If you missed Professor Dan Hicks’s presentation on The Brutish Museums in December 2020, you can watch it here.
When you walk into any encyclopedic art museum in 2020, you’re likely to see artifacts plundered during European colonial conquests. But you’re unlikely to see, in these museums, any mention that these objects were stolen. For author Dan Hicks the Benin bronzes embody the history of European colonial conquest and plunder. The bronzes, which number in the thousands, are a collection of brass plaques and carved ivory tusks depicting the Royal Court of the Obas of Benin City, Nigeria. Plundered by the British during a naval raid in 1897, they eventually made their way into numerous museums in Europe and the United States. Dan Hicks makes the case in his new book, The Brutish Museums — lauded as one of the best art books of 2020 in The New York Times — that these objects should be repatriated. But Hicks also seeks to re-center and repurpose the art museums that remain complicit in the colonial enterprise. As long as these spaces are receptacles for objects of colonial conquest, he argues, they cannot be what they should be in the 21st century: “celebrations of African creativity that radically lift up African art alongside European sculpture and painting as a universal heritage.” Hicks, Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, also serves as Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum.