Latest Issue

Photo: PRISMA ARCHIVO / Alamy Stock Photo

The missing Benin Bronzes

More than a century ago, the Bronzes were taken by the British during a brutal colonial campaign in West Africa. Is it time they went back home?

By Samuel Reilly   June 2021

On 29th December last year more than 200 posters were installed on bus stops and billboards across Dresden. Though they bore the word vermisst, they weren’t spreading the word about a missing person. Instead they featured five elaborate brass sculptures held in Dresden’s State Art Collections—objects taken from the Oba (king) of Benin in West Africa more than 120 years ago. The Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh, who organised the poster campaign, tells me that he wanted to lend “the urgency and gravity of a public service announcement” to what has become a perennial debate in museum boardrooms across Europe and America.

The Benin Bronzes are an emblem of a wider discussion over the provenance of items from colonised nations that have ended up in the west. And the demand for their return is a cause célèbre for those who want to “decolonise” western culture. For those in charge…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect