The Nigerian city of Ife, which is indigenous to the Yoruba people, is the origin of many ancient artifacts. These artifacts can give observers insight into the history of Ife’s culture, dynasties, and many deities.
Collectors prize Art objects from the once-powerful Yoruba kingdom and the art objects are considered cultural treasures of Nigeria. However, a bronze sculpture that recently had been reported as stolen from the area proved to be something else.
On February 25, 2020, Mexico seized what was thought to be an ancient bronze sculpture from the southwestern Nigerian city after a buyer whose identity was not revealed, attempted to smuggle it into the country via Mexico City’s main airport, Mexican officials say.
“We oppose the illegal commercialization of archaeological pieces, an important cause of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the nations of origin, since it undermines the integrity of cultures and, therefore, of humanity,” Julián Ventura Valero, the deputy secretary of foreign affairs, said to BBC News.
The sculpture, which is of a man sitting cross-legged, wearing a head dress and holding an object, was seized by custom officers and later repatriated to Nigeria’s ambassador to Mexico.
The sculpture’s origin was said to have been verified by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History as Yoruba, but specialists in ancient African art say the bronze sculpture is fake.
Julien Volper, a curator at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, said the returned item was a counterfeit of poor quality.
“I confirm that object is a fake, and of the worst quality. You can find a lot of the same type [of objects] on eBay,” he told The Art Newspaper in March. “This story is ridiculous, and a shame for Mexico.”
Yves-Bernard Debie, a Belgian lawyer who practices in cultural trade, felt Mexico’s gesture was a failed attempt to join the African art restitution trend.
“This demonstrates once again the haste with which governments handle the ‘fashionable’ issue of restitution, disregarding legal, historical facts,” Debie, a sharp critic of the movement to restore non-European art from museums to the pieces’ lands of origin, told the newspaper.
In November 2018 the issue of restitution was up for debate after French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to repatriate African artifacts, stating that “African heritage can’t just be in European private collections and museums.”
As an attempt to turn a page on the colonial past of the French, Macron supported a draft report on returning art that had been looted from Africa.
Debie said at the time that Macron’s proposal had no reliable evidence, according to the Financial Times.
“By anchoring the question of sharing world cultural property in the context of ‘restitution,’ President Macron has sparked a fire that he will have a great deal of trouble extinguishing,” he said. “To restitute means to return something to its legitimate owner. As a result of this reasoning, France would be regarded as unlawfully keeping museum collections and works acquired during colonization.”
What is most annoying is that African governments have placed their focus on money without any much value on our historic, and cultural artifacts. We need to do more in the preservation and protection of our artifacts. If the Nigerian government paid attention to their ancient artifacts and their preservation, the returned artifact would not have left the shores of Nigeria to Mexico.
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