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VI. British Punitive Expedition 1897

Print
1984 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

In 1897, following a series of frustrated attempts to end a monopoly on palm oil and various other commodities held by the Oba (king) of Benin, the British led a punitive raid on Benin City. Justification for this brutal event was sought, in the British press, by depicting the Oba and his people as ‘savages’ who practised human sacrifice. However, the elaborately carved ivories and cast brass plaques and sculpture seized from the royal court, and dispersed to British museum collections, were evidence of a sophisticated and technologically-advanced society.

This unsavoury aspect of British history was reflected on by artist Tony Phillips in a 1984 series of etchings, History of the Benin Bronzes. In the series, Phillips adopts the unusual technique of reusing a printing plate to create a second image, with elements of the first image still visible. Thus, in this image, the sixth in the suite of twelve plates, the Odudua dancers of the preceding scene now face the bayonets of the British. This layering technique mirrors the way in which history builds up in the layers, thus, for the Benin bronzes, reflects their inescapability from their original context and the means by which they were removed from it.
interact Tony Phillips on the History of the Benin Bronzes I-XII Artist Tony Phillips was born in Liverpool in 1952. His work often takes the form of a series, exploring his subjects with multiple, interlinked images. In 1984 he created a group of prints that considers the history of the 'Benin Bronzes', and their forcible removal from Benin City by the...
object details
Category
Object Type
Additional TitleHistory of the Benin Bronzes (series title)
Materials and Techniques
Etching, printed in black
Brief Description
'British Punitive Expedition 1897', etching from the series 'History of the Benin Bronzes', Tony Phillips, 1984
Physical Description
Etching depicting the Odudua dancers of the preceding scene now facing the bayonets of the British.
Dimensions
  • Height: 21.4cm
  • Width: 26.8cm
Measurements:21.4 x 26.8 cm.
Copy Number
Plate VI of XII
Subjects depicted
Summary
In 1897, following a series of frustrated attempts to end a monopoly on palm oil and various other commodities held by the Oba (king) of Benin, the British led a punitive raid on Benin City. Justification for this brutal event was sought, in the British press, by depicting the Oba and his people as ‘savages’ who practised human sacrifice. However, the elaborately carved ivories and cast brass plaques and sculpture seized from the royal court, and dispersed to British museum collections, were evidence of a sophisticated and technologically-advanced society.



This unsavoury aspect of British history was reflected on by artist Tony Phillips in a 1984 series of etchings, History of the Benin Bronzes. In the series, Phillips adopts the unusual technique of reusing a printing plate to create a second image, with elements of the first image still visible. Thus, in this image, the sixth in the suite of twelve plates, the Odudua dancers of the preceding scene now face the bayonets of the British. This layering technique mirrors the way in which history builds up in the layers, thus, for the Benin bronzes, reflects their inescapability from their original context and the means by which they were removed from it.
Associated Objects
Collection
Accession Number
E.53-1987

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record createdJuly 27, 2000
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