Colonialism and the expansion of empires

History of the Benin bronzes, Plate 8: The Auction

Tony Phillips (1952-), 1984
Monochrome etching

Object number G884
Purchased with the assistance of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, 1990

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History of the Benin bronzes, Plate 8: The Auction

These prints are from a series by Liverpool-born black British artist Tony Phillips, exploring the history of the Benin bronzes and European attitudes towards them.

The Benin bronzes are a group of sculptures and plaques made by artists in Benin from the 16th century onwards. They were displayed in the palace of the Oba, or king, of Benin until 1897, when the British invaded the kingdom, sacked the palace and took the bronzes as reparation for British deaths during armed conflict in the country. They ended up on the international art market and many found their way into the collections of major museums in Britain and Europe. Racist attitudes towards African cultures were so entrenched at this time that many Europeans refused to believe such sophisticated sculpture could possibly have been produced by African artists. For a personal response to Tony Phillips' work, see Kevin Dalton-Johnson's article, A History of the Benin Bronzes.

This information has been provided by curators from Gallery Oldham.