Benin Bronzes of Baltimore

Subject: Culture
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 928
Topics: Africa, Clothing, Heritage, Painting

Benin’s art is one of the world’s magnificent treasure. The bronze sculpture dated back to the 14th century can be traced and found in the region. Baltimore Museum of art curator exemplifies the epitome of a significant grandeur and power of art in the African continent. Different sculptures, plaque, and other artwork signify various aspects of the African culture especially the West Africa. Therefore, some arguments have arisen as a result of a debate on whether the sculptures and Plaques should be returned to Benin (Current Nigeria)

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Relevant Aspects of Works Cultural Context

The art provides generalized aspects of Benin’s culture, for instance, the Benin’s court. The warriors at the court were required to dress and arm themselves in a particular manner which was easily identified by the elders and the chiefs of the land. Culture is further portrayed with Oba and his attendants, warriors merchants and his visitors. For instance, dressing with a wrapper around the body and holding and brass mask was a standard feature for the warriors (Blackmun & Barbara, p. 32).

The Edo people collectively created the plaques. The process played a significant role in the Benin kingdom which is currently Nigeria. Cultural aspects of the plaques and portraits provided significance on the African beliefs. Historical events of the entry of Portuguese and the missionaries to Benin has been outlined. Most of the plaques portray Portuguese rulers. Rituals have played a key role in decorative features on most of the plaques. For instance, the sacrificial ritual required some parts of the body to be marked regarding the belief of the highest deity of the land.

The wearing of helmets and holding wooden rectangular objects on the hands showed that an individual belonged to a certain group in the community and it defined different roles. The warriors and messengers were traditionally identified by the mask and the sword that was often held in hand. Body paintings were often conducted in the lower parts of the legs. The paintings were common especially among women and girls after coming from the seclusion period.

The plaques often had a distinct demarcation. For instance, the area running from the forehead to the nose was often marked ornamentally with a mask of a leopard. The mark represented the location where the priest places the blood for sacrifice (Blackmun & Barbara, p.83). The priest would usually deep his figure in blood and run it down t the nose of the worshipper. The ritual was often performed during marked festivals by the kingdom.

Benin’s people had a different perception of religion. Initially, they believed in the presence of a male deity osanobua. The arrival of the missionaries provided changed the perception of such believes due to differing religious perspectives (Blackmun & Barbara, p.89).

Ethical Considerations on the Works Production, Study and Display

The art outlined in Benin Baltimore has considered different ethical factors on its work and display. For instance, the audience have been considered in the acquisition of permission in incorporating the old art into the new ones (Blackmun & Barbara, p .86). In the outlined Benin plaques, different details have been provided related to the time and different factors that shows the rights of the museum to portray the images. Most often the owners of the portraits are undermined. However, the Edo culture is highly signified and hence considered to play a key role like the plaques around the museum. Therefore, the European museums are considering to return the looted Bronzes back to Benin. Ethical processes have failed to enhance the use and the sale of Benin portraits across England markets. The displays have often taken place without consideration  of the owners’ rights, the art designs

Relevance of the Used Sources

The sources used on the topic play a key role in explaining different aspects of art and Benin’s art and rituals. Blackmun & Barbara, (p.83) features different art activities and periods which existed. The most significant role that the sources have played in including the plaques involves creation of an understanding of the cultures and rituals related to the plaques outlined. Furthermore, Blackmun & Barbara have summarized the museum ethical processes in displaying different plaques (p. 26). For instance, the owner’s rights should be considered when selling or displaying the material, from the museum management. The arguments aim at returning the Benin plaques and bronze from British countries to Benin. Regarding sales and display, the sources have provided differing perspective on how the process should be changed to the owners. Most of the sales and displays are conducted in favor of British museums (Kodeck & Amanda, p. 3). However, the museum ethics outline that the sales should be conducted directly by the owners of the materials.

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The most significant aspects of Benin’s artwork plays a key role in Baltimore museum. Cultural elements can be identified through the portraits. Therefore, relevant ethical issues should be addressed so that Benin(Nigeria) could benefit from the sales and display of the products.

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  1. Blackmun, Barbara W. “Wall Plaque of a Junior Titleholder Carrying in Ekpokin.” Art of Power, the Power of Art: Studies in Benin Iconography. (1983): 84-86. Print.
  2. Blackmun, Barbara. “Who are the Figures in Benin Art? Translations from Ivory to Bronze.” Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria. By Barbara Plankensteiner. Gent: Snoeck, 2007. N. pag. Print.
  3. Blackmun, Barbara W. “Iwebo and the White Man in Benin.” Through African Eyes: the European in African Art, 1500 to Present. (2010): 26-37. Print.
  4. Kodeck, Amanda. “FW: Brass Plaque of Warrior.” Message to Pete Cullen. 3 January 2017. E-mail. [PRIMARY]
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