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The Brutish Museums

The Brutish Museums

The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution

by Dan Hicks

The book that changed the conversation on the contemporary museum

New York Times 'Best Art Books' 2020
'Essential' – Sunday Times
'Brilliantly enraged' - New York Review of Books
'A real game-changer'– Economist

Walk into any Western 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 metal plaques and sculptures 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 Brutish Museums sits at the heart of a heated debate about cultural restitution, repatriation and the decolonisation of museums. Since its first publication, museums across the western world have begun to return their Bronzes to Nigeria, heralding a new era in the way we understand the collections of empire we once took for granted.

Dan Hicks is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. His award-winning research focuses on decolonisation in art and culture, and academic disciplines, and on the role of cultural whiteness in ongoing histories of colonial violence and dispossession.

'A real game-changer'

- The Economist

'If you care about museums and the world, read this book'

- New York Times 'Best Art Books' 2020

'Hicks’s urgent, lucid, and brilliantly enraged book feels like a long-awaited treatise on justice'

- Coco Fusco, New York Review of Books

'Unsparing ... especially timely ... his book invites readers to help break the impasse by joining the movement for restitution.'


'The book is a vital call to action: part historical investigation, part manifesto, demanding the reader do away with the existing “brutish museums” of the title and find a new way for them to exist'

- Charlotte Lydia Riley, Guardian

'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, poet and writer

'An epiphanic book for many generations to come'

- Victor Ehikhamenor, visual artist and writer

'Unflinching, elegantly written and passionately argued, this is a call to action'

- Bénédicte Savoy, Professor of Art History at Technische University

'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, Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University

'Destined to become an essential text'

- Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

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

- MC Hammer

'A masterful condemnation and inspiring call to action'

- Los Angeles Review of Books


- Nature

'The Brutish Museums shows that colonial violence is unfinished, and as it persists in the present, it cannot be relativized.'

- Ana Lucia Araujo, Public Books

'The Brutish Museums leaves no stone unturned'

- Financial Times

'The Brutish Museums argues, persuasively, that the corporate-militaristic pillage behind Europe’s encyclopedic collections is not a simple matter of possession, but a systematic extension of warfare across time'

- The Baffler

'A bombshell book'

- Los Angeles Times

‘After this book, there can be no more false justifications for holding Benin Bronzes in museums outside of Africa’

- Africa is a Country

‘Presents a powerful case for restitution of looted objects, and hostile responses to it highlight enduring attachments to imperialism'

- ‘Counterfire’

List of Plates
Preface to the Paperback Edition
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. Necrology
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 1: Provisional List of the Worldwide Locations Of Benin Plaques Looted in 1897
Appendix 2: Provenance of Benin Objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (the ‘First Collection’)
Appendix 3: Sources of Benin Objects in the Former Pitt-Rivers Museum, Farnham (the ‘Second Collection’)
Appendix 4: Current Location of Benin Objects Previously in the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Farnham (the ‘Second Collection’)
Appendix 5: A Provisional List of Museums, Galleries and Collections that May Currently Hold Objects Looted from Benin City in 1897

Published by Pluto Press in Oct 2021
Paperback ISBN: 9780745346229
Hardcover ISBN: 9780745341767
eBook ISBN: 9781786806840
Audiobook ISBN: 9780745347806

129mm x 198mm