The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced on Wednesday that it plans to return two brass plaques from its collection, part of a group of West African artifacts known as Benin Bronze. It is the latest institute to pursue repatriation of the works done.
It has also brokered the return of a third item – a brass head built in the city of Ife around the 14th century – that was offered to the museum for sale.
“The Met is pleased to begin the return of these works and is committed to transparency and responsible collection of cultural assets,” the museum said in a statement.
Two 16th-century bronze plaques, the “Warrior Chief” and the “Junior Court Officer,” were made at the Benin court.
They are part of a collection of artifacts that were looted by the British Army in an 1897 raid on Benin City, now Nigeria, which are now scattered through museums and private collections around the world.
The plaques were kept at the British Museum and then at the National Museum in Lagos. “While they were never dispossessed by the National Museum,” the Met said in a statement, “the two plaques entered the international art market at an unknown date and under unclear circumstances and were eventually acquired by a New York collector.”
In 1991, the collector bequeathed his Benin works to the Met.
The Met, which contains about 160 items from Benin City, including a famous ivory masksaid in his collection that he began the comeback over the past year after conducting research in partnership with the British Museum. A spokesperson said the works in the Met’s collection were “in the 1970s and 1990s largely given to the institution, which had acquired them in the art market.” told The New York Times in April.
Kenneth Wein, a spokesman for the Met, said masks were not being considered for a return, although he did not give a reason.
The museum said in a statement that Weather has removed the plaques and will distribute them to Abba Isa Tijani, director general of Nigeria’s National Museum and Monuments Commission, when he is able to travel to New York City.
They are likely to be on display at the planned Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, which is being designed by architect David Adjaye. The museum’s current goal is to open in 2025, although the timeline has been pushed back several times.
Despite their name, many bronzes are actually made from ivory, brass, and wood. While museums in Europe have held discussions with Nigeria for years, American institutions have only recently begun working on bronze in their collections.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohamed, said in a statement: “Nigeria calls on other museums to learn from this.” “The art world could be a better place if every owner of cultural artifacts considers the rights and feelings of the underprivileged.”