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.
Now, more than 120 years later, the story of the Benin Bronzes sits at the heart of a heated debate about cultural restitution, repatriation and the decolonisation of museums.
In November, Pluto releases a new book on the subject, The Brutish Museums by Dan Hicks, in which he makes a powerful case for the urgent return of such objects, as part of a wider project of addressing the outstanding debt of colonialism.
Joining us to discuss the new book and ongoing conversations around decolonisation and cultural restitution, are:
Dan Hicks, Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford and Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum;
Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, a journalist and broadcaster;
Chris Garrard, co-director of Culture Unstained;
Diya Gupta, Past & Present Fellow, Race, Ethnicity and Equality in History, Royal Historical Society.