Benin Bronzes in Context


Tuesday, February 15, 2022, 6:00pm to 7:00pm



Left, sculpture of female attendant made of ivory, on the right, head of an oba made of bronze copper alloy.
Left: Female attendant of the Queen Mother, Edo Culture, Benin Kingdom, Nigeria, ivory, Gift of Oric Bates, 16-43-50/B1479; Right: Head of an oba, Edo Culture, Benin Kingdom, Nigeria, bronze copper alloy. Gift of Oric Bates, 16-43-50/B1483.

Free Virtual Lecture and Conversation

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

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

Advance Registration Required.

The Kingdom of Benin, a highly centralized state founded in the thirteenth 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 Benin Bronzes in Context, Sarah Clunis will look at objects 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. 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 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.

Presented in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums

To join the program, you will need to download the free Zoom app in advance. If you already have Zoom, you do not need to download it again. For details on how to improve your Zoom experience, visit the How to Attend an HMSC Program webpage.

About the Speakers

Sarah Clunis is originally from Kingston, Jamaica and received her PhD in art history in 2006 from the University of Iowa. She is director of academic partnerships and curator of African Collections at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology. Prior to this role, she was director of the Xavier University Art Gallery, where she supervised the Art Collection team, and was also assistant professor of art history. Dr. Clunis has taught art history for over twenty years at public universities and historically Black colleges and universities. Her research and classes have focused on the history of African art and the display of African objects in Western museum settings. She also studies the influence of African aesthetics and philosophy on the arts and religious rituals and cultural identities of the African diaspora. Her work examines gender, race, and migration in multiple contexts. She has published in both national and international magazines and journals.

Diana DiPaolo Loren (PhD, SUNY Binghamton) is Senior Curator at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Loren conducts research on historical museum practice and representation, ethical stewardship and decolonial efforts within museums, and materiality. She also conducts research on early Harvard history with a focus on the body, health, dress and adornment and co-directs the Archaeology of Harvard Yard Project. Loren is the author of In Contact: Bodies and Spaces in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Eastern Woodlands (2007) and The Archaeology of Clothing and Bodily Adornment in Colonial America (2010).