With the cooperation of the Benin Royal Court, Edo State Government and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the Legacy Restoration Trust is developing the Edo Museum of West Africa Art (EMOWAA), which will collect, preserve, study and exhibit West African artworks and artefacts, past and present, while serving as a centre for scholarship, education, and contemporary creative activity. The crown jewel of EMOWAA will be the ‘Royal Collection’: the most comprehensive in-gathering and display in the world of the now-scattered court sculptures of the Kingdom of Benin.
Decoupling from the Western museum model, EMOWAA will perform as a reteaching tool: a place for recalling lost collective memories to instill an understanding of the magnitude and importance of these civilizations and cultures.
— Sir David Adjaye OBE
Located adjacent to the Oba’s Palace, the EMOWAA complex draws inspiration from historical architectural typologies. It establishes a courtyard in the form of a public garden, featuring a variety of indigenous flora and a canopy that offers shade – a welcoming green environment suitable for gatherings, ceremonies and events. The galleries, which float above the gardens, are articulated by a series of elevated volumes – an inversion of the courtyard typology – within each of which sits a pavilion that takes its form from fragments of the reconstructed historic compounds. These fragments make it possible for the museum’s objects to be arranged in their pre-colonial context and offer visitors an understanding of the significance of these artefacts within the traditions, political economy and rituals enshrined within the culture of Benin City. EMOWAA will contain the rich, regal and sacred objects of Benin’s past in a way that allows visitors not just the possibility of ’looking in’ but also of ’looking out’ into the landscape to imagine the historic borders of a restored ancient kingdom.
Adjaye Associates, led by Sir David Adjaye, has been appointed to undertake the initial concept and urban planning work on the museum and to assist in assembling a team of professionals in Nigeria. The architectural vision is to use archaeology as a means of connecting the new museum with the surrounding landscape by revitalizing and incorporating the surviving remains of the walls, moats and gates of the historic Benin City, seen throughout the modern city today. The museum project also recognises the huge importance of the archaeological remains still preserved below ground. The digging of the museum’s foundations will require careful excavations to prepare the site for the museum buildings. The excavation of the site may reveal evidence of historic buildings which may be retained in their original position and become part of the visitor experience of the new museum.
The Digital Benin project is an initiative designed to provide a digital catalogue of Benin works held around the world. It is being developed by a number of institutions, including the Museum am Rothenbaum, (Markk, Hamburg) in close cooperation with the Benin Dialogue Group: the Royal Court of Benin, the Edo State Government and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, as well as other European museums with important Benin artifacts.
LRT is providing coordination to support local research and infrastructural requirements of the project. A group of 18 international experts from Nigeria, the UK, the US, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Germany discussed the project’s development and challenges at the Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg. As a first step, the partner institutions of the Benin Dialogue Group will provide data on their Benin holdings. This material of an estimated 2000 objects will provide a solid foundation for the further expansion of the platform by integrating additional data from other collections.