Reconnecting Royal Art Treasures
2020 to 2022
With the support of the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK) in Hamburg was opening an international project office to digitally unite the globally dispersed works of art from the former Kingdom of Benin. As an unparalleled forum of knowledge, Digital Benin will, within the next two years, bring together object data and related documentation material from collections worldwide and provide the long-requested overview of the royal artworks looted in the 19th century. The aim is to create a well-founded and sustainable catalogue of the artworks and their history, cultural significance and provenance. The Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung finances the project of German, Nigerian, European and American exerts with more than 1.2 million euros. The launch of the website is planned for 2022.
The colonial occupation of the Kingdom of Benin (now Edo State, Nigeria) by British troops in February 1897 led to a worldwide dispersal of an estimated 3000 to 5000 objects plundered from the Royal Palace and other ceremonial sites. These works of art made of bronze, ivory and wood, often referred to as "Benin bronzes", are in the focus of public debate on the restitution of colonial heritage. Prospective restitutions can contribute to mitigate the tragic loss of local knowledge and cultural values, but there is also a need to make existing knowledge resources accessible. An overview of the once coherent complexes of objects and the information available to date, which is distributed across a multitude of institutions, will provide a more comprehensive picture of the significance of these outstanding art treasures.
The online platform compiles data from the diverse national and international museum databases that currently hold Benin works in their collections. The technical team will use new digital methods and media approaches to develop a data feed for the platform, which can serve as a model for internationally networked cooperation in the museum sector and the digital merging of other collections in the future. The Digital Benin project is being developed in close cooperation with the Benin Dialogue Group, which includes the Royal Court of Benin, the Edo State Government, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria and all European museums with important Benin collections.