Kwame Opoku: Damage to Precious Nigerian Scuptures in Europe?

In an article entitled "European treatment harms African works?" in the Art Newspaper, (issue no.223. Martin Bailey reports that: “African art specialists are questioning the recent conservation of Ife sculptures in Madrid in preparation for an international touring exhibition. They are concerned that Spanish conservators applied an inappropriate coating intended to protect the sculptures during the tour and after they are returned to Nigeria, and might even have removed ancient surface patina.”

Leaving aside the substantive question regarding the use of certain chemicals, the allegation of damage to the Ife artworks that are on a touring exhibition raises several questions:

Why must we learn about alleged damage to Nigeria’s national cultural treasures from a British newspaper? Are there no Nigerian sources interested in this matter and do they not feel obliged to inform the Nigerian public and the world?

Shall we ever know which precise objects have been damaged and their value before and after the damage?

How often have Nigerian artworks been damaged abroad? Are there any precise details on the objects, time and place of damage?

How many Nigerian objects have been sent abroad for exhibition, repairs and conservation but never came back? Have there been attempts to recover them?

In all the cases of damage, were there ever any insurance agreements?  Were they invoked and with what outcome?

After 50 years of Independence, is Nigeria still dependent on European institutions for conservation and preservation of artefacts? Have any steps been taken to ensure that in future repairs, conservation and preservation can be done in Nigeria? That this situation has prevailed for so long might be considered an indication that there are interests that benefit from maintaining the status quo.

Can we accept the view that the cultural objects made by our ancestors some hundreds of years ago cannot be repaired by us today?

Answers to some of these questions will enable the public to assess how well the national treasures are being preserved and will also educate the public about the problems and complications involved in the conservation and preservation of Nigerian national treasures.

Kwame Opoku. 13 April, 2011.

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