Cambridge University Removes Looted Benin Bronze after Student Protest
Students demand the repatriation of the cockerel to Nigeria.
Cambridge University has taken down from display a bronze statue of a cockerel after students at Jesus College successfully campaigned for its removal. The cockerel, which is a Benin bronze, was looted by British colonizers from what is now Nigeria in the 19th century.
The college is now considering the repatriation of the statue, known as an “okukor,” after students voted for the artwork to be returned to Nigeria last month, the BBC reported.
According to the Cambridge University’s student newspaper Varsity, the repatriation proposal urged students to vote in favor because “the contemporary political culture surrounding colonialism and social justice […] offers a perfect opportunity for the College to benefit from this gesture.”
The bird is the college’s mascot and, as such, it features on the heraldic shield of the institution, which was founded in 1496. Before its removal, the statue of the cockerel was displayed prominently at Jesus College’s dining hall.
To replace the okukor, the students have proposed that the “college commissions a new piece of their choice for the Hall.”
“Jesus College acknowledges the contribution made by students in raising the important but complex question of the rightful location of its Benin bronze, in response to which it has permanently removed the okukor from its hall,” a university spokesperson told the Guardian.
Hundreds of bronze artworks created under Nigeria’s Benin Empire were looted by the British army in a raid in 1897. Although individual statues are periodically returned to Nigeria, over 100 years later Britain still holds an extensive collection of the works, most of which belong to London’s British Museum.
Despite repeated requests from Nigeria to return their cultural heritage, the repatriation of the bronzes has seldom occurred.
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.