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The week in art news – Germany and Nigeria sign draft agreement for return of Benin Bronzes

Plus: Atta Kwami (1956–2021) | Biden restores federal protections for Utah desert landmarks | Grafton Architects wins RIBA Stirling Prize | Artist charged with selling Raymond Pettibon forgeries – and New York dealer admits selling fake antiquities

17 October 2021

The governments of Germany and Nigeria have signed a memorandum of understanding for the return of more than 1,000 artefacts looted from the Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria. The memorandum was signed in Abuja by Andreas Görgen, the head of cultural policy at the German Foreign Ministry and by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Nigerian information and culture minister. The agreement also sets out a framework for joint projects in archaeology, education and museum infrastructure and Germany is to contribute to the construction of the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City. It is expected that a full agreement will be ready before the end of this year. The German Press Agency (DPA) quoted Görgen as saying, ‘Far beyond the issue of restitution, we are reshaping cultural relations with Nigeria as we move forward today.’

The Ghanaian artist Atta Kwami has died at the age of 65. The artist, who worked with many media, including painting, prints and sculpture, was born in Kumasi in Ghana; from 2009, he divided his time between Ghana and the UK. Drawing on vernacular motifs from West Africa as well as the Western modernist tradition, Kwami received the Serpentine’s Maria Lassnig Prize this year – which is to be followed by an exhibition at the gallery next year. The architect David Adjaye had asked him to design the stained-glass windows in the National Cathedral of Ghana planned for Accra.

The White House has announced that federal protection will be restored to two national monuments in Utah whose protected status was downgraded by the previous administration in 2017. AP reports that the Republican governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, has expressed disappointment in Biden’s decision to restore the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments.

The RIBA Stirling Prize 2021 has been awarded to Grafton Architects for its Townhouse building at Kingston University, which contains a library, dance studio and theatre as well as open terraces and roof gardens. The six-storey complex is also meant to be open to the local community. In their citation, the award’s judges described the building as ‘a theatre for life’ and ‘a warehouse of ideas’. The Irish firm said that it had always ‘imagined a place where students would feel at home’.

In the United States, the artist Christian Rosa has been charged with wire fraud for attempting to sell four works purportedly by Raymond Pettibon and backed by forged certificates of authenticity. On Tuesday, the antiquities dealer Mehrdad Sadigh told a Manhattan court that ‘financial greed’ had driven him to sell mass-produced fakes through his gallery.

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