The Brutish Museums
Walk into any European museum today and you will see the curated spoils of Empire. They sit behind plate glass: dignified, tastefully lit. Accompanying pieces of card offer a name, date and place of origin. They do not mention that the objects are all stolen.
Few artefacts embody this history of rapacious and extractive colonialism better than the Benin Bronzes – a collection of thousands of metal plaques and sculptures depicting the history of the Royal Court of the Obas of Benin City, Nigeria. Pillaged during a British naval attack in 1897, the loot was passed on to Queen Victoria, the British Museum and countless private collections.
The story of the Benin Bronzes sits at the heart of a heated debate about cultural restitution, repatriation and the decolonisation of museums. In The Brutish Museums, Dan Hicks makes a powerful case for the urgent return of such objects, as part of a wider project of addressing the outstanding debt of colonialism.
'Timely' -- Nature 'Unsparing ... especially timely ... his book invites readers to help break the impasse by joining the movement for restitution.' -- CNN 'A masterful condemnation and inspiring call to action' -- Los Angeles Review of Books 'A powerful call for western museums to return the objects looted in the violent days of empire' -- Guardian 'Dan, your words brought tears to my eyes. I salute you' -- MC Hammer 'Destined to become an essential text' -- Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times 'A real game-changer' -- Fiammetta Rocco, The Economist 'A startling act of conscience. An important book which could overturn what people have felt about British history, empire, civilisation, Africa, and African art. It is with books like this that cultures are saved, by beginning truthfully to face the suppressed and brutal past. It has fired a powerful shot into the debate about cultural restitution. You will never see many European museums in the same way again. Books like this give one hope that a new future is possible.' -- Ben Okri, poet and writer 'In his passionate, personal, and, yes, political account, Dan Hicks transforms our understanding of the looting of Benin. This book shows why being against violence now more than ever means repatriating stolen royal and sacred objects and restoring stolen memories' -- Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University 'Unflinching, elegantly written and passionately argued, this is a call to action' -- Benedicte Savoy, Professor of Art History at Technische University 'An epiphanic book for many generations to come' -- Victor Ehikhamenor, visual artist and writer 'The book is a vital call to action: part historical investigation, part manifesto, demanding the reader do away with the existing "brutish museums" of the title and find a new way for them to exist' -- Charlotte Lydia Riley, Guardian 'If you care about museums and the world, read this book' -- New York Times 'Best Art Books' 2020
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