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Steven Oliver

Benin at the BM

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Edited by Steven Oliver, Tuesday, 30 May 2023, 16:27

Managed to 'negotiate' 20 minutes in the British Museum at the end of April. Fascinating both to see the Benin objects and to watch people looking at them. I'm a bit sceptical about the 'museum for the world' rhetoric - but perhaps just a little less having been reminded of what a global city London really is!

However displayed it was interesting to watch how much (and how little) attention the objects received. 

There is just so much going on in some the plaques (Ama), the detail in this one is amazing, the hairstyles, musical instruments, even the patterning in the clothes.

Details from Digital Benin

Oba supported by two attendants 

If you look closely you can make out Portuguese heads in the detail of the Oba's dress

Details from Digital Benin

An attempt to reinforce the depth of the relief casting - I'm still intrigued as to whether they were cast with sprue and channels to enable the brass to reach all the areas (a question for the future)

Ivory hip-pendant mask (Uhunmwu-Ẹkuẹ) thought to be of Queen Mother Idia

Understandable why this image is so iconic, the design alone is really striking even before you get to the historic meaning.

Details from Digital Benin

Figure of European with long hair, beard and moustache

Details from Digital Benin

Four page figures in front of palace compound

Another incredibly detailed and exciting plaque, with altar goods set out that you can see around you in the exhibits.

Details from Digital Benin

Oba with royal page holding a netted calabash rattle

Details from Digital Benin

This last plaque really intrigued me - I wasn't at all sure what to make of it - male?...female? 

Tracking down details online on the train home revealed it was thought to represent an 'Ehioba' carrying a stick/switch.

'Ehioba is leader of the Ooton guild, selected from descendants of previous rulers of Benin, who served the high priest Osuan. The bulge beneath his tunic on his chest represents the concealed jawbones of a deceased Iyase (a political opponent to the Oba).'

Details from Digital Benin

Made me think a lot about all the detailed scholarship and research that will have been conducted by Western experts to 'establish' an interpretation of this object - work that was only needed because it was stripped of all context by its initial Western looters.

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