UK university to return looted African sculpture

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special collections, with one of the Benin bronze depicting the Oba of Benin at The Sir Duncan Rice Library, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. (University of Aberdeen via Reuters)
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Updated 25 March 2021

UK university to return looted African sculpture

  • It is the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze, raising pressure on other establishments
  • The university acquired the bronze sculpture depicting an ‘Oba’ (king) of Benin at auction in 1957

LONDON: The University of Aberdeen in Scotland is to return a Benin bronze sculpture to Nigeria, saying it was acquired by British soldiers in 1897 in “reprehensible circumstances.”
It is the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze, raising pressure on other establishments, including the British Museum, to follow suit.
The university acquired the bronze sculpture depicting an “Oba” (king) of Benin at auction in 1957, and it is considered a classic example of Benin Late Period Art.
It was originally taken in 1897, when a British military expedition attacked and destroyed Benin City, looting thousands of metal and ivory sculptures and carvings, known as the Benin bronzes, from the royal palace.
Benin City, in present-day southern Nigeria, was the seat of a powerful West African kingdom at the time.
The university called it “one of the most notorious examples of the pillaging of cultural treasures associated with 19th century European colonial expansion.”
“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances,” said university vice-chancellor George Boyne.
Neil Curtis, head of museums and special collections, said a review of its collections identified the work “as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral.
“So we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do,” he added.
A panel of academic specialists and curators unanimously recommended its return to Nigeria and the university’s governing body supported the unconditional return.
Nigeria’s minister of information and culture Lai Mohammed called the move a “step in the right direction” and urged other holders of Nigerian antiquity “to emulate this.”
Some museums support the creation of the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City to house the looted artefacts.
These include the British Museum, which cannot legally give up possession of its artefacts and is reportedly considering lending its bronzes.
A Cambridge University college said in 2019 it would return a Benin bronze of a cockerel that was taken down from display at the famous education establishment after a student protest.


Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress

Updated 29 September 2022

Hold your horses! Colombian senator rides through Congress

  • Colombia Congress has allowed members to bring their pets 

BOGOTA, Colombia: Members of Colombia’s Congress can now bring their pets to work, in a world first, and for one senator, wild horses couldn’t have dragged him away from marking the first day of the new rule.
Alirio Barrera showed up to work astride his white horse. 
He first rode through the capital Bogota before steering his steed into the halls of Congress, to make a statement about the importance of horses for the Colombian countryside.
“It is a tribute to the farmers, to the men and women, to the herdsmen who live with horses. To all those people who work in the fields,” he told AFP, holding his horse — named Pasaporte — by the bridle.
Senate president Roy Barreras announced the new policy last week, with his dog lounging in his lap. This makes the Colombian Congress “the first in the world to be pet-friendly,” he said.
For Barrera, “my pet is my horse.”
“If the law is for one, let it be for all.”
But his ride to work rubbed some colleagues the wrong way. Senator Andrea Padilla criticized what she called “an immature attitude with which he wanted to ridicule a good decision.”
“It is not the same thing to take a dog to the office as a horse,” she said. “A horse suffers on the asphalt, on the sidewalk, it suffers on these waxed floors.”
 

 


‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59

Updated 29 September 2022

‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ rapper Coolio dies at age 59

LOS ANGELES: Coolio, the rapper who was among hip-hop’s biggest names of the 1990s with hits including “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage,” died Wednesday at age 59, his manager said.
Coolio, whose legal name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., died at the Los Angeles home of a friend, longtime manager Jarez Posey told The Associated Press. The cause was not immediately clear.
Coolio won a Grammy for best solo rap performance for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film “Dangerous Minds” that sampled Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise.”
He was nominated for five other Grammys during a career that began in the late-1980s.
Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, Coolio moved to Compton, California, where he went to community college. He worked as a volunteer firefighter and in airport security before devoting himself full-time to the hip-hop scene.
His career took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, “It Takes a Thief.” It’s opening track, “Fantastic Voyage,” would reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A year later, “Gangsta’s Paradise” would become a No. 1 single, with its dark opening lyrics:
“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s not much left, ‘cause I’ve been blastin’ and laughin’ so long, that even my mama thinks that my mind is gone.”


