought tears to my eyes. I salute you' - MC Hammer

'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

'A powerful call for western museums to return the objects looted in the violent days of empire' - Guardian

'A masterful condemnation and inspiring call to action' - Los Angeles Review of Books

1. The Gun That Shoots Twice
2. A Theory of Taking
3. Necrography
4. White Projection
5. World War Zero
6. Corporate-Militarist Colonialism
7. War on Terror
8. The Benin-Niger-Soudan Expedition
9. The Sacking of Benin City
10. Democide
11. Iconoclasm
12. Looting
13. Necrography
14. The Museum of Weapons, etc
15. Chronopolitics
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.
Published by Pluto Press in Nov 2020
Hardcover ISBN: 9780745341767
eBook ISBN: 9781786806840

336 pages

150mm x 230mm

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