By Nii B. Andrews.
Even though an online petition garnered over 3 300 signatures demanding that Christie’s should desist from auctioning 2 sacred Igbo statues (called alusi figures), the sale took place Monday afternoon – yesterday, in Paris.
Despite the robust and solidly evidenced critiques from scholars and Nigeria’s National Commision for Museums and Monuments, Christie’s insisted through an unnamed company representative that, “These objects are being lawfully sold having been publicly exhibited and previously sold over the last decades prior to Christie’s involvement”.
The renowned Nigerian scholar and art historian Chike Okeke-Agulu, in a written statement to Artnet News was appropriately scathing in his remarks:
“Christie’s is in the business of making money, and I understand that. But as they did with the alusi figures from Nigeria, they would fudge the provenance of of the sculptures in their bid to claim they were legally acquired from their original owners”.
He added, “Their claim that the alusi figures came from a place that was not at war, when their own information says that Jacques Kerchache acquired these objects in 1968-69 during the Biafran War of 1967-70 shows how arrogant, and perhaps willfully ignorant, they are of Nigeria’s history.”
The pair of sculptures which constituted one lot, had a presale estimate of USD 283-396K. The lot sold for USD 239K including fees.
Okeke-Agulu summed it up thus, “The art market buys and sells this material, but they do not respect or reckon with the societies they were taken from. Christie’s sale of the alusi figures today makes that abundantly clear.”
It will be very interesting and instructive to see what happens next; how the matter unfolds, if really All Art Matters.