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The Art of Benin Essay


The history of Art of Benin can be traced from 19th when British settlers started to ship Benin Art to Britain. Though the Benin Art were displayed in Benin earlier from 15th Century when British started to arrive in Benin. According to Freedberg and Jane (2012,p.15), the Benin became powerful and started to control all trade routes in West Africa and this led to the transportation of most Arts which were seized from the Kingdom of Benin to Britain. However, in 1897, the Art which were seized from the Benin were displayed in British Museum and it attracted quite several people. Some of the Art which were displayed are the image of Oba appearing on several plagues, Oba with Europeans, Edo people during the 16th century AD, Oba holding leopards and wearing a mud fish belt, commemorative head of Queen Mother and the Bronze figure of a huntsman. These Arts are significant to the history of Art of Benin and the way they are placed in the Museum is also significant as well.

Most importantly, every Art displayed indicates a significant aspect of art. The way images are dressed and placed also mean something importance to the history of Benin and Art in general. And therefore, the Oba’s images displayed at the British Museum wearing coral beads translates that Oba was the King of Benin. As stated by Oma-Piu (2017, p. 10) the coral beads regalia are very rare and expensive and therefore, it is best symbol for the King. It is also because the future of the Benin City and its long distance trade depends on the power of the King. The plagues which feature in several arts at the gallery can be traced from the long distance trade (Oma-Piu, 2017, p. 5). Plagues are symbolically known for the decoration of the King’s palace, and therefore, plagues were to design and glorify the prestige of the King. This is the reason several arts are in plagues.

There are also Arts such as bracelet (Brass manila), brass figure of Portuguese and plague of European. These Arts are significant to the Benin history because they were given to Portuguese traders during the early days as an exchange of gold since Benin did not have any Gold. However, each of the Art encountered at specific time in the history of Benin and each Art was designed at a specific time to indicate specific things which were happening in the society at that time. For instance, the image of Oba, holding a leopard which features in the British Museum can means that Oba is the King. It means that it he was the King of the jungle and deserves respect from his subjects. The leopard is respected in the jungle and it is also the king in jungle and therefore, the image and context of the image reflect what expected from the people (Briebe, Marcos, Helmut, & Raphael, 2014, p. 25).

It is also noted that Art is translated based on the context and image which make a viewer imagines of things which can relate to a specific art in order to understand an art. Research has established that the artwork reflect how an art should be understood and this can be done through the analysis of the texture, shape of an image, time of history and also the background of an art (Briebe, Marcos, Helmut, & Raphael, 2014). For instance, the image of Oba carrying a leopard requires an understanding of the nature and the history of Benin for an individual to understand what it means. The context of an art provide understanding of an art and therefore, when translating an art, context, shape, background and historical aspect of an art must be looked at for complete understanding of what an art means. Nevertheless, the emotions which are involved in the art context also shape how people understand an art. According to Freedberg and Jane (2012, p. 35), art usually attract attention and people tend to relate certain art with specific things which had happened in the society and therefore, the connection and emotions shape the way we translate and understand art. This is also based on the history of a specific art which make people relate or connect to it.

However, the discipline of Art can contribute to the understanding of Artwork through examination of history of each art. It is argued that art history is dynamic and it can be traced from ancient time and therefore, the art history contributes to the understanding of artwork through the provision of certain things which used to happening in the society during a particular time in history. The history of art describes chronological events of certain art. It provides an overview of what happened during certain time in history which makes it possible for viewers to understand an Art. For example, the Art featuring an image of Oba holding a leopard could only be understood after learning the history of Benin and the traditional kingship leadership (Freedberg & Jane, 2012, p. 30). Every art can be traced and relate to certain events in the history and even all the arts which features at the British Museum exhibition can be traced to Benin and relate to specific time and their importance can also be traced as well. And therefore, art history makes a significant contribution in understanding the art and the contribution of art to the society.


Briebe, D., Marcos, N., Helmut, L., & Raphael, R. 2014. Art in Time and Space: Context

Modulates the Relation between Art Experience and Viewing Time. , 1-35.

Freedberg, D., & Jane, D. V. 2012. Art History and History in Art. A Series of the Getty Center

Publication Programs , 1-45.

Oma-Piu, A. 2017. Thoughts on the Sainsbury African Galleries: a Black History Month

special. The British Museum , 2-15.



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