LCCHP is pleased to post the following notice, originally published in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin:
January 18, 2013
By Jerry Crimmins, Law Bulletin staff writer
A third-year student at DePaul University College of Law who won a contest sponsored by the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation said she hopes it will help her get a job.
Salome Kiwara-Wilson, 29, who is from Kenya, wrote a 40-page study entitled, "Restituting Colonial Plunder: The Case for Benin Bronzes and Ivories."
The Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, headquartered in Washington, D.C., chose her paper as the winner among 32 entries submitted from 22 law schools in the 2012 Student Writing Competition.
"Our judges, all experts in the field, found that Ms. Kiwara-Wilson's research and writing represented a great scholarly achievement and believe she has a great future in cultural heritage law," said Tess Davis, executive director of the organization. The winner was announced in October.
A clerk at the Cook County state's attorney's office, Kiwara-Wilson has permanent resident status in the U.S. and said she hopes to be hired as a prosecutor, although she said she knows there are many applicants.
"When I got exposed to criminal law, I ended up thinking it was very fascinating," she said.
"I plan to practice criminal law after graduation," she said. "I don't think it is a departure from my cultural heritage interests. In my opinion, some of the most interesting cases in the cultural heritage field are criminal cases."
"A lot of students don't do them because it takes time," Chamberlain said. But Chamberlain said if they have to write a paper for a class, "they might as well go the extra mile and, on a break, work with a professor on a contest entry."
If a student wins, "it does show they go above and beyond," Chamberlain said, and shows that they can be passionate about their work, which can impress a potential employer.
Kiwara-Wilson's paper is a study of what is known as the British Punitive Expedition of 1897 in the Kingdom of Benin in West Africa, which is today part of Nigeria.
The British stole by rough estimate "maybe a thousand" works of art from the royal family of Benin, she said, including works in bronze, ivory and brass.
She said Britain later auctioned off much of the art to other countries to help pay the cost of the expedition. Today, those works are in "many museums in Europe and in the states," she said.
Locally, the Art Institute of Chicago has some, Kiwara-Wilson said. The Field Museum also has some of the Benin art works. The Field Museum "actually does a good job of explaining that there was a Benin punitive expedition" and how the art works came to the Field, she said.
"Other museums for the most part say, 'from the collection of so and so.'"
The origin of the British expedition, Kiwara-Wilson said, is that "the British decided to go to see the king. The king told them not to come," that the time was wrong for religious reasons. The British sent a delegation in 1897 anyway and it was attacked.
Ten out of the 12 British members of the delegation were killed as were most of the 200 African couriers who accompanied them, she said.
The second expedition, called the Punitive Expedition, followed in the same year "to get revenge and as an excuse to take over the kingdom," Kiwara-Wilson said.
A 2003 story in the British newspaper The Guardian said the British "set fire to the queen mother's house and those of several chiefs; the fire spread uncontrollably and destroyed a large part of the city. The royal palace was also burnt, although we claimed this was accidental. The royal palace of Benin was one of the great cultural complexes of Africa."
The stolen art works "show Benin court life, images of the king," the queen mother, "Portuguese soldiers the kingdom came into contact with before the British came" and animals.
"Lots of leopards," Kiwara-Wilson said.
She said she chose this subject because "it's such a big injustice to the Benin people." She has seen some of the art in the British Museum in London and in the Field Museum in Chicago. The Benin works are "pretty obvious, mainly because of the style. It's very distinct," she said.
"Most Nigerian people won't be able to go to Paris or Chicago" to see these works, she said.
She concluded in her study that lawsuits for restitution of the works to Nigeria probably would not work.
"If most museums feel they have a valid and clear title, they don't have any incentive to sit down with the Nigerian government and make a deal," she said.
Instead, she argued in her paper that "the colonial treatment of African people was similar to the Nazi treatment of Jewish people during the Holocaust. Because of these similarities, the principles that justify the restitution of Nazi-looted art may similarly justify the restitution of cultural property to former colonized states."
Kiwara-Wilson learned English in Kenya.
"In Kenya, you pretty much go to school in English," she said.
She is a painter and came to the U.S. first in 2004 for an artist in residence program at the University of Kentucky.
She stayed here to get an undergraduate degree in French and art history from Berea College in Berea, Ky.
There she did part of the research that led to her paper. She also had a fellowship in 2009 to study cultural heritage practices in Africa and Asia.
In Kenya, she said her father is a retired police administrator and her mother is a professor who teaches "entrepreneurship and business."