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The company insists that the sale of the statues is legal despite questions over the history of their acquisition.
The British auction company, Christie’s, sold two life-sized wooden statues with Nigerian roots for N85.6 million ($238,000) in an online auction on Monday, June 29, 2020.
The statues, labelled “A Couple of Igbo Figures Attributed to The Akwa Master”, were sold to an online bidder on Monday despite the controversy surrounding how the company gained possession of them.
A Professor of African and American Diaspora Art, Chika Okeke-Agulu, had launched a spirited campaign over the past few weeks to stop the sale of the statues.
He had argued that the statues were two out of dozens of local artifacts stolen from the southeast region where they were made while the Igbo natives of the region were locked in a deadly civil war with the Nigerian government between 1967 and 1970.
“These artworks are stained with the blood of Biafra’s children,” Okeke-Agulu wrote in an Instagram post on June 6.
However, Christie’s said it doesn’t believe the statues were acquired illegally by Jacques Kerchache, the French collector that owned them.
Nigeria had already passed the Antiquities Ordinance law in 1953 to prohibit the trade of stolen cultural artifacts, years before the statues, and others like them were believed to have been transported out of the country.
There have been concerted efforts over the years to have African artifacts transported abroad via colonial exploitation or illegal looting returned to the continent, but success has been rare.