Auction of Nigeria’s sacred statues opposed holds in Paris amid opposition

Some allegedly stolen artefacts of Nigerian origin, will today, be up for sale in Paris, France, amid efforts to stop the exercise.

The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), a parastatal under the Ministry of Information and Culture, as well as some art scholars in the diaspora, had raised the alarm over the auction house’s (Christie’s Gallery) legitimacy to sell the relics.

In fact, the commission, in a letter dated June 17, 2020, had asked the auctioneer to halt the entire process.

But yesterday, the Legal Adviser to NCMM, Babatunde Adebiyi, disclosed that a correspondence, from Christie’s last Friday, indicated that the public sale would go ahead as planned.

According to him, the gallery stated that the artworks were legitimately acquired.

In the letter addressed to the Head of Sale, African and Oceanic Art Department, Christie’s Gallery, Victor Teodorescu, and copied to the European Head of the African and Oceanic Art Department, Bruno Claessens, the Acting Director-General of the NCMM, Aliyu Abdu, had noted: “We are surprised to discover the advertisement of the under-listed artefacts on your website for a planned auction scheduled to hold on June 29, 2020, by 3 pm, at 9 Avenue Matignon, Paris, France.

“These artefacts, as you have stated, are from Nigeria, and they lack the proper providence. We thus, request that you suspend the auction, and provide us with the provenance of these artefacts because we are of the opinion that they belong to classes of antiquities that Nigeria will object to their exchange or transfer.

“Some of them are not just mere objects in some fancy collection. They have sacred purposes within the community.”

The memo listed Lots 29, 30, 31, 47 and 49 as the contentious items.

The proposed antiquities with African, Oceania and North American signatures that would exchange hands in the French capital consist of sculptures of Nigerian, Beninois Rand Gabonese source.

Listed among the lot in the online catalogue of Christie’s website for the event are Belt Mask Edo and Edo Hip Mask, Kingdom of Benin, selling for EUR 10,000-EUR 15,000 (USD 11,247-USD 16,870); Edo Bronze Plate, estimated for EUR 30,000-EUR 50,000 (USD 33,740 -USD 56,233); Pair of Igbo Statues Attributed To The Master Of Awka Couple, Nri-Awka Region, Nigeria, going for EUR 250,000-EUR 350,000; Urhobo- Meeting-House Posts, worth EUR 80,000-EUR 120,000(USD 89,973-USD 134,959); and Urhobo Figure, put up for between EUR 600,000 and EUR 900,000 (USD 674,797-USD 1,012,195).

One of the voices from the diaspora against the sales came from Prof Chika Okeke-Agulu of African and African Diaspora Art, Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University.

He said the historical objects “were taken from shrines and community houses in eastern Nigeria in 1968-1970.”

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