Free Essay

How Views About the Benin Plaques Have Changed

In: Other Topics

Submitted By brandy25
Words 1626
Pages 7
Discuss how views about the Benin plaques have changed, and how this has been reflected in their presentation in museums.

In considering the question as to how views about the Benin plaques have changed and how these views are subsequently reflected in their presentation in museums, it might be helpful to consider the definition of art objects and how their interpretation can change when moved from one context to another. Understanding what we conceive as ‘art’ is an ever-changing abstract concept that requires knowledge of the contextual circumstances of its creation.

In order to understand the implications in which the Benin bronzes are contextualised and how the display of these artefacts is approached from both anthropological and artistic view point I seek to examine the way in which the Benin Bronzes are interpreted. My evidence will be gathered using Nigerian historian Joseph Eboreime’s description of the Horniman Museums Africa collection and ethnographers Charles Read and Ormonde Daltons interpretation of the British Museums African Galleries using readings 2.6 and 2.7 of AA100 cultural encounters book 3 as well is referring to plates 3.2.22, 3.2.24, 3.2.25 and 3.2.26 of the AA100 illustration book.

Regarded as some of the most important cultural symbols of the African continent, the Benin bronzes are highly acclaimed artefacts that have been subject to a great deal interest in the world of art history. Following the seizure of the Benin Bronzes by British forces, their arrival came at a time of increasing interest in Africa and growing British imperialism. At the time of their acquisition in the late 19th century, attitudes towards African cultures where so entrenched with savage, uncivilised and primitive ways of life that its easy to believe that many Europeans refused to accept that objects of such sophistication and technical mastery could possibly have been produced by African artists.

Matters relating to colonisation and imperialism have generated topic of considerable debate for many years when it comes to the presentation of the Benin bronzes and how they are displayed in museums. ‘Primitive’ art, as the artefacts were once regarded in a non-western context, such as the Benin bronzes would be displayed alongside objects from a similar time or geographical location. Displaying the objects as educational artefacts provides an understanding of how cultures and civilisations have progressed but they were not given the opportunity to be appreciated as works of art comparable to that of western art.

Victorian anthropologists found the sculptures to be “puzzling artefacts that were difficult to fit into a racist picture of primitive ways of life” (Loftus, D and Wood, P. 2008, p.76). The level of craftsmanship the plaques presented was clearly an unexpected concept that didn't fit with a western cultures racist and xenophobic opinions on the kingdom of Benin. It may be asserted that early contact with more civilised cultures like the Portuguese was highly significant in the resulting artefacts. Clearly the frequent occurrence of Portuguese figures within Benin art suggests a healthy relationship between one another. Others suggested that the sculptures had emerged from a long lost African civilisation.

When considering plate 3.2.22 of the illustration book, the The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford clearly favours representing its collection of worldly artefacts in an anthropological arena. Displayed in close proximity in large glass cases, the viewing experience is informative in the context of the history of African art but one gets the sense that the artefacts are not being given room to breathe as works of art thus being deprived of any artistic value.

When comparing this to the display of Benin bronzes at the Horniman museum London (Display of Benin bronzes at the Horniman Museum, plates 3.2.25 and 3.2.26) we can see that the presentation of plaques attempt to combine different display traditions. Represented in a museum which specialises in anthropology, the Horniman Museums African Worlds gallery exhibits its Benin bronzes with an explicit focus on the artistic and cultural importance of African art. Displayed in a deep, dark casing and dramatically spot-lit from above, emphasis on the aesthetic qualities of each artefact stresses the character of each object as individual works of art. Additional photographs and texts on the culture of Benin accompanying the plaques provide the viewer with “a more prolonged encounter” (Loftus, D and Wood, P. 2008, p.75) of the social and historical context in which the objects can be understood.

