A planned auction of two sacred Igbo objects alongside others at the Paris salesroom of the British auction house Christie’s are heading for sales in Paris, France, despite several efforts to stop the auction.
They are simply identified as “Paire de Statues Igbo…” (A Couple of Igbo Figures) and are positioned as Lot 47 in the auction’s catalogue. These figures bear scarification markings – known as “ichi” and “mbubu” – on the forehead, chest and stomach and their wealth, high status and titles are further italicised by their anklets and bracelets.
With 58 other lots, they will be auctioned at the Christie’s curated Arts of Africa, Oceania and North America sale in Paris with a pre-sale estimated value of €250,000-350,000 ($283,000 – 396, 000). This auction will hold on Monday, June 29 from 3pm at the British auction house’s Paris salesroom at 9 Avenue Matignon.
Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), under the Ministry of Information and Culture, as well as some art scholars in the diaspora have raised alarm over the auction house, Christie’s legitimacy to sell the artefacts.
On Sunday, Legal Adviser to NCMM, Babatunde Adebiyi disclosed that a reply received on Friday, June 25, from Christie’s indicated that the sales of the artefacts will go ahead as scheduled. According to Adebiyi, Christie’s stated that the artefacts were legitimately acquired for sales.
“Some of the items ought not to be auctioned,” says Babatunde Adebiyi, authorized adviser of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), a Nigerian authorities company. “We suspect that some have been taken out of Nigeria towards the UNESCO convention of 1954 on antiquities taken from conflicts.”
The public sale home lists the provenance of the sculptures as the gathering of Jacques Kerchache, a number one collector of African artwork, adviser to the late President of France Jacques Chirac, and an influential determine within the creation of the Quai Branly museum in Paris.
But Igbo-Nigerian artwork historian Chika Okeke-Agulu of Princeton University alleges the items were looted during the Nigerian civil war, and has called for the cancellation of the auction.
The Princeton University academic, Prof Chika Okeke-Agulu says the objects were looted during the Biafran war, in the late 1960s.
Chika Okeke-Agulu, further said the sale of the Igbo objects – called alusi or “sacred sculptures” – at Christie’s auction house later this month would “perpetuate the violence” of the conflict.
Countless alusi sculptures were systematically looted during the war from Mbari houses – communal shrines lined with symbolic murals and sculptures of Igbo deities.
The auction house, Christie’s, says that there is no suggestion that the artefacts were subject to improper export.
The two wooden sculptures, one male and the other female, are just over 1m tall and represent deities of Nigeria’s south-eastern Igbo community.
The sculptures, which have an estimated sale price of between €250,000 and €350,0000 (£227,000-£317,000), were acquired from Nigeria by the prolific French art collector Jacques Kerchache.
Similar sculptures that adorned Igbo shrines in Okeke-Agulu’s hometown and across south-east Nigeria were taken during the failed push for an independent state of Biafra. Up to 3 million people died, many from starvation, during the conflict, one of the darkest chapters in modern history.
Calls for Reparation
The death of George Floyd in the US has reignited the call for the reparation of African artefacts, that has been growing for sometime now.
Earlier this month, five protesters who tried and failed to seize an African funeral pole from the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac said “most of the works [in the museum] were taken during colonialism and we want justice”.
Calls for the repatriation of artefacts taken out of Africa in the colonial era have grown more vigorous in recent years, resulting in unprecedented pressure on western galleries and institutions. Yet in practice repatriations have not been radical.