The Team

Principal Investigators

Prof. Kokunre Agbontaen-Eghafona

Principal Investigator, Benin City

Kokunre Agbontaen-Eghafona is a graduate of the University of Benin, Benin City; University of Ibadan, Ibadan; University of Nigeria, Nsukka, all in Nigeria, and New York University. She holds a B.A (Hons.) and M.A History; M.Sc. Archaeology and Anthropology; Professional Certificate in Museum Studies, and Ph.D. Archaeology, specializing in cultural resource management and museum studies. She was a Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) (1984-1989). She worked as a museum intern at the Department of Arts in Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1990-1991). She has been a lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Benin since 1992, and an Associate Professor / Professor of Anthropology since 2003. Her research interests include oral literature and ethnography of the Benin people of Nigeria; peoples and cultures of Nigeria and Africa; cultural resource management; indigenous knowledge systems. Her doctoral thesis titled “Curating Benin Cultural Materials: Towards Integrating Indigenous and Orthodox Methods,” (2001) investigated and highlighted the indigenous curatorial, conservation, and exhibition practices of the Benin people during the pre-colonial era; drawing out similarities that existed with such practices in today's museums. She has over sixty academic publications mainly on Benin culture and tradition.

︎ Selected publications
Photo - Phil Dera

Dr. Felicity Bodenstein

Principal Investigator, Paris

Dr. Felicity Bodenstein is an art historian working in Paris, specialized in the history of archaeological and ethnographic collections and the social, economic, and cultural processes involved in their creation, classification, interpretation, display, and reception during the 19th and 20th century. After completing a Ph.D. on the history of the collections of the department of coins and medals at the National Library in Paris in the 19th century, she now works on questions of representation in the display of contested, translocated objects. Her on-going research since 2015 is dedicated to understanding the global destiny of the Benin pieces looted in 1897 by British Naval forces in present-day Nigeria and considers the value transformations and narratives that have accompanied their initial looting and the successive displacements through the market and through collections. She is also interested in the long history of the restitution debates that they are currently part of. Her research was supported by post-doctoral fellowships from the Max Planck Institut at the Kunsthistoriches Institut in Florence, by the musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris and by the Technische Univeristät in Berlin; where she worked for two years in the project translocations, piloted by Professor Bénédicte Savoy. Since 2019, she is a lecturer in the history of museums and heritage studies at Sorbonne Université, Paris.

︎ Contact and selected publications
Photo – Martin Franken

Dr. Jonathan D.M. Fine

Principal Investigator, Berlin

Jonathan is the Director at the Weltmuseum Wien as of July 1, 2021 and former Head (Museumsleiter) of the Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, a post he has held since January 2020. Before assuming this leadership position, he was the curator for the collections from West Africa, Cameroon, Gabon, and Namibia at the Ethnologisches Museum and was speaker of the museum’s working group on provenance research. His curatorial work focused on the colonial contexts of large parts of European and North American collections of art and cultural objects from Africa, especially from Cameroon and Namibia. He has been active in developing recommendations for German museums for displaying, researching, conserving, and returning objects from these collections to the countries and communities from which they originate. He is one of the authors of the German Museums Association guidelines for collections from colonial contexts. He has also set a focus for the Ethnologisches Museum on the digitization of museum objects and the historical information concerning their acquisition. Jonathan completed his Ph.D. in Art History at Princeton University, and he holds B.A. from the University of Chicago and Cambridge, an M.A. from Stanford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. His work on African art grows out of his legal work, which, in part, concerned disputed territory in Africa and the litigation of human rights and constitutional issues in United States courts.

Dr. Anne Luther

Project Catalyst and Principal Investigator, Philadelphia

Dr. Anne Luther is an information technology consultant with a focus in digital scholarship, cultural heritage data, and data visualization. She has secured grants for the Chair of Modern Art History at TU Berlin (VW Foundation), Fordham University (NEH) and the Museum am Rothenbaum, MARKK (Siemens Foundation) amongst others and is the Principle Investigator for these projects in digital scholarship and digital art history. She was the research manager at the Center for Data Arts at The New School in New York and built an emphasis on the analysis of museum data and leading data sprints, workshops, international research collaborations, software development, and publications between 2015-2018. She established a focus in data-driven research in museums and digital art history and taught art theory as a teaching assistant for Professor Boris Groys at NYU in 2014-2017. She received her PhD from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London. Her research is grounded in cultural studies, digital humanities, and art theory bridging an interdisciplinary approach to computer sciences, IT, and design. Anne worked in several arts institutions internationally including MoMA PS1 and the art advisory Front Desk Apparatus in New York and is working as an independent art advisor and curator internationally.

