Looty: a digital restitution project is making NFTs from stolen art while museums drag their feet about returning it.

Despite the name, the creators of Looty maintain that their work is entirely legal. They visit museums displaying art stolen from Africa, use phones and cameras to take as detailed a 3D renderings they can, and use those images to make NFTs.

“Before the British were looting artifacts in Africa, they had already made a fortune from the things they stole from China. In choosing the name ‘Looty,’ I am referencing that, but also referencing the dog,” founder Chidi Nwaubani told the BBC. (The dog in question was taken by sailors from China, and gifted to Queen Victoria as a gift when their ship returned to England. “Even though we are called Looty, we are doing it in a nonviolent way, and also a legal way.”

The project’s first target has been one piece from the Benin Bronzes group, a collection of several thousand metal plaques and sculptures. They were taken by British armed forces from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria. Only a small percentage of the artworks have been repatriated, but most of it still resides in various European museums. Looty is intended to leapfrog the repatriation process and begin restitution.

The British Museum of London has over 700 pieces of Benin Bronze, including the striking sculpture of the head and ringed throat of an Oba noblewoman. This is the piece Looty has begun with, making 25 unique NFTs to be sold. 20 percent of the proceeds will go into the Looty fund, to fund young African artists.

“If you live in maybe Benin and you want to be inspired by the artwork that comes from your ethnic group, first you need to apply for a visa, then buy the ticket for a plane, get to England, and book hotels. You then go and view the artwork. There are not many people who are going to be able to do that,” Nwaubani said.

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