Igbo Fume As Christies Moves Ahead With Sale Of Priceless Alusi Figures Taken During The Biafran War
The Igbo Community in the Diaspora is in an uproar. This is because
Christie’s the famous NY based auction house has decided to forge ahead
with its sale of a pair of alusi figurines considered to be sacred in
Paris in June
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The sculptures were taken from Nri-Awka in Anambta Sate and previously in the now-defunct Republic of Biafra between 1968–69 at the peak of the country’s civil war by Jacques Kerchache a French collector of African art objects who acquired them “in situ" and died in 2001.
The republic had seceded from Nigeria as part of an independence movement by primarily Igbo people, and the conflict lasted from 1967 to 1970.
two sculptures, which are being sold together as one lot, carry an
estimate of €250,000–€350,000 ($283,000–$396,000) and are set to hit the
block as part of the “Art d’Afrique, d’Océanie et d’Amérique du Nord”
auction on June 29.
Okeke-Agulu a prominent Nigerian and Igbo art historian and Professor at Princeton University has been leading a fight to have the items returned to Nigeria and has previously written about the plundering of Igbo sculptures as part of an op-ed for the New York Times in 2017. In that article, he mentioned that his mother, upon looking at a catalogue of Igbo sculptures now in European collections, recounted how “the disappearance of similar sculptures from our hometown shrines in southeastern Nigeria, and the end of the associated festivals, was one of her most painful memories of that war.”
Since the publication of the Times piece, Okeke-Agulu has taken it upon himself to further investigate the removal of similar Igbo sculptures from Nigeria, with an emphasis on the collection of Kerchache, whom he called “one of the most famous collectors of African art in Europe.”
He shared: “No one should be selling those objects right now precisely because these are blood art as far as I’m concerned,
“There are blood diamonds, and this is what I would call blood art.”
Okeke-Agulu continued, “Art that was expropriated during that period—and you have documentation of that—should not be sold until someone in Nigeria can make a case for its return. Public sales of these objects should stop. They can’t go on with that sale.”
A 2019 report by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy called on France to return many of the objects in the national collection, igniting controversy in a nation where such surveys are rare. However French President Emmanuel Macron later said he agreed with Sarr and Savoy’s recommendations and yet Christie's has okayed the sale.
More details as they unfold.
To send your complaint to Christie's write firstname.lastname@example.org or call +1 212 636 2000