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Benin Bronzes in Context

February 15, 2022 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


February 15, 2022
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy St
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States


Harvard Art Museums
(617) 495-9400

Two images show (at left) an ivory sculpture of a woman covered in jewelry and decoration and (at right) a small bronze sculpture of a man’s head with an intricate cap and tightly coiled jewelry underneath his chin.

The Kingdom of Benin, a highly centralized state founded in the 13th or 14th century in southwestern Nigeria, dominated trade with Europeans on the Nigerian coast from the late 1400s until the end of the 1900s. Ruled by a divine king, or oba, the Benin Kingdom relied on specialized guilds to create the elaborate court regalia that adorned the palace of the oba. Bronze plaques, ivory statuettes, and delicate coral-beaded items were used to establish status and validate the oba’s power. In 1897, a British expeditionary force invaded Benin, plundered the palace, and burned it to the ground. Items linked to this expedition were then sent to museums around the world, including both the Harvard Art Museums and Harvard’s Peabody Museum.

In her lecture, Sarah Clunis, the new curator of African collections at the Peabody Museum, will look at objects from Benin currently in the care of Harvard and discuss the way that these objects represent an iconographic and contextual story of trade, contact, and crossroads between cultures. Peabody Museum curator Diana Loren will moderate a discussion after the presentation.

The bronze, ivory, and wooden artworks broadly known as the Benin Bronzes were taken from Benin City as part of the British Punitive Expedition of 1897 and dispersed to private collections and museums around the world. The Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and the Harvard Art Museums acknowledge the violence and trauma of the expedition and understand that the presence of this cultural material in western museums is experienced as continued injustice by descendant communities.

Sarah Anita Clunis, Director of Academic Partnerships and Curator of African Collections, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University

In conversation with Diana DiPaolo Loren, Senior Curator, Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, Harvard University

Presented by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums.

This talk will take place online via Zoom. The event is free and open to all, but registration is required. Please register through the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture website. Note that registration closes 30 minutes prior to the event start time.

Please read these instructions on how to join a meeting on Zoom.