Saturday, February 10, 2007

How to spend an hour in London

With all my friends not available for one final coffee, I decided to go to the British Museum to the Sainsbury Africa section. As soon as you enter the space, you are confronted by a large flat sculpture by El Anatsui, the Ghanaian Professor of Sculpture at Nsukka. It is a large metal wave, made entirely out of unrolled bottle tops. Prof Anatsui is becoming a national treasure, for Nigeria. If only he were more treasured in the country.

I then headed to where all the Yoruba/Benin stuff is. I felt the usual mix of emotions in front of the wall of bronzes - such rampant theft by the Foreign Office, only just over 100 years ago. If only there were a museum fit for them (the National Museum in Lagos is not the place). I had the thought that the Federal Govt should sell the National Museum in Onikan (it looks so shabby next to City Mall and the Muson complex) and pump the money into a new state of the art building in Abuja... Why not?

I also felt the usual resentment that so many different African cultures are lumped so closely together - especially in the large vitrine of masks. And I hate the text that appears next to most of the pieces, the liberalist desire to avoid the word 'tribe' masking the violence of the objectification.

But what utterly captivated me - (how had I not notice them before?) were a pair of Benin leopards made out of ivory. Again they were a 'gift' from some colonial officer to Queen Victoria. They are absolutely spellbinding pieces graceful yet capturing the erotic power of the animals. I shall post pictures when I get home and download my images. In a future Nigeria, all these works will be sent back home and families will spend Sundays taking their children around to marvel at the richness of Nigerian culture.

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