Edo Museum of West African Art


    The Benin Kingdom is known for its arts, many of which are scattered in museums around the world. The Edo State government’s decision to establish the museum of West African art will further the state’s image, writes Robert Egbe


    On Friday, November 13, Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki announced a post-COVID-19 recovery plan to strengthen the public sector. But perhaps the most interesting component of his proposal was the announcement of a new partnership that seeks to return Edo State to its competitive advantage many centuries ago, and establish the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA).

    It is a fact that the Benin kingdom was one of the most powerful and creative kingdoms in Africa, with its art and craftmanship so globally acknowledged and renowned that European explorers marvelled at the level of sophistication of the art and culture emanating from this kingdom. Very few would argue with the fact that at some point in its history, this great kingdom was regarded as the cradle of art and culture on the African coast. However, like most great kingdoms in Nigeria, this sense of history was lost.

    So, when Obaseki announced the state’s partnership with the Legacy Restoration Trust and the British Museum to launch the Edo Museum of West African Art, the global community took notice. This ambitious plan is being driven by an independent body established specifically for this purpose, called the Legacy Restoration Trust. The Trust comprises representation from the revered Palace of his Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin, representation from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, as well as illustrious sons and daughter of Edo extraction.

    The archaeological expedition

    A major milestone already achieved by the group with the support of the British Museum is the commitment of $4million in funding to commence the first archaeological project in Nigeria in almost 50 years. This archaeological project that will be executed in partnership with local communities will involve training and capacity building, research works, educational projects, skills enhancements as well as opportunities for Nigerian researchers to work side-by-side with international experts on this globally important project.

    The David Adjaye effect

    Globally renowned architect, David Adjaye who is responsible for some of the world’s most exquisite architectural wonders, including the “Blacksonian” in Washington DC, has been engaged by the Trust to design the museum. Drawing inspiration from the rich cultural heritage of the ancient kingdom, some of the early renders and concept drawings of the proposed museum are exciting to say the least.

    It is also gratifying to note that Nigerian architects would form a core part of the architectural team responsible for the eventual delivery of the museum.

    Making Edo great again

    In Obaseki’s world, the art of “Making Edo Great Again” begins with a clear understanding of the past glory of the people Edo and harnessing what was once its unique competitive advantage to create a brighter future. In returning his people to the era where their creative ingenuity cultivated much of the unique art pieces that adorn museums across the globe, then perhaps a new economy from the gifts already abundant in the state would emerge. Art and culture would once again become the engine room for growth and socio-economic development, creating jobs, supporting a tourist economy and enhancing hospitality in the state.

    Should the ambition behind this project match reality in the near future, then Edo  may just be the outlier that defies the systemic decline of the economy of states in Nigeria, drawing from its pool of talented guilds to create new artworks and hopeful for the return of its stolen pieces that will be showcased in this new asset, the global museum that will shape a new economy and create wealth for its people for generations yet unborn.

    Though, it remains a daunting task, for Obaseki, he is ready to confront the challenges headlong and come up with a workable solution to the myriad of problems besetting the state for his people to eke their living.