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Display, restitution and world art history: the case of the ‘Benin Bronzes’

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The article begins by discussing changing modes of display for non-Western visual cultures in Western museums, including Britain. Using the ‘Benin bronzes’ as a case study, the article argues for the existence of three distinct frameworks of display, linked to changing paradigms of art practice (broadly speaking, academic, modernist and postmodern/postcolonial). In the second part, the article moves on to discuss issues surrounding debates over the restitution of works held in Britain and elsewhere to their places of origin, again using the case of the Benin bronzes to focus broader questions. Finally, the discussion moves outwards to consider some of the implications for current debates about a ‘world art history’: arguing that this latter needs not only to guard against the prospect of a quasi-imperial expansion of current liberal notions of ‘art’, but, perforce, must also take account of contemporary practices, themselves critical of both academic and modernist conceptions of ‘art’.

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