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Nigeria protests auction of sacred statues in France

Emma Emeozor with Agency report

, yesterday, protested the in Paris, of allegedly stolen from the country.

The National Commission for Museums and Monuments called for the cancellation of the exercise even as Christie´s House defended the sale, saying the artworks were legitimately acquired and the sale would  go ahead.

A Princeton scholar, Prof. Chika Okeke-Agulu, alongside the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, raised earlier this month that the objects were looted during the Nigerian – Biafran war in the late 1960s.

Christie´s wrote earlier this month to the Nigerian Commission, saying the sale would go ahead.

In a statement to AP yesterday, Christie’s said “these objects are being lawfully sold having been publicly exhibited and previously sold over the last decades prior to Christie´s involvement.”

While the house said it recognised the “nuanced and complex debates around cultural property,” it said that public sales should go ahead of objects like these to stop the black market flourishing.

Okeke-Agulu, who is Igbo, said the objects were taken through “an act of violence” from his home state of Anambra and that they should not be sold. An online petition with over 2,000 signatures is demanding that the auction be halted.

The petition said “as the world awakens to the reality of systemic racial injustice and inequality, thanks to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we must not forget that it is not just the black body, but also black culture, identity and especially art that is being misappropriated.”

It claims that between 1967 and 1970, as the Nigerian –  Biafran civil war raged and while more than three million civilians were , a renowned European treasure hunter was in Biafra “on a hunting spree for our cultural heritage.”

In recent years, French courts have consistently ruled in favour of auction houses whose sales of objects, such as Hopi tribal masks, were contested by rights groups and representatives of the tribes. Paris has a long history of collecting and selling tribal artifacts, tied to its colonial past in Africa, and to Paris-based groups in the 1960s, such as the “Indianist” movement that celebrated indigenous tribal cultures.

Interest in tribal art in Paris was revived in the early 2000s following two high-profile and highly lucrative sales in Paris of tribal art owned by late collectors Andre Breton and Robert Lebel.

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