A leading art historian has asked the renowned auction house Christie’s to cancel the sale of two Nigerian sculptures to be put up for auction soon.
Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu told the BBC that the two objects were “looted” from shrines in southeastern Nigeria during the civil war in the late 1960s.
Christie’s rejects this, saying the sale is perfectly legal.
Items are expected to sell for $ 280,000 to $ 390,000 (£ 230.00 to £ 320,000).
The wooden objects about 1.5 meters high, a man and a woman, represent deities of the Igbo community, with their hands turned upwards, waiting to receive sacrifices and gifts.
Chika Okeke-Agulu of Princeton University says the objects were looted from community shrines in her home state of Anambra, with the help of local conspirators.
He said they could not have been acquired legally because they were removed during the Biafra civil war, when the Igbo community tried to separate itself from Nigeria.
The historian believes that the loss of these sculptures meant that an essential part of the Igbo cultural identity was lost to future generations.
What does Christie say?
Christie’s defended the auction scheduled for 13:00 GMT.
In a statement, he said that at no time “was there any suggestion that these statues were subject to improper export”.
According to the auction house, the sculptures were acquired by Jacques Kerchache, a French art collector and a close adviser to former French President Jacques Chirac.
“There is no evidence that these statues were removed from their original location by someone who was not from the region,” said Christie’s.
He also said there was no evidence that the items were removed from an area that was part of the conflict at the time.
Requests for repatriation of African artifacts have grown in recent years, with the #BlackLivesMatter protests reigniting those demands.
An online petition with more than 2,000 signers asks that the sale be canceled.