Nigerian historian Joseph Eboreime supplemented the Horniman Museums display of Benin bronzes with captions relating to the context of each piece. Drawing on his knowledge of Benin ritual and oral sources from with the within the Royal places itself where the plaques were originally displayed, Eboreime directed research on the iconography of the bronzes which served to offer a reinterpretation on Benin culture and the resulting production of bronzes. The “opportunity to witness ancient practices, songs and rituals” (Eboreime, O.J. 2008, p85) Eboreime was able to relate contemporary ritual re-enactments to the historically situated events which aided to the analysis of the plaques and their cultural context.

Eboreime’s detailed description the various features of a wall plaque featuring Benin deputy commander Ezomo Agban (Relief plaque showing Ezomo Agban, plate 3.2.28) serves to underline the way in which equitable and respectful relationships are beginning to form between major western museums and African people directly effected by Britain’s acquisition of the Benin bronzes. Highlighting the plaques cultural significance, indigenous terminology and correct African names demonstrates that the Benin bronzes can now be viewed as a gateway into the history of Benin culture.

The Sainsbury African galleries display of Benin bronzes (Display of the Benin bronzes in the British Museum, plate 3.2.24), on the other hand, seems to be driven by a more interpretive idea with the artefacts displayed together. This contemporary display with its natural setting, soft lighting and geometric grid framing is clearly intended to represent the plaques as art which provide the viewer with space for uninterrupted aesthetic contemplation. As impressive as the floor to ceiling display of plaques are there is very little contextual information visible in the display. Clearly this is an intentional technique to focus the viewers attention completely on the aesthetic values of the artefacts and the contemplation of that art as an end to itself.

Representing the artefacts together in this way, with other objects from the same culture or geographical area, provide the viewer with a social and historical context in which the objects can be understood. The British Museums African Galleries display “tries to shift the meaning of the objects.. to the domain of art” (Loftus, D and Wood, P. 2008, p73).

Both the Horniman Museum and the British Museum, without completely disregarding anthropological information on the pieces, are keen to highlight the artistic value of the Benin plaques. Assisted with Joseph Eboreime’s familiarity with Benin culture and a variety of addition texts and photographs the Horniman museum represents the Benin pieces with both the appropriate dignity to be appreciated as art and the relevant contextual information to the significance of the objects. The objects are represented from a very conscious Western perspective in the British Museum by pointing out the contribution of African art but offering limited information relating to the culture form which the artefacts derive.

But I would argue that for art can not be fully understood outside its original context and this is particularly relevant when considering the artist value of the Benin bronzes. The Benin artworks have different meanings from the people who brought them into the world to exhibition curators who provide different conceptual contexts of displays.

I would suggest that the sensitivity surrounding the complex history of the Benin bronzes will continue cloud their interpretation. The uncertainty of their status as either art or ethnography can be recognised as an evolving perspective that along with the relationship between western and African cultures that has been continually revised.

The initial assumption that the Benin bronzes where creations of a barbaric and primitive civilisation to be analysed as scientific artefacts was challenged along with the “geographical and historical expansion of the concept of art” (Loftus, D and Wood, P. 2008, p.76) has been recognised. Their status as accomplished works of art through high-profile museum exhibits has been secured for a number of years. But with careful consideration to the context of their contemporary settings the Benin bronzes continue to generate conflicting interpretations since being recategorised as significant cultural symbols from a fascinating location.

To summarise, Museums including the Horniman Museum and The British Museum offer a variety of interpretations relating to the communication and value of the Benin plaques. Whether presented to the viewer in their historical contexts or displayed as works of art in exhibitions what is evident is the variation in an over aching theme on the Benin bronzes. Considered to be advanced by some and primitive by others what we can say for sure is that the Benin kingdom produced treasured and contested objects that continue the intrigue and fuel debate.

