Professor at Princeton had urged halt to auction, saying statues were stolen :

''These artworks are stained with the blood of Biafra's children,'' wrote Chika Okeke-Agulu, an art history professor at Princeton, in an impassioned Instagram post last month calling for a halt to the sale of two wooden statues made by the Igulu people of Nigeria.

Mr. Okeke-Agulu believes the items were looted in the late 1960s during the country's brutal civil war.

But the auction went ahead at Christie's in Paris. The life size male and female figures, described by Christie as ''among the greatest sculptures of African art,'' sold to an online bidder for 212,000 euros with fees, about $238,000. The price was well below the presale estimate of Euro 250,000 to Euro 350,000.

The sculptures originated in southern Nigeria, a region devastated by one of the late 20th century's  bloodiest civil conflicts.

Biafra's unsuccessful three-year struggle to gain independence, which ended in 1070, claimed the lives of more than a million people, most of whom died of starvation.

Mr. Okekke-Agulu, who grew up in the Biafra war zone, near where the statues were made, said in his Instagram post that Christie's Igbo figures were among many artifacts stolen by intermediaries at the behest of European and American dealers and collectors, such as the renowned French collector Jacques Kerchache.

Christie's named Mr. Kerchache, who was instrumental in the foundation of the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, which displays artifacts from France's former colonies, as a former owner of these sculptures.

The auction house said that the collector acquired them from an African dealer in 1968-1969 either in Cameroon or Paris, before they were later acquired by another private collector, who was the seller.

In a statement before the auction, Christie's responded to Mr. Okeke-Agulu's Instagram post, saying the sale of statues were legitimate and lawful.

''There is no evidence these statues were removed from their original location by someone who was not local to the area,'' the statement said, adding that Mr. Kerchache never went to Nigeria in 1968 or 1969 and that Christie's had worked to convey that information to anyone inquiring about the provenance and legitimacy of the sale.

Mr. Okeke-Agulu's voice is one of many calling for the repatriation of African artworks in European and American collections that are thought to have been acquired through colonial exploitation or illegal looting.

In November 2018, a report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron of France recommended that French museums permanently repatriate artworks removed from Africa without consent, if their countries of origin asked for their return.

The World Student Society thanks author Scott Reyburn.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!