Christie's Under Fire for Selling Looted Sculptures From Nigeria

A pair of Igbo objects, also called ‘alusi’ or “sacred sculptures.”

By
Arts
5,174 Hypes 5 Comments

Art historian and Princeton professor of African Diaspora art history, Chika Okeke-Agulu, is calling out Christie’s for selling a pair of sculptures that were taken from Nigeria during the country’s civil war. The artifacts in question is a pair of Igbo objects, also called alusi or “sacred sculptures,” that were stolen from Nigeria by Jacques Kerchache, a French collector of African art objects who passed away in 2001, as per ARTnews. The Igbo sculptures are slated to go up for auction in Christie’s Paris salesroom this June 29 with a pre-sale estimate of €250,000–€350,000 EUR ($283,000–$396,000 USD).

Okeke-Agulu especially pointed out how Christie’s had described the provenance of the works as having been “acquired in situ” between 1968–69. Okeke-Agulu argues, instead, that they were looted from the region of Nri-Awka in Nigeria — an area that is only 30 minutes away from where he grew up — during the civil war between Nigeria’s government and the Republic of Biafra.

“Dear Christie’s, let’s be clear about the provenance of these sculptures you want to sell,” said the art historian in an Instagram caption. “While between 500,000 and three million civilians, including babies like me, were dying of kwashiorkor and starvation inside Biafra; and while young French doctors were in the war zone establishing what we now know as Doctors Without Borders, their compatriot, Mr. Kerchache, went there to buy up my people’s cultural heritage, including the two sculptures you are now offering for sale.”

The debate over repatriating looted African treasures found in the collections of museums is still ongoing. African artifacts taken during the colonial era are still found across institutions in Europe, including Britain’s The Wallace Collection and the V&A museum. These artworks include the Benin bronzes, the Ghanaian Asante gold, and pieces plundered from the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II during the 1868 Battle of Magdala, as per The Guardian. In 2018, France’s president Emmanuel Macron called for a French law to be changed, pledging that French museums return thousands of African objects from their collections.

“A loophole may explain why Christie’s is able to sell the objects. Okeke-Agulu pointed to a 1970 UNESCO Convention, which prohibits the illicit import, export, and transfer of cultural property, but applies only to objects taken after a nation had signed on to the convention. Since the objects were taken between 1968 and 1969, they would not be subject to the convention,” reported ARTnews.

HYPEBEAST reached out to a Christie’s representative for a comment on the matter, the auction house expressed:

The Igbo couple (lot 47) to be offered for sale was acquired by Jacques Kerchache from an African dealer in either 1968-1969.  The provenance regarding this lot have been published several times and validated by well-respected scholars, collectors and dealers. It is known that Jacques Kerchache never travelled to Nigeria. There is no legal reason not to proceed with this sale,
 
We do appreciate the catalogue terminology ‘in situ’ is confusing; it has a different connotation in the African art category. We are removing it from the provenance information as it does not refer to precise information of the actual place of acquisition. In this field, it is used as a term to designate the fact that the object was collected by an African dealer before being sold to a foreign collector outside of the African continent.  
 
There is a legitimate market for these statues and this sale falls within our compliance and due diligence process. These objects are being sold as part of a transparent, legitimate and legally compliant public sale process.
 
Christie’s complies with all applicable laws and regulations as they concern the sale of cultural property. We have longstanding commitment to diligent, provenance research and we require all objects, including African and Oceanic property, to have verifiable documented provenance that the work was out of its source nation within the legally appropriate and required timeframe.
 
Ancient and historic objects by their nature cannot always be precisely traced back over centuries.  We recognize this is a complex and sensitive area of debate, but it is also our responsibility to ensure a responsible market continues, strictly meeting all the applicable legal frameworks for offering works of art.

In other stolen art, Banksy’s mural robbed from Bataclan in Paris has resurfaced in Italy.

Read Full Article

Join Our Discussions on Discord

The HYPEBEAST Discord Server is a community where conversations on cultural topics can be taken further.

100 Users Online

What to Read Next

Everything You Need to Know About the Nissan Skyline GT-R
Automotive

Everything You Need to Know About the Nissan Skyline GT-R

Examining “Godzilla’s” humble beginnings, enviable power and controversy.

1980s SEGA Favorite “Alex Kidd in Miracle World” is Coming Back
Gaming

1980s SEGA Favorite “Alex Kidd in Miracle World” is Coming Back

The Master System’s original hero is making a return to consoles.

Balmain's New High-Rise BBOLD Range Embodies Innovative Sneaker Design
Footwear 

Balmain's New High-Rise BBOLD Range Embodies Innovative Sneaker Design

Presented by Balmain
Double soles for extra amplification.


Vans Presents New Short Film With Justin Henry To Promote Community Spirit
Fashion

Vans Presents New Short Film With Justin Henry To Promote Community Spirit

Standing together to foster youth skate culture and progression.

maharishi Reveals "SUMMER TECHNICAL" Collection and Surprise Suicoke Collab
Fashion

maharishi Reveals "SUMMER TECHNICAL" Collection and Surprise Suicoke Collab

While the full collection is available now, you’ll have to wait for the Tabi sandals.

LOEWE Paula's Ibiza Delivers Playful Seashell Leather Necklace Bags
Fashion

LOEWE Paula's Ibiza Delivers Playful Seashell Leather Necklace Bags

Available in “Orange” and “Brown.”

More ▾
 
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Gain access to exclusive interviews with industry creatives, think pieces, trend forecasts, guides and more.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Help us serve you better

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads, where we can share contents from the latest fashion, to those culturally relevant. In adding HYPEBEAST to your ad blocker's whitelist, ads on our sites will show while you continue to browse.

Help Support Us

We need ads to keep the lights on and to continue providing free news to our readers. We’d appreciate your support by whitelisting HYPEBEAST on your ad blocker. That way you can keep reading all the great stories for free.

If you have already whitelisted us, simply refresh this page. To find out how to whitelist us, click the button below.

Back

Add Us to Whitelist

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads. Most ad blockers have similar whitelisting steps and settings. If you need assistance, please contact us.

Adblock Plus

  1. Click on the red ABP icon in the upper right corner of your browser.
  2. Click “Enabled on this site” to disable ad blocking for the current site. In Firefox click “disable on HYPEBEAST”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

Adblock

  1. Click the AdBlock hand icon.
  2. Click “Don’t run on pages on this domain”.
  3. A new “Don’t run AdBlock on…” dialog may be displayed in the middle of the screen.
  4. Move the “Site” slider to the right. After that, click “Exclude”.
  5. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

uBlock

  1. Click the uBlock icon.
  2. Click the large blue “power” button in the menu that appears to whitelist the current website.
  3. Reload the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

Firefox Browser

Firefox Tracking Protection may activate our whitelist notice, which can be disabled temporarily for a browsing session by clicking the shield icon in the URL bar and following the instructions.

Disconnect

  1. Click the Disconnect icon.
  2. Click “Whitelist site”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.