Word count: 1,481

Bibliography

Loftus, D and Wood, P. (2008) The Art of Benin: Changing Relations between Europe and Africa II, AA100 Book 3 Chapter 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Read, C.H. and Dalton, O.M. (2008) The Art of Benin: Changing Relations between Europe and Africa II, AA100 Book 3 Chapter 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Eboreime, O.J. (2008) The Art of Benin: Changing Relations between Europe and Africa II, AA100 Book 3 Chapter 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

The Open University (2008) Plates for books 3 and 4 Illustration Book (AA100), Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Similar Documents

Free Essay

Documents

...Clinical guidelines Diagnosis and treatment manual for curative programmes in hospitals and dispensaries guidance for prescribing 2010 EDITION © Médecins Sans Frontières – January 2010 All rights reserved for all countries. No reproduction, translation and adaptation may be done without the prior permission of the Copyright owner. ISBN 2-906498-81-5 Clinical guidelines Diagnosis and treatment manual Editorial Committee: I. Broek (MD), N. Harris (MD), M. Henkens (MD), H. Mekaoui (MD), P.P. Palma (MD), E. Szumilin (MD) and V. Grouzard (N, general editor) Contributors: P. Albajar (MD), S. Balkan (MD), P. Barel (MD), E. Baron (MD), M. Biot (MD), F. Boillot (S), L. Bonte (L), M.C. Bottineau (MD), M.E. Burny (N), M. Cereceda (MD), F. Charles (MD), M.J de Chazelles (MD), D. Chédorge (N), A.S. Coutin (MD), C. Danet (MD), B. Dehaye (S), K. Dilworth (MD), F. Fermon (N), B. Graz (MD), B. Guyard-Boileau (MD), G. Hanquet (MD), G. Harczi (N), M. van Herp (MD), C. Hook (MD), K. de Jong (P), S. Lagrange (MD), X. Lassalle (AA), D. Laureillard (MD), M. Lekkerkerker (MD), J. Maritoux (Ph), J. Menschik (MD), D. Mesia (MD), A. Minetti (MD), R. Murphy (MD), J. Pinel (Ph), J. Rigal (MD), M. de Smet (MD), S. Seyfert (MD), F. Varaine (MD), B. Vasset (MD) (S) Surgeon, (L) Laboratory technician, (MD) Medical Doctor, (N) Nurse, (AA) Anaesthetist-assistant, (Ph) Pharmacist, (P) Psychologist We would like to thank the following doctors for their invaluable......

Words: 86687 - Pages: 347

Premium Essay

Mass Media

...Media History Contents 1 Introduction 1.1 Mass media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1.1 1.1.2 1.1.3 1.1.4 1.1.5 1.1.6 1.1.7 1.1.8 1.1.9 Issues with definition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Forms of mass media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Purposes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Professions involving mass media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Influence and sociology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ethical issues and criticism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Future . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . See also . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1 1 2 6 6 7 8 10 10 10 10 11 11 12 12 12 12 16 16 17 17 17 17 17 17 18 19 20 21 21 21 1.1.10 Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1.11 References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1.12 Further reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1.13 External links . . . . . . . . ....

Words: 146891 - Pages: 588

Free Essay

Test2

...abhorrer/M abhorring abhor/S abidance/MS abide/JGSR abider/M abiding/Y Abidjan/M Abie/M Abigael/M Abigail/M Abigale/M Abilene/M ability/IMES abjection/MS abjectness/SM abject/SGPDY abjuration/SM abjuratory abjurer/M abjure/ZGSRD ablate/VGNSDX ablation/M ablative/SY ablaze abler/E ables/E ablest able/U abloom ablution/MS Ab/M ABM/S abnegate/NGSDX abnegation/M Abner/M abnormality/SM abnormal/SY aboard abode/GMDS abolisher/M abolish/LZRSDG abolishment/MS abolitionism/SM abolitionist/SM abolition/SM abominable abominably abominate/XSDGN abomination/M aboriginal/YS aborigine/SM Aborigine/SM aborning abortionist/MS abortion/MS abortiveness/M abortive/PY abort/SRDVG Abo/SM! abound/GDS about/S aboveboard aboveground above/S abracadabra/S abrader/M abrade/SRDG...

Words: 113589 - Pages: 455