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Event Dates

Wednesday, February 22, 2023 4:30pm to 6:30pm

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Room 12 View map

1 Divinity Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

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The Kingdom of Benin, a highly centralized state founded in the 13th or 14th century in southwestern Nigeria, dominated trade with Europeans on the Nigerian coast from the late 1400s until the end of the 1900s. Ruled by a divine king, or oba, the Benin Kingdom relied on specialized guilds to create the elaborate court regalia that adorned the palace of the oba. Bronze plaques, ivory statuettes, and delicate coral-beaded items were used to establish status and validate the oba’s power. In 1897, a British expeditionary force invaded Benin, plundered the palace, and burned it to the ground. Items linked to this expedition were then sent to museums around the world, including both the Harvard Art Museums and Harvard’s Peabody Museum.

During this event, 18 first year students will be invited to join Sarah Clunis, the curator of African collections at the Peabody Museum, in a discussion about the sacred objects from Benin currently in the care of Harvard and discuss the way that these objects represent an iconographic and contextual story of trade, contact, and crossroads between cultures. There will be a selected collection viewing where students can choose an object that stands out to them and journal about their thoughts, feelings, and reactions to it. Then, students will have an opportunity to create a linked poem with others to capture their collective feelings over a Nigerian dinner. 

Only 18 students can participate. Students must RSVP here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C0E4BACA728A7FCC07-benin

About the Facilitator

Sarah Clunis is originally from Kingston, Jamaica and received her PhD in art history in 2006 from the University of Iowa. She is director of academic partnerships and curator of African Collections at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology. Prior to this role, she was director of the Xavier University Art Gallery, where she supervised the Art Collection team, and was also assistant professor of art history. Dr. Clunis has taught art history for over twenty years at public universities and historically Black colleges and universities. Her research and classes have focused on the history of African art and the display of African objects in Western museum settings. She also studies the influence of African aesthetics and philosophy on the arts and religious rituals and cultural identities of the African diaspora. Her work examines gender, race, and migration in multiple contexts. She has published in both national and international magazines and journals.

Event Details