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Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 11:47 GMT
Museum showcases African art
Modern eagle coffin from Ghana in the African galleries
Museum visitors admire a modern eagle coffin
By arts reporter Jo Episcopo

The British Museum in London has opened its newly restored African galleries, showcasing one of the finest collections of African art.

The collection is made up of work from across the entire African continent and spans centuries with contemporary work on show, beside artefacts from ancient kingdoms such as Asante and Benin.

With over 200,000 objects, of which 600 pieces are on show to the public, the museum's collection is one of the world's biggest.

The aim is to show the diversity and vitality of the continent's artistic achievements dating back more than five centuries right up until the modern day.

Traditionally under-represented regions such as the Maghreb and north-east Africa are featured prominently.

Bitter dispute

But the collection is also a controversial one.

It includes a number of pieces like the Benin bronzes, seized by the British from the former ancient kingdom in 1897, which have been at the centre of a bitter dispute to have them returned to their country of origin.

The British Museum argues it is one of the most popular cultural institutions in the world, offering millions of visitors a year a chance to view the artefacts.

But the dispute is a long-running one and while many will welcome the return of this fine collection to the museum, the debate about the origins of the work is also just as likely to return.

See also:

06 Mar 99 | Entertainment
A new look to African art
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