British Artist Copies Ancient Nigerian Artwork Without Giving Credit?

Mark Babatunde May 15, 2017
A side-by-side of the original Ife terracotta sculpture (on the left) versus the copy made by Hirst. Photo Credit: This Day

Outrage has accompanied the recent works of British artist Damien Hirst for copying ancient Nigerian artwork without giving credit.

Hirst’s work, entitled “Golden Heads (Female),” which was part of his recent “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibition held at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, Italy, appears to be an exact replica of the famous Ife sculpture, but with no reference whatsoever to Ife or Nigeria.

The well-known terracotta head was originally created by artists from the ancient Ile-Ife kingdom of southwest Nigeria between the 12th and 14th century.

Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor, who was also at the Venice art show, was quick to notice the similarity and promptly sounded an alarm.

Victor Ehikhamenor

Victor Ehikhamenor standing next to his work. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Ehikhamenor, the contemporary artist who was in Venice to present an exhibition entitled “Biography of the Forgotten,” took to his Instagram page Tuesday to express his displeasure:

The British are back for more from 1897 to 2017. The Oni of Ife must hear this.

He went on to describe Hirst’s actions as a cultural and artistic appropriation of the worst kind:

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’s post was accompanied by a postcard photo of Hirst’s Golden Heads, where he wrote:

This postcard of ‘Golden Heads (Female)’ by Damien Hirst with no reference to Ife and great artists that originally made these timeless classic will travel far and wide.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.

Quite understandably, Ehikhamenor’s lamentation sparked an outrage on social media with some commenters saying Hirst’s actions evoked memories of the pillaging of priceless ancient Nigerian art and crafts by the British colonial government:

jg_konk wrote:

this is an outrage .. yet it even harkens back to the Picasso masterpiece “Le Demoiselles d’Avignon”

jmichaelwalker1 said:

They are too hungry

And honeyrilla added:

Years ago the Detroit Museum of Art held an exhibit entitled something like “Influence or Imitation.” The show was compiled of original works created by African peoples juxtaposed to works by European artists – Picasso, Klee, Braqué, etc. The similarities were uncanny.

Others slammed Hirst’s barefaced attempt at cultural appropriation and likened it to the criminal act of intellectual property theft:


hope you agree it’s daylight robbery for Damien Hurst [sic] to profit so vastly at all for his blatant appropriation meanwhile African artists (whose names are less renowned) would starve for lack of support. Suggestions welcomed if you have any on how the issue could be addressed to stop the wipe out of our peoples history and accreditation?

Hirst is yet to respond to the allegations that he stole ancient Nigerian art.

Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: May 15, 2017


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