Nigerians Express Outrage as British Artist, Damien Hirst, Copies Ife Sculpture Without Giving Credit

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British artist, entrepreneur and art collector, Damien Hirst, has incurred the wrath of Nigerians for copying the bust of a well-known Ife terracotta head sculpted by artists from Ile-Ife in present day Osun State between the 12th and 14th century, without giving attribution to the original work.

Hirst’s work titled, “Golden Heads (Female)”, was displayed at his Venice show “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” at Palazzo Grassi is an exact replica of Ife sculpture, with no reference to Ife or Nigeria.

Victor Ehikhamenor, one of the artists representing Nigeria in Venice Biennial and presenting the Biography of the Forgotten, a large-scale work fusing abstract shapes with traditional sculpture, informed by an investment in classical Benin art and the effect of colonialism on cultural heritage, made this known on his Instagram page on Tuesday.

Ehikhamenor captioned the post: “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.”

Ehikhamenor also posted a photo of the Hirst’s postcard of Golden heads, saying: “This postcard of ‘Golden heads (Female)’ by Damien Hirst with no reference to Ife and great artists that originally made these timeless classic will travel far and wide. Once again the hunter has glorified his tale in the absence of the lion.”

According to online news site Pulse.ng, Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable exhibition, a result of extensive work carried out by the artist in the last decade, has done nothing but invoke anger among Nigerians, who upon seeing Ehikhaemenor’s post on the internet didn’t take the news too well and have vented their anger as seen in their various comments on Instagram.

Some Nigerians went on to blame the government for this kind of calamity. Others played their part by spreading the news far and wide across the country and also tagging media houses. Others considered it disheartening and unfair, adding that what Hirst has done would not have been condoned if a Nigerian had copied another artist’s work and tried to display and eventually sell it off as an original.

As a mark of protest, THISDAY has published the original Ife terracotta sculpture side-by-side the copy made by Hirst for the world to see.