David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

Updated 27 September 2022

David Bowie’s handwritten ‘Starman’ lyrics sell for over £200,000

  • The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate
  • The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum's David Bowie Is collection

LONDON: David Bowie’s original handwritten lyrics for the pop classic “Starman,” part of an album that catapulted him to international stardom, on Tuesday sold at auction in Britain for £203,500.
Released as a single in 1972, the song about a Starman who would “like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds” featured on the Ziggy Stardust concept album.
The handwritten lyrics sold for five times as much as the £40,000 estimate.
The winning bidder was Olivier Varenne, director of acquisitions and alliances and collections at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, on behalf of a private collector.
“We had almost unprecedented interest from around the world for this historic piece of memorabilia,” said Paul Fairweather of Omega Auctions.
“We’re very pleased with the incredible price achieved and are sure the lyrics will be rightly prized and treasured by the winning bidder.”
The lyrics were previously on display as part of the V&A Museum’s David Bowie Is collection. They had been owned by the same person since the 1980s.
The A4 page features handwritten amendments and edits by Bowie, including corrected spelling mistakes and additions.
The lyrics were sold as part of a David Bowie and glam rock sale on Tuesday.
In 2019, the first demo of Bowie singing Starman sold for 51,000 pounds after gathering dust in a loft for nearly five decades.
Bowie can be heard telling his guitarist Mick Ronson, who died in 1993, that he has not finished singing the song when he tries to end the demo.
The singer, born David Jones, died aged 69 in New York in 2016.


Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

Updated 23 September 2022

Outspoken Myanmar beauty queen held by Thai immigration

  • Han Lay has been held at Bangkok's main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam
  • In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport

BANGKOK: A Myanmar beauty queen who spoke out against the military coup in her homeland appealed Friday for help after being refused entry to Thailand by immigration officials.
Thaw Nandar Aung, better known by her professional moniker Han Lay, has been held at Bangkok’s main international airport since Thursday after arriving on a flight from Vietnam.
She made headlines in March 2021 when she urged the world to “save” the people of Myanmar from the military, which had seized power a month earlier.
Thai immigration officials said she was denied entry to the kingdom because of a problem with her passport.
In a post on her verified Facebook page on Friday, Han Lay said she feared the Myanmar police would come and get her at the airport.
“I request to Thai authority from here please help for me,” she wrote in English, adding that she had contacted the UN refugee agency.
A Thai official told AFP that Myanmar police had not spoken to her and said it was up to her to decide where to fly to from Bangkok.
While in Bangkok competing in the Miss Grand International contest, the former psychology student spoke out against the coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I want to say from here to the world: please support the Myanmar people,” she told Thailand’s Khaosod English news outlet.
“So many people die in Myanmar by the guns of the military... Please save us.”
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the junta struggling to quell resistance to its rule.
A military crackdown on dissent has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta puts the civilian death toll at almost 3,900.

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Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

Updated 20 September 2022

Israeli researchers find opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery

  • The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012
  • Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers dating back to the 14th century BC

YEHUD, Israel: Israeli archaeologists said Tuesday they had discovered opium residue in 3,500-year-old pottery pieces, providing evidence to support the theory that the hallucinogenic drug was used in ancient burial rituals.
The joint investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Weizmann Institute of Science began in 2012 when excavations in the central Israeli town of Yehud revealed a series of Late Bronze Age graves.
Researchers found pottery vessels at the site that resembled poppy flowers — from which opium is derived — dating back to the 14th century BC.
They then examined whether they had served as containers for the drug, which earlier writing had suggested was used in burial rituals in Canaan, and found “opium residue in eight vessels,” the researchers said in a statement.
These were likely “placed in graves for ceremonial meals, rites and rituals performed by the living for their deceased family members,” said Ron Be’eri, an archaeologist with the antiquities authority.
During these ceremonies, “family members or a priest on their behalf” would “attempt to summon the spirit of their dead relatives... and enter an ecstatic state by using opium,” Be’eri said.
But he acknowledged that much remained unknown about its use in ancient times. “We can only speculate what was done with opium,” he said.

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