In November 1927, Kenneth Crosthwaite Murray (1902-1972) left his family home in West Sussex, England, to develop the art program in the British colony of Nigeria. As he traveled the country, Murray saw the cultural practices and craft production of Nigerian visual material under threat and decided to collect these pieces in order to preserve, understand, and, perhaps, console during a period of great change. Murray and a few of his colleagues, including Edward H. Duckworth, Bernard E.B. Fagg, and Ekpo Eyo and the antiquities department that they founded, built seven museums before independence, established export policies, began calling for the return of cultural heritage, and developed excavation protocol. This book captures the life and legacy of Murray, whose efforts helped foster an understanding of Nigerian art and culture, and explores the tension that arose among the colonial government, officers, and Nigerians who sought to build these cultural institutions during the twilight years of the British Empire and the transition to a newly independent Nigeria.
Amanda H. Hellman is director of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery.
List of Figures
Chapter 1: K.C. Murray and E.H. Duckworth Find Their Blue Ocean
Chapter 2: A Case for a Nigerian Antiquities Department
Chapter 3: Never Enough Surveys
Chapter 4: The Guiding Mission of the Antiquities Department
Chapter 5: Building National Museums
Chapter 6: Building Regional Museums
Chapter 7: The Independence Decade
About the Author
Kenneth C. Murray was both of and ahead of his time, as a colonial civil servant who was a champion of Nigeria’s cultural heritage and emerging national identity. Amanda Hellman’s book on his paradoxical legacy and the history of Nigerian museums is more relevant and important than ever. Anyone seeking to understand the complex politics of restitution, museums, and cultural heritage in Nigeria today should read this deeply researched book on the extraordinary legacy of Kenneth Murray, Bernard Fagg, and Ekpo Eyo.
Through the careful analysis of the personal correspondence of Kenneth C. Murray as well as other colonial actors, Hellman masterfully excavates the origins of one of Africa’s leading cultural institutions. Her nuanced study of the National Museums of Nigeria reveals a difficult history shaped by the passions of an individual and the values of the British colonial society in which he lived. At this moment of heightened discourse concerning decolonization and the restitution of heritage objects, The Making of Museums in Nigeria is an essential contribution to the fields of critical museum and heritage studies.
Despite a burgeoning interest in the museum as an institution, close readings of individual histories are at present scant. Hellman’s text fills this gap, offering a carefully researched account of 20th century colonial-era national and regional museum formation in Nigeria. Hellman’s tracing of Nigerian museum foundations is consequential for a global understanding of Nigerian art, the current discourse of repatriation, and the role of museums in Nigerian identity formation in the 21st century.