40 Edo Museum of West African Art
For creating a space to welcome home long-dispersed artifacts
Ghanaian-British starchitect David Adjaye has a vision for the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, Nigeria. He wants to immerse visitors in objects, while "undoing... the objectification” of African art from the Western perspective. But before even the first brick is laid for the three-story structure, the project site and other parts of the city will be excavated, a US$4 million undertaking slated to begin this year.
The building will sit atop the ruins of the capital of the Kingdom of Benin, which the British sacked in 1897. Archaeologists, working with the British Museum, will unearth parts of the fallen city, and the artifacts they uncover will be housed nearly in situ at the museum.
The team also aims to reclaim thousands of artifacts, including brass plaques depicting the kingdom’s powerful history. Known as the Benin Bronzes, the pieces are currently scattered in museums around the world—spoils of colonial plundering. France and Germany have vowed to return those in its possession, while the British Museum, which houses the world's largest collection, might lend its 900 bronzes for exhibition.
With support from project partner Legacy Restoration Trust, the new structure will be modeled after traditional Benin architecture and incorporate pieces of historic compounds, including restored walls, moats and gates of the former capital. A public garden will be shaded by indigenous trees, and there will be an educational space and a gallery dedicated to contemporary West African art.
By integrating archaeology into the project design, the museum underscores how the past informs the present—and offers visitors an opportunity to truly appreciate the culture of Benin City.