Minne Atairu

Benin’s art history recontextualized through oral traditions and quotidian rituals

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About this commission

With her installation To the Hand, Minne Atairu continues a conversation about the return of art and cultural objects stolen during the European colonization of Africa. In 1897, the British Empire launched a military invasion of the West African kingdom of Benin (present-day Edo state in Nigeria) with the intention of establishing colonial control over the region and exploiting its abundant natural resources, particularly the lucrative palm industry. The invasion culminated in the pillage of approximately 4,000 exquisitely crafted ivory objects, metal casts in-the-round and relief, coral beaded jewelry, wood carvings, terracotta sculptures and a range of artifacts that were commissioned by the Benin royal court. Following this mass pillage, the artifacts were exported to England where they were auctioned off to defray the cost of the colonial invasion. These Benin Bronzes, as the objects are known, made their way into institutions and private collections in Europe and the United States. Today, 160 museums worldwide have at least one Benin Bronze in their collection, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum in New York City.

Atairu’s installation, which includes a 3-D-printed sculpture inspired by the Benin Bronzes, reframes their art historical story—dominated by heteropatriarchal and monarchical perspectives—with oral traditions and rituals of daily life from her ancestral homeland Benin, Nigeria. The work continues the artist’s investigation in a previous project, Igùn (2020 -), which delves into the 17-year artistic decline in Benin (1897-1914), a period that followed the British colonial invasion.

Get to Know the Artist

A headshot of Minne Atairu. She wears a blue turtle neck shirt and sits against a paler blue background. She wears locs pulled up on the top of her head with one loc falling down over her face. She wears glasses, looks directly at us, and smiles without opening her mouth.
Courtesy Minne Atairu.
Minne Atairu
Minne Atairu
Minne Atairu is an interdisciplinary artist whose research-based practice seeks to reclaim the obscured histories of the Benin Bronzes. Utilizing generative AI and additive fabrication, Atairu reassembles visual, sonic, and textual fragments into conceptua​l​ works that ​engage with repatriation-related questions. Atairu has exhibited and performed at the Harvard Art Museums (2022), Markk Museum (Hamburg, 2021 – ), SOAS Brunei Gallery University of London (2022), Microscope Gallery (New York, 2022), and Fleming Museum of Art (Vermont, 2021). She is the recipient of the 2021 Lumen Prize for Art and Technology (Global Majority Award).

Part of an exhibition

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thank you to our partners

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Additional support for Open Call is provided by Warner Bros. Discovery 150, The Wescustogo Foundation, and Jody and John Arnhold | Arnhold Foundation.

The creation of new work at The Shed is generously supported by the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Commissioning Fund and the Shed Commissioners.