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British Museum closes gallery in response to protesters

BP or not BP accuses the institution of ‘attempting to reduce the impact of critical voices challenging its controversial refusal to return contested African artefacts’

THE British Museum has faced criticism after it closed a gallery housing the Benin Bronzes in response to a protest tour urging the institution to return the colonially looted artifacts.

Unofficial tour guides descended on the museum on Saturday to call for the repatriation of objects acquired through colonialism, including the controversial collection of 15th-century Nigerian artifacts plundered by the British empire. 

However when speakers arrived at the African Gallery where the Benin Bronzes are displayed, they found the space had been closed, preventing Nigerian and Caribbean campaigners from speaking there. 

One of the tour guides, Zita Holbourne, described the move as shocking. 

“The irony of people from the African diaspora coming here to speak about our history and how that’s impacted us, to the current day being denied access to those galleries that actually house the artefacts taken from our ancestors, is pretty shocking,” said Ms Holbourne, who is also the joint national chair of Artists’ Union England. 

Organisers disputed the museum’s claims that it closed the gallery due to concerns over visitor numbers, arguing that it had full control over the numbers arriving because entry requires pre-booked tickets. 

Instead they claimed museum management was “attempting to reduce the impact of critical voices challenging its controversial refusal to return contested African artefacts.”

Organised by campaign group BP or not BP, the tour also called for the museum to end its long-standing sponsorship deal with the oil giant. 

The event, which included talks and films from Nigerian, Iranian, Greek and Caribbean campaigners, went ahead as planned despite the gallery’s closure, with 350 people joining a live stream of the tour online. 

The British Museum was approached for comment. 

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