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Nigeria’s Looty to Repossess African Art   

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Kuni .G. Isaac

Imagine if Africans could access museums across the Western world, gather all the artwork looted from their homes during the colonial period, and take them back home?

 A youthful Nigerian man is trying to do just that. But rather than physically breaking into galleries and packing down the workshop of art, he wants to repudiate them digitally.

“This is the first digital extradition of stolen artwork,” said 34- year-old Chidi, a Nigerian creative developer and author of Looty, who declined to give his surname because, he said, he wants people to concentrate on his design and not his person.


“I had this idea that Why do not we take back the physical workshop of art into the digital world?”

The idea of Looty first came to him following the growing exchanges around non-fungible commemoratives (NFTs), which claim to give public evidence of the power of digital lines.

 While the legal rights conveyed by NFTs can be uncertain, they’re getting decreasingly popular.

Looty members visit museums in the West to capture images of looted artefacts

 The NFT of the first tweet by Twitter author Jack Dorsey sold for$ 3m (£2.4 m), and another of the arrest warrant for South Africa’s late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela raised$ at a transaction.

 The NFT exchanges are passing at the same time that there’s increased agitation for the return of artwork stolen from Africa by European colonisers.

“We were talking about provenance and power of the pieces. What if I was suitable to take them back and turn them into NFTs?” Chidi said.

 Looty members visit galleries in the West to capture images of pillaged artefacts

 The process of repatriating the artwork starts with probing implicit pieces for Looty, also going to galleries to overlook them using special apps on mobile phones.

 Latterly, the images are downloaded on to laptops and the complicated process of converting them to 3D begins, using special apps and technology.

“To be honest, it’s nearly like we’re-sculpting the artwork again, “Chidi said. “One piece can take like a whole week to finish, perhaps more.”

 Benin Bronzes digitally created

The Looty website will be formally launched on 13 May, but the work began in November 2021.

 While Chidi is the author, he works with two other Nigerians and a Somali.

 Each member of the platoon specialises in 3D design, NFT technology or editing, but they’ve all visited galleries in the UK and France to capture images of the artwork with their mobile phones.

 So far, they’ve managed to produce about 25 different pieces, including some of the notorious Benin Awards that formerly decorated the royal palace of the area of Benin in what’s moment Nigeria, and have their sights set on numerous further

Benin Bronze Head
Looty has taken physical works of art into the digital world – like this one

 Chidi says he’s apprehensive that the word “Looty” is linked to” looting”, which is an act of violence, but points out that there’s a deeper meaning to his choice of name for the design.

 In 1860, a British warrior, Captain John Hart Dunne, returned to England from Peking (now Beijing) with an unusual dog which he presented to Queen Victoria as a gift for her” royal collection of dogs”.

 Named Looty in reference to its origins, the notorious canine that occasionally sat for oils and sketches by acclaimed artists, was reportedly taken after the British sacked a royal palace in Peking.

Looty was one of the first in the UK of what came known as Pekinese tykes, and lived in Windsor Castle until its death in 1872.

 In 2018, rumors were abundant in the media of the Chinese government’s involvement in a surge of art heists that targeted Chinese art and antiquities in the West.

 The Chinese government denied these claims, indeed after one of the stolen artwork re-appeared on display at a field in Shanghai.

“Before the British were looting artefacts in Africa, they had already made a fortune from the things they stole from China. In choosing the name ‘Looty’, I’m referencing that, but also referencing the dog that was given to Queen Victoria, “Chidi said.

” Even though we’re called Looty, we’re doing it in anon-violent way and also a legal way.”

 Looty has taken physical workshop of art into the digital world-like this one

Chidi’s vision for Looty is two-fold. First is repatriation, which reclaims the stolen artwork and links them with local galleries in Africa, trades organisations, and Africans in general whom he describes as “the original owners of these pieces”.

 Alternate is restitution, aimed at helping artists across Africa, whom he believes also had openings for alleviation stolen from them by the British buccaneers.

 Still, first you need to apply for a visa, also buy the ticket for an aero plane, “If you live in perhaps Benin and you want to be inspired by the artwork that comes from your ethnical group. You also go and view the artwork. There aren’t numerous people who are going to be suitable to do that,” Chidi said.

Chidi hopes that viewing the artwork on Looty won’t only inspire African artists at home, but also that the trade of the artwork will make finances available for original artists to advance their craft.

 NFTs of artwork on the website can be bought only with cryptocurrency.

“The token is basically a digital contract. On purchase of any pieces of artwork on Looty, 20 of that will go to the Looty Fund. From that fund, we’re going to start giving grants to artists from the continent. We’ll donate money and equipment for artists to use,” he said.

 While Chidi hopes that all the activism will ultimately lead to the return of every single piece of artwork pillaged from Africa by the colonialists, he continues to conjure of a volition.

“I want to build our own metaverse where these pieces will live and can live,” he said.

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