The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution (Paperback)
New York Times 'Best Art Books' 2020
'Essential' – Sunday Times
'Brilliantly enraged' - New York Review of Books
'A real game-changer'– Economist
Walk into any Western museum today and you will see the curated spoils of Empire. They sit behind plate glass: dignified, tastefully lit. Accompanying pieces of card offer a name, date and place of origin. They do not mention that the objects are all stolen.
Few artefacts embody this history of rapacious and extractive colonialism better than the Benin Bronzes - a collection of thousands of metal plaques and sculptures depicting the history of the Royal Court of the Obas of Benin City, Nigeria. Pillaged during a British naval attack in 1897, the loot was passed on to Queen Victoria, the British Museum and countless private collections.
The Brutish Museums sits at the heart of a heated debate about cultural restitution, repatriation and the decolonisation of museums. Since its first publication, museums across the western world have begun to return their Bronzes to Nigeria, heralding a new era in the way we understand the objects of empire we once took for granted.
About the Author
Dan Hicks is Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a Fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. His award-winning research focuses on decolonisation in art and culture, and academic disciplines, and on the role of cultural whiteness in ongoing histories of colonial violence and dispossession.
'A real game-changer'
'If you care about museums and the world, read this book'
New York Times 'Best Art Books' 2020
'Hicks's urgent, lucid, and brilliantly enraged book feels like a long-awaited treatise on justice'
Coco Fusco, New York Review of Books
'Unsparing ... especially timely ... his book invites readers to help break the impasse by joining the movement for restitution.'
'The book is a vital call to action: part historical investigation, part manifesto, demanding the reader do away with the existing "brutish museums" of the title and find a new way for them to exist'
Charlotte Lydia Riley, Guardian
'A startling act of conscience. An important book which could overturn what people have felt about British history, empire, civilisation, Africa, and African art. It is with books like this that cultures are saved, by beginning truthfully to face the suppressed and brutal past. It has fired a powerful shot into the debate about cultural restitution. You will never see many European museums in the same way again. Books like this give one hope that a new future is possible.'
Ben Okri, poet and writer
'An epiphanic book for many generations to come'
Victor Ehikhamenor, visual artist and writer
'Unflinching, elegantly written and passionately argued, this is a call to action'
Bénédicte Savoy, Professor of Art History at Technische University
'In his passionate, personal, and, yes, political account, Dan Hicks transforms our understanding of the looting of Benin. This book shows why being against violence now more than ever means repatriating stolen royal and sacred objects and restoring stolen memories'
Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University
'Destined to become an essential text'
Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times
'Dan, your words brought tears to my eyes. I salute you'
'A masterful condemnation and inspiring call to action'
Los Angeles Review of Books
'The Brutish Museums shows that colonial violence is unfinished, and as it persists in the present, it cannot be relativized.'
Ana Lucia Araujo, Public Books
'The Brutish Museums leaves no stone unturned'
'The Brutish Museums argues, persuasively, that the corporate-militaristic pillage behind Europe's encyclopedic collections is not a simple matter of possession, but a systematic extension of warfare across time'
'A bombshell book'
Los Angeles Times
'After this book, there can be no more false justifications for holding Benin Bronzes in museums outside of Africa'
Africa is a Country
'Presents a powerful case for restitution of looted objects, and hostile responses to it highlight enduring attachments to imperialism