As reported by 1st News earlier on Sunday, June 28, a pair of Nigerian artefacts allegedly taken illegally from the country have been sold at a Paris auction on Monday.
The artefacts were sold for $239,000 (about 212,500 euros) by UK-based art house, Christie’s.
Equally important, the auction of the Nigerian artefacts had been mired in controversy. 1st News had reported that the Nigerian government and Nigerian art historians had pushed against the sale of the statues. They had argued that the pieces were part of many allegedly stolen from Nigeria during the Biafra War.
Also, the agitations had seen protests for the repatriation of the artworks in an off-shoot of the Black Lives Matter movement under the hashtage – Black Arts Matter. Over 3,000 people had signed a petition titled “Stop Christie’s from selling STOLEN Igbo Sculptures. #BlackArtsMatter.”
However, despite the protestations, Christie’s had gone ahead to auction off the Nigerian artefacts.
Furthermore, the art house had justified the sale, repeatedly insisting that the artworks were acquired legitimately.
The development has reportedly shocked the Nigerian government.
Counsel for the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, Babatunde Adebiyi, had told Associated Press; that it had written Christie’s to suspend the sales, pending further investigation into the origins of the artworks.
“We are shocked the sales went on. It represents a major setback in our effort to get our antiquities from abroad.”
Meanwhile, 1st News had earlier reported that the art house had won a legal battle over the sale.
This was confirmed by Yewande Ogunnaike, a self-professed art lover and healing practitioner. She disclosed this in a comment on Instagram in a post made by Igbo art historian, Prof. Chika Okeke-Agulu; one of the leading voices behind the moves to have the Nigerian artefacts restored to the country. 1st News reports that Okeke Agulu, who previously lectured at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; is a Professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Archaeology and the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University.
Ogunnaike had written: ‘‘Dear Sisters and Brothers. I have a bad and a good piece of news. The bad piece of news first: we lost the case against Christie’s. But the good piece of news: Christie’s now wants to discuss and cooperate with us, which was exactly the objective.
‘‘When the Vice Prime Minister sent the letter, they never answered and never wanted to dialogue. But after the demonstration and the case, now they want to cooperate. Not because they are nice, but because they are afraid. And they know we shall not give up.
‘‘I believe the pressure has worked. In a way, perhaps, the judge’s decision is even better for us. If we had won the case, we would have stopped the auction about the 4 or 5 five artefacts the origin of which was documented.
‘‘But now that the lines of communication are open, we will work on a broader spectrum, not just on 4 or 5 artefacts, and we will have an opportunity to change their regulations in general and work with them, but with our own experts. And if we can get that from Christie’s, it will be a game changer in African art. And if Christie’s works with us, the other auctioneers will probably follow sooner or later.
‘‘All this is very encouraging, but there is still a lot of work to do. That is why I want to congratulate our Vice Prime Minister, the members of the working group on restitution, the people who organised the demonstration and of course, the lawyers.
Congratulation to all the team!’’ she concluded.
Reports say French courts have consistently ruled in favour of auction houses whose sales of sacred objects were contested by rights groups and representatives of the tribes. Also, Paris is said to have a long history of collecting and selling tribal artefacts; tied to its colonial past in Africa, and to Paris-based groups in the 1960s.