“Taking as his starting point the British Punitive Expedition of 1897 (a military excursion by British forces in which the British invaded, burned and ransacked the ancient West African Kingdom of Benin), Orlow’s installation is, amongst other things, a meditation on the contingent relationship between the past and the present and between different geographical and cultural spaces that remain inextricably linked, tied together by the metal cast artefacts that have erroneously become known as the Benin Bronzes and which are now distributed across more than 500 museums and collections across the world.
Orlow’s suite of works are […] connected to each other by the artist’s journey: his physical journey from England to Nigeria; but also his artistic journey from the present to the past and back. Travelling through the installation of artworks, the viewer moves between disparate historical moments and physical locations mapped out by the different constituent parts of Orlow’s Benin Project, mirroring the journeys undertaken by the artist and the Benin Bronzes across geographical space and historical time.
In 1897, following the destruction of Benin and the enforced exile of its ruler Oba Ovonramwen, the British Admiralty seized and auctioned off looted artworks to defray the costs of the Expedition which ended up in private and public collections in Europe and North America where most remain to this day. […]
The Benin Project charts these complex relationships which are mediated by the artefacts themselves, their journeys, their seizure and their subsequent appropriation as cultural artefacts to which attributes of authenticity, financial value, ownership and aesthetic quality have rapidly become attached. […]