Digital Benin: cataloging a stolen African heritage online

In the late 19th century, British forces raided the African kingdom of Benin, seizing numerous sculptures, known as the Benin Bronzes, with historical and cultural significance to the Edo people. These artifacts, including ceremonial items and statues, were dispersed to private collectors and museums in the Global North, disrupting the connection between the Edo community and their cultural heritage in modern-day Benin City, Nigeria.

Despite persistent calls for information sharing about the Benin Bronzes, several institutions, notably in Germany and the UK, resisted transparency. The launch of Digital Benin in November 2022 by the Museum am Rothenbaum (MARKK) in Hamburg marks a significant change. This pioneering online platform serves as a catalog for over 5,000 Benin Bronzes, facilitating digital restitution by reconnecting the artifacts to their native community. Developed with an initial €1.2 million from the Berlin-based Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, Digital Benin provides Edo-centric knowledge, history, and language, offering traditional Edo names for the objects and their original locations. The platform, designed for mobile accessibility, aims to bridge the gap between the artifacts and the Edo people, many of whom primarily access the internet via mobile devices.