125 Years After the Benin Bronzes Were Looted, Artist Victor Ehikhamenor Has Installed a Symbol of Resistance at St. Paul’s in London
The work by the Nigerian-born artist memorializes the 1897 sacking and looting of Benin City.
Nigerian-born artist Victor Ehikhamenor has unveiled a new artwork at St. Paul’s cathedral in London to mark the 125th anniversary of British forces’ notorious attack on the Kingdom of Benin and the subsequent unceremonious looting of the Benin Bronzes.
The mixed media artwork installed in the cathedral’s crypt is a portrait of Benin royal Oba Ovonramwen, who reigned at the time of the siege, and is made from rosary beads and Benin bronze hip ornaments.
Titled Still Standing, the work is a response to a nearby brass and marble memorial panel commemorating British admiral Harry Holdsworth Rawson, who led the infamous Benin Expedition in 1897. Fusing traditional Edo religious symbolism with the Catholic imagery of its surroundings, the design reflects the confluence of African and Western cultures in the post-colonial era. It was commissioned by art historian Dan Hicks and the head of collections at the cathedral to commemorate and encourage reflection on the horrors of the punitive exhibition and the turbulent narratives surrounding that history.
“History never sleeps nor slumbers,” said Ehikamenor, who exhibited at the first Nigerian pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. He added that he also intended the artwork to serve as a memorial to “the citizens and unknown gallant Benin soldiers who lost their lives in 1897 as well as the vibrant continuity of the kingdom till this day.”
The commission is part of a wider three-year project called “50 Monuments in 50 Voices,” which began in 2019 and is organized by the cathedral with the art history department at the University of York.
The work “opens up a unique space for remembrance and reflection,” Dan Hicks said in a statement. “Still Standing reminds us of the ongoing nature of the rich artistic traditions of Benin, of the enduring legacies and losses of colonial war, and of the ability of art to help us reconcile the past and the present.”
Victor Ehikamenor, Still Standing, is on view through May 14 at St. Paul’s cathedral, London.
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