HAZINA EXHIBITION: Brits African loot is an art-rage!

“OUR NAMES and genealogy were taken away by slavery, but the scramble for art has also removed important pieces of Africa’s historical jigsaw.”

I have been to the British Museum at the Nairobi Gallery (note the word ‘British’)4 times now. The gallery which has been holding a Hazina (treasures) exhibition from last year will be coming to a close on 31st March 2007. The Gallery is located on Kenyatta Avenue next to the infamous Nyayo house.

Yesterday,an Italian friend of mine who is in the country requested me to give her a tour of the artscene in Nairobi, she was particularly interested in the Hazina Gallery as she’s an archeologist and was very interested in knowing where the items where collected from and what their main uses were in their respective communities.

Drama started at the entrance where we were required to pay a fee, me being a resident, I had to pay Ksh. 100 despite being there several other times, my friend had to pay Ksh. 200 because she was a non resident.( I am not sure if Ugandans and Tanzanians are treated as non residents yet their artefacts are part of the exhibition)

We finally went in and there are several things that were evident from the display of artifacts despite their classification according to the rites of passage and way of life.

1. Most of the items have no history of the exact origin,
2. THERE WAS NO INFORMATION ON HOW THEY WERE ACQUIRED(which would be interesting to know)
3. Their various uses(though some items had brief description)
4. Who made the items?

All I saw was that all the items were donated or loaned to the British museum by European collectors.

This brings me to the heart of the mater.

There has been has campaign spearheaded by Mr. Grants
Urging the Brits to return the looted artifacts
Looting was legal at the time, insists the British Museum, and therefore not covered by a United Nations agreement reached in 1970.
I have been asking myself these questions from the first time I attended the exhibition
1. Weren’t the Europeans the same ones disguised as missionaries who challenged our people to abandone their traditional ‘evil’ worship and take up the ‘Good news’ Their rituals, their names, their language, everything that identified them as Africans?
2. If the masks, sculptures, artifacts here so evil, why did they take them home?
3. Why did they take the African artifacts? As mementos? For research (of this so called ‘evil spirits’), as a showoff to their countrymen of the conquest?
4. Why are they still holding on to these items? It is very evident from the research conducted that they actually looted but they do not want to admit so.

Our leaders and government does not give a rats ass about our Art, History or Culture for that matter. All that is on their minds is power which has totally blinded them to everything else that constitutes a country and its people’s interest.
Britain’s institutions delight in pointing out there have been no such claims from any African nation, but the reality is more complicated.

Another Kenyan patriot who also visited Hazina was not afraid to say what he felt

“Bring them all back and make the story here where they belong”, he wrote in the visitor’s book after seeing the Hazina (treasures) exhibition at the old Provincial Commissioner’s house.

I believe that if the Ministry of Culture was to be pressured, they would have the guts to come out and claim what is ours, our treasures, our heritage.

What do you feel?

About Kenyan Poet

Showcasing the best in Kenyan Arts;Music,writing,Poetry,fine art and art reviews as well as info on emerging art trends. “Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite…getting something down.”