Kiwara-Wilson distinguished herself among 32 students at 22 different law schools. In an official LCCHP statement, Executive Director Tess Davis cited this year’s competition as one of the most competitive on record. LCCHP was founded in 2004 to further the preservation of cultural heritage both domestically and internationally through education and advocacy. One of its missions is to expose current law students to the evolving field of cultural heritage law and the competition aims to further this goal.
Spanning 40 pages, Kiwara-Wilson’s article follows the course of the West African Benin bronzes and ivories seized by British troops during the Punitive Expedition of 1897. Also known as the Benin massacre, the expedition ravaged the Benin kingdom, located in what is now Nigeria, and plundered the royal family’s collection of ceremonial art—including a large number of brass plaques. Britain auctioned off much of the artwork to neighboring states to relieve the cost of the elaborate expedition.
“I have always been fascinated with the Benin Bronzes and the collection's history,” explains Kiwara-Wilson. “I have had the opportunity to visit the collection at the British Museum, and every time I have gone, I end up sitting and staring at them for hours. When I heard about the opportunity to submit a paper for the LCCHP competition, I immediately thought I wanted to write about the question of restituting colonial plunder and focus on this magnificent collection.”
Kiwara-Wilson’s article provides an in-depth account of the massacre and its aftermath. Deeply informed by European history, Kiwara-Wilson illustrates how control of cultural property serves as a mechanism to empower or degrade a culture’s sense of identity. She draws a strong parallel to the Holocaust and since-restituted Nazi-looted artwork. The western exhibition and control of Benin art, she writes, continues an ‘imperialist narrative.’ Still, she retains a tentatively hopeful outlook.
“I started researching in late November and finished the final draft in April,” she says. “When I first thought of writing the paper, I didn't think it would end like it did. I initially thought it would be a straight-forward legal case for restitution; as I researched it further, I realized that the passage of time has become a real liability to the potential claimants, despite results in Nazi restitution cases. However, I do believe that the ethical or moral claim for restitution remains strong.”
Kiwara-Wilson wrote the paper as part of her senior seminar in cultural property at the College of Law. She says she benefited from the guidance of Professor Patty Gerstenblith, director of the Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law. Among her experiences at DePaul, Kiwara-Wilson interned at the Field Museum of Natural History during the summer of 2012.
In response to the student writer’s recent recognition, Professor Gerstenblith said, “I am very proud of my seminar student, Salome Kiwara-Wilson. She is an example of the kind of student, passionate about and well-versed in cultural heritage law, the DePaul Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law hopes to attract.”
"Restituting Colonial Plunder: The Case for the Benin Bronzes and Ivories" by Salome Kiwara-Wilson has been accepted for full publication in the spring issue of DePaul’s Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law (JATIP).