Art Market

Christie’s sold a pair of Igbo sculptures despite claims they were stolen from Nigeria.

Justin Kamp
Jun 30, 2020 4:55PM, via New York Times

Christie’s headquarters in Paris. Photo by Erwmat, via Wikimedia Commons.

Christie’s went through with the sale of two Igbo sculptures that were subject to calls for repatriation. The sculptures, which were presented as part of Christie’s “Arts d’Afrique, d’Océanie et d’Amérique du nord” sale in Paris on Monday, came under scrutiny when Princeton art history professor Chika Okeke-Agulu said in an Instagram post that the works were stolen from Nigeria’s Igbo people during the country’s civil war, which took place during the late 1960s.

Okeke-Agulu, who grew up in Nigeria during the war and now teaches indigenous, modern, and contemporary African and African Diaspora art history, said the statues were taken by French collector Jacques Kerchache while the civil war was ongoing, a move that would be outlawed in the 1970 UNESCO Convention just a few years later. In response to the accusation, Christie’s released a statement that said the sale “falls within our compliance and due diligence process.”

The sale of the sculptures went ahead as scheduled, with the pair selling for €212,500 ($238,400), considerably lower than the pre-sale estimate of €250,000 to €350,000 ($280,400 to $392,600).

In an interview with the New York Times, Okeke-Agulu said of his protest of the sale:

It’s about questioning the persistence of colonial heritage in the art world. If it’s not said as forcibly as possible, then the issue just falls by the wayside. Black Lives Matter has shown that when enough pressure is applied, people are forced to reconsider long-held positions.
Justin Kamp