‘A fascinating and timely book.’ William Boyd
‘Gripping…a must read.’ FT
‘Compelling…humane, reasonable, and ultimately optimistic.’ Evening Standard
‘[A] valuable guide to a complex narrative.’ The Times
In 1897, Britain sent a punitive expedition to the Kingdom of Benin, in what is today Nigeria, in retaliation for the killing of seven British officials and traders. British soldiers and sailors captured Benin, exiled its king and annexed the territory. They also made off with some of Africa’s greatest works of art.
This is the story of the ‘Benin Bronzes’: their history before the British took them, their fate since 1897, and the intense debate about their future. When they were first displayed in London their splendour and antiquity challenged the prevailing view of Africa as a continent without culture or history. They are now amongst the most admired and valuable artworks in the world. But seeing the Benin Bronzes in the British Museum today is, in the words of one Benin City artist, like ‘visiting relatives behind bars’. In a time of huge controversy about the legacy of empire, racial justice and the future of museums, what does the future hold for the Bronzes?
'This is a thoroughly researched, well written and timely contribution to the live debate about cultural restitution. Accessible yet nuanced, we hear the voices of a contested history from the looters themselves and the bronze casters of Benin City, to the leaders of the world's major cultural institutions and so many other players in this drama. Barnaby takes us on a journey raising important questions about empire and the meaning of art, civilisation and culture.' * Clive Myrie, BBC Chief Correspondent and Presenter * 'Reading Barnaby Phillips's Loot is like walking a sniffing dog through the minds, homes, and storerooms of government agents, military adventurers, museums, art dealers, and collectors... Brilliant and evidenced-based... It is a highly recommended book that will thrill the reader to the last page.' * Dr Uyilawa Usuanlele, Associate Professor of African History, State University of New York * 'This timely, thoughtful and beautifully crafted volume deftly guides us through a truly astounding passage of events. These are the kind of histories that change the way that we look at things we thought we knew - whilst shocking us at the things that we simply hadn't grasped.' * Gus Casely-Hayford, Director of V&A East and former Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art * 'Vivid, dramatic and colourful, Loot is a story of empire running amok. It still has huge resonance in the debate about colonialism and racism today.' * Kwasi Kwarteng, MP and author of Ghosts of Empire and War and Gold * 'A fascinating and timely book. A brilliant model of expertly marshalled historical research and compelling narrative.' * William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart and A Good Man in Africa *
Book experts at your service
What are you looking for?