June 10, 2020 - 12:51 AMT
Africa's stolen artifacts up for sale at British auction houses

Christie’s, the British auction house, announced a curated “Arts of Africa, Oceania and North America” sale in Paris which includes African art such as the newly discovered Akan terracotta head (Ghana), Benin Bronze and an Urhobo figure (Nigeria). The artifacts from all around Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo are valued from €30,000 to €900,000, Quartz reports.

Thousands of artifacts looted from African towns over a century ago line European and British Museums and institutions. After decades of campaigns for African pieces—such as the Benin bronzes to return home, the homecoming of the looted artworks finally began looking like a real possibility.

But in the middle of the global economic crisis brought sparked by the spread of the coronavirus that has devastated economies, a new market for African artifacts and art has emerged.

The Christie’s auction is embroiled in controversy. Christie’s can only guarantee the origin of the Bronze head as far back as 1890-1949 as a part of the Frederick Wolff-Knize collection that was shown in Vienna and New York.

Christie’s did not respond to a request for comment.

The Benin Bronze plaques that are offered by Christie’s are very similar to Bronze plaques from the St Petersburg and Berlin Museums; artworks with a well-documented history as part of looted artifacts from the Royal Court in the invasion of Benin City in 1897.

Sotheby’s, the storied British-founded American auction house on the May 27 announced an ambitious sale of “The Clyman Fang Head,” a statue with an estimated value of between $2.5 million and $4 million from the collection of Sidney and Bernice Clyman. A total of 32 African artworks from the collection will be offered across a series of auctions at Sotheby’s.