Photo Credit: Adjaye & Adjaye Associates, Edo Museum of West Africa Arts View of main entrance and courtyard garden.

EMOWAA

The Edo Museum of West Africa Art (EMOWAA) 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 most comprehensive in-gathering and display in the world of the now-scattered court sculptures of the Kingdom of Benin.

Adjaye Associates has been appointed to undertake the initial concept and urban planning work on EMOWAA 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. Excavations may reveal evidence of historic buildings that may be retained in their original position and become part of the visitor experience.

Located in the heart of the thousand-year-old Benin City, EMOWAA will be a complex of multiple buildings and outdoor spaces inspired by historical typologies. A courtyard in the form of a public garden will feature indigenous flora and provide a welcoming green environment for gatherings, ceremonies and events.

The galleries, which float above the garden, are articulated by a series of elevated volumes – an inversion of the courtyard typology – that take their forms from reconstructed archaeological features of Benin City, making it possible for the museum’s objects to be arranged in their pre-colonial context and offering visitors an understanding of the significance of these artefacts within historic traditions, political economy and rituals. EMOWAA will allow visitors not just the possibility of ’looking in’ at the collection but also of ’looking out’ into the landscape to imagine the borders of a restored ancient kingdom.

Phase One

Generic placeholder image Photo Credit: Adjaye & Adjaye Associates, Edo Museum of West Africa Arts 7 Gates and Portals.

Archaeology Project

LRT is working with a range of Nigerian researchers and academic institutions, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Adjaye Associates, and international partners to carry out the most comprehensive archaeological programme ever undertaken in Benin City.

The project, which began in 2021, involves surveys of the Museum site and the wider surroundings to understand the buried archaeological features of Benin City and target further excavations.

In tandem with the archaeological project is an initiative to restore earthworks and historic monuments and develop a linear park that will enable visitors to experience aspects of the ancient city. Providing employment and training opportunities for young people in Nigeria, the archaeological project will inform curatorial narratives and future displays at EMOWAA.

Generic placeholder image Photo Credit: Adjaye & Adjaye Associates, Edo Museum of West Africa Arts Reconstructed Royal Spire Pavilion.

The Pavilion

To fast-track development of EMOWAA, accommodating the accelerating international movement to return looted cultural heritage to Nigeria, LRT is developing The Pavilion, a building constructed on a scale and budget that will permit it to open before the entire Museum complex is complete.

The Pavilion will provide state-of-the-art facilities for functions including conservation, study, exhibition, and public programming, as historic artworks begin to be restituted.

Initial designs by Sir David Adjaye envision a one-story building with approximately 38,000 square feet of interior space, incorporating features such as an exhibition gallery with views into the collection study area, an auditorium with seating for 180 persons, conference rooms, conservation laboratories, and a library. The landscaped grounds outside will include a sunken amphitheater, providing both an informal public gathering place and a Museum facility for outdoor programs.

Groundbreaking for The Pavilion is expected by late 2021, with construction to be finished by the end of 2022.

Generic placeholder image Photo Credit: Object from Benin City dated back 1897, housed in the British Museum, UK

Digital Benin

The Digital Benin project is an initiative to create a digital catalogue of Benin works held around the world. It is being developed by institutions including the Museum am Rothenbaum—World Cultures and Arts (MARKK) in Hamburg and other European museums with important Benin artifacts, in close cooperation with the Benin Dialogue Group.

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 have discussed the project’s development and challenges, and as a first step the partner institutions of the Benin Dialogue Group will provide data on their Benin holdings. This information on an estimated 2000 objects will provide a solid foundation for the further expansion of the platform by integrating additional data from other collections.