Head of Ife, ca. 1400 CE (left), and Damien Hirst’s Golden Heads (Female), 2017, (right).

Damien Hirst Accused of Copying Famous Nigerian Sculpture

After visiting Damien Hirst’s new Venice exhibition, “Treasure from the Wreck of the Unbelievable,” Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor accused him of copying a well-known Nigerian brass sculpture without providing proper attribution, Graham Bowley of the New York Times reports.

According to Ehikhamenor, Hirst’s Golden Heads (Female), 2017, on view at the Palazzo Grassi, is “an imitation” of Head of Ife, a famous ancient work discovered in 1938. Without providing historical context for the piece, Ehikhamenor believes Hirst is whitewashing Nigerian history.

“For the thousands of viewers seeing this for the first time, they won’t think Ife, they won't think Nigeria,” Ehikhamenor wrote in a post on Instagram. “Their young ones will grow up to know this work as Damien Hirst’s . . . The narrative will shift and the young Ife or Nigerian contemporary artist will someday be told by a long nose critic, ‘Your work reminds me of Damien Hirst’s Golden Head.’ We need more biographers for our forgotten.”

While the written description accompanying Hirst’s piece mentions Ife, it does not mention Nigeria and instead dives into the narrative of the fictional shipwreck and abandoned treasures around which the exhibition was crafted. “I really found that it was dishonest that something like that is going on,” Ehikhamenor said.

Hirst’s office claims that the story of Ife is discussed in the exhibition guide, and responded to the allegations with the following statement: “The Treasures are a collection of works influenced by a wide range of cultures and stories from across the globe and throughout history—indeed many of the works celebrate original and important artworks from the past.”

Representing Nigeria at its first-ever national pavilion for the Venice Biennale, Ehikhamenor, in collaboration with Peju Alatise and Qudus Onikeku, is presenting “A Biography of the Forgotten,” which reflects on the nation’s history and heritage, showcasing “classical artists that tend to be forgotten and written out of history.”