Plaster cast »Benin Head«

Plaster cast of a bronze Head of a Queen Mother (Iyoba Idia), Kingdom of Benin (original: 16th century), plaster, 2018.
Courtesy of Johann Jacobs Museum

Benin bronzes play a key role in the debate over the restitution of art treasures. Some 3,000 objects (including heads, doors and animal sculptures) were looted in 1897 when British troops invaded Benin City and stormed the royal palace. The bulk of the objects were offered to various museums, with the proceeds used to cover war costs. Brinckmann recognized the outstanding artistic quality of the pieces and acquired the first head for the MKG in the same year as the looting.
The presentation of “their” Benin bronzes has long become a problem for Western museums. Usually, wall texts next to the objects inform about the criminal history. Or the bronzes become part of a larger display with which the museum draws attention to its colonial entanglements.
“Mobile Worlds” decided to go a third way – to take the head of the mother of an Oba (king) out of the display case. The object, perched high on a shelf, is not the original, but a brilliant replica (from the plaster molding shop of the State Museums in Berlin).