Nigerian scholar calls for halt to auction of sacred Igbo artworks

Business: Nigerian scholar calls for halt to auction of sacred Igbo artworks

Last updated on September 11th, 2021 at 02:39 pm

A prominent Igbo-Nigerian artist and academic has called for the cancellation of a forthcoming auction in Paris of two sacred sculptures taken out of Nigeria during its devastating civil war in the late 1960s.

Chika Okeke-Agulu, a professor of art history at Princeton University, said the sale of the Igbo objects – called alusi or “sacred sculptures” – at Christie’s auction house would “perpetuate the violence” of the conflict.

Similar sculptures that adorned Igbo shrines in Okeke-Agulu’s hometown and across south-east Nigeria were taken during the failed push for an independent state of Biafra. Up to 3 million people died, many from starvation, during the conflict, one of the darkest chapters in modern history.

“The original acquisition was rooted in violence,” Okeke-Agulu said in an interview. “These objects are from my hometown, removed from places around eastern Nigeria during that war. What we’re seeing now is the continuing benefit from that original act of violence, which is an extension of that violence.”

The sculptures, which have an estimated sale price of between €250,000 and €350,0000 (£227,000-£317,000), were acquired from Nigeria by the prolific French art collector Jacques Kerchache.