Returning the stolen Benin Bronzes back to Nigeria

“From an initial glance at the preliminary design concept, one might believe this is a traditional museum but, really, what we are proposing is an undoing of the objectification that has happened in the West through full reconstruction” – David Adjaye

Come 2026, many of the Benin Bronzes will finally return home to Edo State, Nigeria (historically known as the ancient Kingdom of Benin). Designed by Ghanaian-British architect, David Adjaye, Benin City’s new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) will exhibit the most comprehensive display of Benin Bronzes assembled since the 1890s.

The Benin Bronzes are a collection of around 3000 intricately carved sculptures dating back to the 16th Century Kingdom of Benin. Over 2000 pieces are said to have been lost through countless years of looting and trading. The dark history of the Benin Bronzes makes them some of the most contentious artefacts on display in the British Museum. What once hung in the Benin royal palace, is now scattered worldwide amongst many European collections. 

The new Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) in Benin City lies at the heart of the Benin Bronzes controversy. 10 major European museums, such as the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, the Welt Museum in Vienna and the British Museum, have agreed to loan over 300 Benin Bronzes to the EMOWAA. 

Despite these philanthropic gestures,  many of these museums have not relinquished their rights to ownership of the Benin Bronzes. As Nigeria’s demands for the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes continue, these precious pieces continue to serve as a reminder of colonialism and its deep wounds. 

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Writing by NJ Omorogieva – @_n.jai