A digital database of thousands of stolen Benin Bronze statues throughout the world has been launched, called Digital Benin.
The Benin Bronzes are a collective of historical statues that were looted from the Royal Palace of Benin (present-day Nigeria) during British colonial troop raids in 1887. Since then, the statues have been spread across the world, in various museums and private collections. In recent years, however, there has been a strong call to repatriate the stolen statues to their home country. While many museums and institutions have complied, the sheer number of stolen statues made it hard to keep track.
However, this is now solved with Digital Benin, a digital, comprehensive database of every identified Benin Bronze that remains stolen. The database, which is the first of its kind for this objective, has so far compiled information on 5,000 Benin Bronzes spread across the world. A total of 131 institutions, located in 20 countries, have been identified as homes of these stolen objects. The database website provides each Benin Bronze’s information, including title, provenance, location, and institution which holds it.
The Digital Benin initiative is led by Barbara Plankensteiner (Director, MARKK, Hamburg). It is founded by the Munich-based Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation. The 14-member team has researched the historic artifacts at various museums for over two years before finally launching the database. It must be noted that in recent years, a plethora of institutions has repatriated Benin Bronzes to Nigeria – including Glasgow Museum, MMA New York, the Smithsonian, and the German government.