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.
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.
LRT will work with a range of Nigerian researchers and academic institutions, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the British Museum, Adjaye Associates and other institutions to carry out a comprehensive archaeological programme in Benin City. The Legacy Restoration Trust in partnership with the British Museum has secured $4 million in funding to enable this archaeological programme, including a major grant made by an anonymous donor.
The archaeology project will commence in 2021 and will be completed to enable the timely construction of the museum. Initial work will involve surveys of the museum site and the wider surroundings (including LIDAR and geophysical surveys) to understand more fully the buried archaeological remains and to help target excavations. A range of workshops, talks and other events will be delivered throughout the project. Digital content and outputs will be developed from the beginning, presented both through project and partner websites and social media. A central focus of the archaeological project will be essential work on the proposed site of EMOWAA to preserve and record historical remains buried beneath the ground in advance of construction. Working closely with and alongside the archaeological project will be a historic restoration initiative that involves highlighting and showcasing historical aspects of the city through the restoration of earthworks and historic monuments, and a pedestrianisation and linear park that allows visitors to experience the history of the ancient city.
The archaeological and historical restoration projects will be delivered with the co-operation of the local communities and in coordination with the Edo State government, Adjaye Associates and local urban planning firms. It is envisaged that this project will provide employment and training opportunities for the youth in Nigeria. It will also provide new information and collections that will inform curatorial narratives and future displays at the new institution. This work can lay the foundation to enable Benin City to become a major visitor attraction in Nigeria.
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.