Benin prince calls for Bristol Museum to return stolen sculpture

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Presenter Nosipho Ledwaba-Chapman with the Benin Bronze
Image caption,
The sculpture was taken by the British from Benin in 1897

A prince of Benin has called on a British museum to "blaze the trail" in returning one of thousands of artefacts looted during the colonial era.

The sculpture, currently at Bristol Museum, is one of the "Benin Bronzes", taken during the invasion of Benin City by the British in 1897.

Prince Edun Akenzua, of the Royal Court of Benin, said: "They were not originally made as museum objects."

Bristol Museum said it was open to sending it back after the plea.

The Benin Bronzes are a group of more than 1,000 plaques and sculptures that adorned the royal palace of the Oba - or king - of Benin, in west Africa.

But for more than 100 years the collection has been dispersed around the world, mostly in European museums and private collections.

Image caption,
Prince Edun Akenzua of the Royal Court of Benin has called for the return of the sculpture

The highly detailed, cast bronze bust at Bristol Museum has not been valued but a similar sculpture sold for more than £1m.

Prince Edun, speaking to BBC Inside Out West, said the museum could set a trend by returning it.

"We are aware of the Benin Bronze at Bristol Museum," he said.

"We are appealing to Bristol Museum to blaze the trail for the international community or private holders of the Benin cultural property to get them returned."

'Impassioned plea'

Jon Finch, head of culture at Bristol City Council, which runs the museum, said when they took on the sculpture they had not known it was stolen.

He said it had been used to educate tens of thousands of children about other cultures.

He added: "We're very happy to explore with the prince the opportunity of returning the object.

"We'd like to have correspondence with him to see what the specific request is and how we can progress that.

"I've seen the impassioned plea from the prince so we're very willing to explore that option with him and others."

You can see more about this story on Inside Out on BBC One in the West of England on Monday at 7.30pm or after on the iPlayer.

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