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In the West, the Looted Bronzes Are Museum Pieces. In Nigeria, ‘They Are Our Ancestors.’

While recent announcements about the repatriation of looted art to Africa gave reason for hope, many Africans are incensed that more isn’t being done. Revered in Western museums, such artifacts as the Benin bronzes are a vital part of African culture, and their long absence has consequences for the maintenance of identities and stories. To them, the stolen works are not just physical objects of art, but narratives. They form part of the bedrock of the identity, culture and history of Benin — the city in Nigeria that was once part of the Kingdom of Benin, not the modern nation Benin. “They were made to tell stories, to keep memories, and to hand over all these stories and memories from one generation to another,” said Enotie Ogbebor, an artist from Benin City and the founder of Nosona Studios, where Ms. Obaseki works. Western institutions had turned these pieces into “objects of admiration, when these were objects holding information,” he added.