Members of the British Expeditionary Force posing with looted art from
the palace of the Benin King, Nigeria. Source: Myweku.com
I previously posted about the controversial auction at Sotheby's next month of a Benin mask that was expected to set a record price for an African antiquity. The 16th century ivory mask, "one of the last great masterpieces of Benin sculpture remaining in private hands," is believed to have been looted by British troops from 19th-century West Africa. According to The Independent, "protests against the sale of the mask began at the end of last month on social networking sites and an online petition was circulated by a group calling itself the Nigeria Liberty Forum." The article went on to say that the auction has since been cancelled and a statement released by Sotheby's on December 24 says that "the Benin ivory mask and other items consigned by the descendants of Lionel Galway which Sotheby's had announced for auction in February 2011 have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors." We can only speculate as to what their reasons for doing so may have been. If and when the mask does come up for auction in the future, I wonder if its provenance will have been irreparably tainted as a result of last month's protests or whether the protests will have had the opposite, unintended effect which is to make the object a fetish of the market.