In our series of Letters from African Writers, Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani highlights a new initiative to recover artworks looted from Africa by colonial powers.
What if Africans could reach the museums of the Western world and collect all the artworks looted on their lands during the colonial era and bring them back home?
This is what a young Nigerian is trying to do. But instead of actually going into museums and pulling out artwork, he wants to bring them back digitally.
“This is the first digital repatriation of stolen artwork,” said Chedi, 34, a Nigerian designer and founder of Looty, who declined to give his last name because, he says, he wants people to focus on his project rather than his person.
“I had this idea: Why not take physical artwork into the digital world?”
The idea for Looty came to him after increasing conversations about non-fungible tokens (‘non-fungible tokens’ (NFT), a certificate of authenticity of digital file ownership.
Although the legal rights transferred by NFTs may be uncertain, they are growing in popularity.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold for $3 million, and another NFT tweet for the arrest warrant of Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid icon, sold for $130,000 at auction.
At the same time, there is a growing agitation for the return of artworks looted from Africa by European colonizers.
“We were talking about the source and ownership of the coins. What if I could take them back and convert them into NFTs?” Chedi said.
The process of repatriating artworks begins with searching for potential works by Looty, then visiting museums to scan them using special mobile apps.
The images are then uploaded to the laptops and the complex 3D conversion process using special applications and techniques begins.
“To be honest, it’s as if we are re-carving the artwork again,” Chedi said. “The play could take a whole week to complete, and maybe even longer.”
Benin Bronze Digital Construction
Looty will be officially launched on May 13, but went live in November 2021.
If Chedi is the founder, he is working with other Nigerians and Somalis.
Each team member specializes in 3D design, NFT technology or editing, but they have all visited museums in the UK and France to take pictures of the artwork with their mobile phones.
So far they have managed to create about 25 different objects, including some of the famous Benin bronzes that adorned the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in what is now Nigeria, and they intend to create more.
About looted African artwork :
Sheedy says he understands that the word “Looty” is associated with “looting,” a violent act, but notes that the name he chose for the project has a deeper meaning.
In 1860, a British soldier, Captain John Hart Dunn, returned to England from Beijing with an unusual dog he had presented to Queen Victoria for her “royal group of dogs”.
It is said that the famous dog, named Lottie in reference to his origins, was sometimes a model for paintings and drawings by famous artists, after the British looted a royal palace in Beijing.
Lottie was one of the first to become known as Pekingese dogs in the UK, and he lived at Windsor Castle until his death in 1872.
In 2018, rumors spread in the media about the Chinese government’s involvement in a wave of art thefts targeting Chinese art and antiquities in the West.
The Chinese government denied the allegations, even after one of the stolen artworks appeared on display at Shanghai airport.
“Before British art plundered in Africa, they had already made a fortune from the pieces they stole from China. By choosing the name ‘Lotty,’ I refer to this, but also to the dog that was given to Queen Victoria,” Chedi said.
“Although we call ourselves Looty, we do it in a nonviolent way and also in a legal way.”
Chedi’s vision for Looty is twofold. The first is repatriation, which involves recovering stolen artworks and linking them to local museums in Africa, art organizations and Africans in general, whom he described as the “original owners of these pieces”.
The second axis is compensation, which aims to help artists across Africa, who he says have also had opportunities for inspiration plundered by British thieves.
“If you live in Benin, for example, and you want to be inspired by the artworks of your ethnic group, you must first apply for a visa, then buy a plane ticket, fly to England and book hotels. Then you will go to see the artwork. There is no Lots of people who will be able to do that,” Chedi said.
Chedi hopes that seeing artworks in Looty will not only inspire African artists back home, but that selling artworks to local artists will also provide funds to develop their art.
NFTs for artwork on the website can only be purchased with cryptocurrency.
“The token is basically a digital contract. When you buy a work of art on Looty, 20% of it will be donated to the Looty Fund. From this fund, we will start giving grants to artists from the mainland. We will give money and equipment to artists.”
While Chedi hopes that all this activity will eventually lead to the return of every piece of art looted by colonizers in Africa, he continues to dream of an alternative.
“I want to build our own model where these pieces will live and can live,” he said.
TheLetters of African writers: