A world-famous British artist’s replica of one of the oldest Africa’s bronze artworks has been attacked for “cultural appropriation” and decried as “another form of colonization.”
Damien Hirst’s much-hyped new exhibition opened in Venice last month showing artwork imagined as discovered remains from a made-up shipwreck found off the coast of East Africa in 2008, Quartz reported.
One of the artist’s works has caused a particular controversy. A golden sculpted head named “Golden heads (Female)” is said to resemble Ori Olukun, a 14th century bronzehead from Ife, an ancient Yoruba kingdom.
Hirst acknowledged his source of inspiration, writing in his notes that the artwork is “stylistically similar to the celebrated works from the Kingdom of Ife.”
The British are back for more from 1897 to 2017. The Oni of Ife must hear this. "Golden heads (Female)" by Damien Hirst currently part of his Venice show "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" at Palazzo Grassi. For the thousands of viewers seeing this for the first time, they won't think Ife, they won't think Nigeria. Their young ones will grow up to know this work as Damien Hirst's. As time passes it will pass for a Damien Hirst regardless of his small print caption. The narrative will shift and the young Ife or Nigerian contemporary artist will someday be told by a long nose critic "Your work reminds me of Damien Hirst's Golden Head". We need more biographers for our forgotten. #ifesculptures #classicnigerianart #workbynigerianartist #ifenigeria #lestweforget #nigeria #abiographyoftheforgotten
New York-Based Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo, however, disagreed with the artist’s credit to the ancient kingdom, saying: “There was nothing stylistically similar to Hirst’s “Golden Heads,” they are carbon copies of the original.”
“This is not his narrative, not his art and yet he’s profiting off this,” noting that Hirst’s artwork could get him as much as $5 million.
Senbanjo went on to claim the original African artwork “is about the Goddess of Wealth and keeper of the Ocean floor,” adding that “As this entire exhibition is titled, ‘Treasures of the Unbelievable’ where they literally sunk each piece and then resurrected it off the ocean floor, the lack of acknowledging the significance of the meaning of her name, ‘Keeper of the Ocean Floor’ is interesting to me.”
The “extremely watered down version” of the original artwork’s meaning, he told Quartz, is “beyond infuriating.”
He also added that appropriating art without sufficient reference is “another form of colonization.”
“This is erasing our past, claiming what is not theirs and another form of colonization,” he said.
Another Nigerian artist who’s also has an exhibition in Venice, Victor Ehikhamenor, said the greater problem of artists recreating Nigerian art, as Hirst has done, is that the original art is losing ownership.
“People will think he [Hirst] is the original creator of such an important artwork. He has a bigger PR machine and probably a wider reach, and the narrative can quickly change in his favor,” he told HuffingtonPost.
“This was an outright copy with very minimal alterations. Don’t copy it outrightly and fictionalize what is a well-known fact. It borders on the line of broad daylight robbery,” Ehikhamenor said.