‘Looty’ Project Launches Digital Art Heists to Recover African Artifacts

LAGOS, May 24 (Reuters) – A Nigerian man has started a project called “Looty” to recover African artefacts stolen by European colonizers by creating 3D images of them, selling them as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and using the proceeds to fund young African artists.

Calls for items stolen during the colonial period to be returned to their places of origin have intensified in recent years, and Western institutions have returned items to countries such as Nigeria and Benin. Read more

Chidi Nwaubani, the founder of Looty, described his project as an alternative form of repatriation, whereby digital technologies are used to reclaim some measure of control and ownership over artifacts still held away from Africa.

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“Imagine a world where these items were never looted,” Nwaubani told Reuters in an interview. “We’re just trying to reimagine that world and put it into digital form.”

The process begins with what Nwaubani called a “digital art heist”, a perfectly legal procedure in which a member of the Looty team goes to a museum and scans a target object using technology that can be used to create a 3D image.

An NFT of the image is created and offered for sale through the Looty website, which also acts as an online gallery where anyone can view the images for free. Nwaubani said 20% of NFT’s sales proceeds would go to grants for African artists aged 25 or younger.

NFTs are a type of digital asset that allows anyone to verify who owns them. Read more

The website launched on May 13 and although there were no immediate sales, Nwaubani received messages of interest from around the world.

Looty’s early NFTs are based on an image of one of the Benin Bronzes which were looted by British troops in 1897 in present-day Nigeria and are housed in the British Museum in London.

“Knowing that he is Nigerian but lives outside of Nigeria has always troubled me, so I felt there was something we could do to change that,” Nwaubani said.

Looty’s next big project centers around an object from ancient Egypt, Nwaubani said, declining to elaborate.

The name Looty refers to the act of looting and is also a playful tribute to the dog Looty, who was found by a British captain after troops looted the Summer Palace near Beijing in 1860, brought back to London and presented to Queen Victoria.

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Reporting by Angela Ukomadu and Estelle Shirbon, editing by Ed Osmond

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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