That text cites
Leo Frobenius, noting that “extraordinarily, it is only a little over a century” since the German anthropologist, “so surprised by the discovery of the Ife Heads…deduced that the lost island of Atlantis had sunk off the Nigerian coast, enabling descendants of the Greek survivors to make the skilfully executed works.” Even including the factually false theory is itself a point of controversy, given it is the product of Frobenius’s racist belief that the Ife head’s skilled craftsmanship could only be the work of Europeans, not the Yoruba.
Though eliciting an angry response on social media, the work is unlikely to attract legal action. Any copyright afforded to the Yoruba piece itself has long terminated. In some jurisdictions, including the exhibition’s home of Italy, moral rights exist in perpetuity, safeguarding the ability of heirs or descendants of an artwork’s creator to claim authorship and oppose mutilation of the work. These rights are, however, narrowly construed, and there is no known author of the Ife head, let alone descendant. So while in the past Hirst has settled copyright infringement claims, a battle along similar lines over the Yoruba sculpture would be near impossible.
But even without recourse in the courts, Senbanjo says the collective outrage over the sculpture should still carry weight. “[Hirst] should respect that,” he said.