Dr Staffan Lundén talks about "Displaying Loot"

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Dr Staffan Lundén of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who is currently visiting with IAS-UI, gave a talk on 6 December on his acclaimed book Displaying Loot: The Benin Objects and the British Museum. His talk was part of a symposium titled ‘The Benin Loot and their International Display’, which was organized under the auspices of the Initiative for Information, Arts and Cultural Development in Nigeria (IACD), with Prof Folarin Shyllon as chairman.

Displaying Loot is based on Dr Lundén’s doctoral dissertation. It is a painstaking analysis of the British Museum’s practice of using certain curatorial stratagems to present itself as the lofty custodian of its large collection of Benin objects that are, in point of fact, its own share of the British plunder of the Kingdom of Benin in 1897. Dr Lundén’s argument is that the British Museum has mastered the art of using exhibitions of these works, as well as publications on them, to create an identity complex for both itself and the Benin which ignores the inglorious ways in which the works were acquired by the British punitive expedition in the first place. Through these strategies of exhibition and publication, Dr Lundén argues that an impression of the progressive cultural work of the British Museum is imprinted in the imagination of its public, thus casting the culture of the provenance of these works as the backward other.

To discuss Dr Lundén’s book at the symposium were IAS Director, Dr Ohioma Pogoson and Dr Wole Akintayo of the Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan. Prof Gabriel Ogunmola also presented a mixed media painting titled ‘Siege’, which draws on the Benin experience of the banishment of Oba Ovonramwen to Calabar by the British forces in 1897. The symposium was followed by the opening of the exhibition ‘Conversations with Heritage’. The symposium and exhibition provided a vibrant avenue for academics and the general public to hold a conversation on the implication of global politics in issues of cultural rights.

Dr Lundén has made a donation of Displaying Loot to the IAS Library. It is a work whose place is guaranteed in the campaign for the repatriation and restitution of looted objects of heritage and history to their cultures of provenance.

20171206 Staffan Lunden talk

Dr Lundén presenting Displaying Loot: The Benin Objects and the British Museum to IAS Director Dr Pogoson