Statues must fall. Bronzes must be ‘returned’. The artefacts in question are the famous ‘Benin bronzes’ taken by the British from the royal court of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897. The present demand is that they be returned to Nigeria; confusingly the kingdom’s former territory is now part of Nigeria, not the modern day Republic of Benin. In 2016 Jesus College, Cambridge announced it would be discussing the return of a bronze cockerel. In May, Germany agreed in principle to the return of the Benin objects in its public collections — Germany holds nearly 300 of the most prized items. In June, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art stated it would be returning two plaques.
With the Benin bronzes (which are actually made of many different materials) we have a useful exemplar of the fashionable narrative of dastardly colonialist deeds by dead white European males.