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New MFA Boston gallery offers rare view of ancient Edo culture

Shanice Maxwell | 10/16/2013, 12:19 p.m.
With a diverse crowd of over 250 people, it was no ordinary evening at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. ...
The recent celebration of Benin Kingdom Arts and Culture community event at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was a big draw. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

“I’m proud of being a Nigerian so I felt it was necessary for me to be here and witness this history and support my country. I’m very proud, just proud,” Igiede said. “This is something that was very personal to us and now it’s being displayed for the whole world to see. In a way it is also history for the other side of the fence to learn about our culture. It’s overwhelming, interesting, exciting and emotional.”

The Coalition of Committed Benin Community Organizations expressed sincere gratitude to the museum for allowing the gallery, a now-permanent exhibition, to be a part of the museum. Still, many of them expressed anticipation in working with the MFA to reclaim more art pieces and, specifcally, some of the estimated 4,000 works that were forcibly removed by British military action as a result of the Punitive Expedition of 1897.

Nevertheless, it was a cause to celebrate.

“I am the great, great grand-daughter of Oba Ovonranwen from whose palace these beautiful bronzes and other works of arts were taken during the British Punitive Invasion in 1897. One hundred and sixteen years later I find myself an American citizen living in Boston reunited with some of these great bronzes of the Benin Palace through MFA’s opening of the Benin Kingdom gallery,” said Carrington. “Some of these objects have a cultural significance. Through these objects I feel a connection with my royal ancestors.”

The plurality of participants shared a sense of cultural fulfillment and curiosity that was met by the time the evening ended. More importantly, a desire to learn and appreciate something outside the norm was cultivated in several attendees, who commented on how pleasant it was and how eager they are to return with family and friends.

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Dr. Arese Carrington, Ann and Graham Gund Director Malcolm Rogers and His Royal Highness Professor Gregory I. Akenzua of Benin Kingdom. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

“The MFA worked with the Coalition of Committed Benin Organizations to ensure their participation. I delivered a letter from the Oba of Benin granting the Benin community permission to participate in the events. I saw grandparents, parents and children all enjoying themselves and celebrating the greatness of the Benin Kingdom. … The rich culture of Benin could be felt with the presence of the traditional costumes and dances. I feel [this] is the beginning of a continual relationship between MFA and the Benin community,” Carrington said.

“We look at Western art so much that when art like this comes — they used to call it primitive —it’s so different I have to take time to appreciate each piece and the workmanship that went into it because it is so intricate and unlike any other art. It’s good to see that African peoples made great things as well, even though it hasn’t been as appreciated as Western art, but we did something. We did some great things as well,” Jean Desrosiers added.

For more information regarding exhibitions, guided tours, programs and more at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston visit www.mfa.org.