︎ Contact and selected publications

Prof. Dr. Barbara Plankensteiner

Principal Investigator, Hamburg

Barbara Plankensteiner is director of the Museum am Rothenbaum–World Cultures and Arts (MARKK) since 2017. Under her leadership, the museum initiated a repositioning and decolonization process that also lead to a change of name. From 2015 she was Frances and Benjamin Benenson Foundation Senior Curator of African Art at the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut. Before, at the Weltmuseum Wien, she served as deputy director, chief curator and curator of the Africa collections where she had a decisive impact in the repositioning of the museum and the conceptualization of the new permanent collection. Her most well-known international exhibitions are Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria where she was lead curator and editor of the accompanying handbook, and African Lace: A History of Trade, Creativity and Fashion in Nigeria that she co-curated and for which she co-edited the accompanying catalogue. Her research and publications focus on African art and material culture, history of ethnographic collections, and museum anthropology.

Barbara Plankensteiner is a co-founder of the Benin Dialogue Group and with Prince Gregory Akenzua the co-chair of its steering committee. One of its outcomes is the Digital Benin project.

︎ Selected publications

Project Team

Imogen Coulson

Project Researcher

Imogen holds a B.A. from the University of Cambridge with a specialism in Archaeology, and a M.A. in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas from the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK. Subsequently, Imogen worked as a Project Curator for the Lower Niger Bronzes Research Project, in the Africa section, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, British Museum. In addition to forming and developing this project alongside colleagues, her research explored the provenance and collection histories of copper alloy cast objects from southern Nigeria in the British Museum’s collections, including a number of those looted by the British from Benin City in 1897. She has attended and presented papers at academic conferences.

︎ Contact

Ermeline de la Croix

Research Assistant

Ermeline de la Croix studied Law, Art History and Archaeology at Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne University. After obtaining her two bachelor's degrees, she pursued a first year Heritage and Museums master's degree in the same university and specialized in the art of the Kingdom of Benin. Her master's thesis focused on the Iyoba Idia ivory mask kept at the British Museum. Currently in her second year of master's degree, she is preparing for the entrance exam for heritage curators at the French National Heritage Institute. For Digital Benin she is working on the provenance data in collaboration with Dr. Felicity Bodenstein.

Krystelle Denis

Technical & Design Lead

Krystelle Denis is a software engineer and designer specializing in visual frameworks, data-driven narratives, and pedagogical tools, particularly in contexts of cultural heritage. She has designed and built projects at metaLAB at Harvard, OBVIL at Paris Sorbonne, Harvard Art Museums, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, and Piaggio Fast Forward, amongst others. She received her master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and now co-runs Behavior/time, a multidisciplinary design and development studio that creates digital tools and experiential artifacts for museums, research labs, archives, schools, libraries, and cultural initiatives.

︎ Contact

Osaisonor Godfrey EKHATOR-OBOGIE

Research Lead (Principal Researcher), Benin City

Osaisonor Godfrey Ekhator-Obogie is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Benin Studies, presently the Secretary to the Executive Council of the Institute. He is a Fellow of the French Institute for Research in Africa, Nigeria (IFRA-NIGERIA) and a member of Lagos Studies Association (LSA).  He serves as tour guide for visitors to the historical/heritage sites of the Ancient Benin Kingdom and has developed a flair for the promotion of the history, cultural tradition and language of Benin/Edo speaking people.  His on-going PhD research is focused on the cultural history of Benin people/kingdom. His research interests are Ethnicity and Nationalism, Migration and Citizenship, Cultural History in general and Benin Studies in particular. Ekhator-Obogie graduated from Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo with a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and Education (History). He holds an M.A. in History from the Ibadan School of History in Nigeria’s premier University of Ibadan. He has also attended and read papers at academic conferences and workshops.

︎ Contact and selected publications

Alex Horak

Technical & Design Lead

Alex Horak is a software engineer and designer with a background in human-computer interaction. He has worked across various disciplines, from research in the fields of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and brain-computer interfaces at the University of Michigan, to chief technology officer at the software productivity company Fetchnotes. Most recently, he has helped grow social movements like the Dear Black Women Project, a strong community of affirmation-based support, as well as brought to life humanitarian research such as SMS Pantry, which provided resources to people with food insecurity in the USA. He also worked at the Japan Disasters Archive which documents stories and resources relating to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, as well as on experimental museum curation while working for metaLAB at Harvard. He now co-runs Behavior/time, a multidisciplinary design and development studio.

︎ Contact

Eiloghosa Obobaifo

Research Assistant and Data Steward, Benin City

Eiloghosa Obobaifo is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Benin, Benin City. She holds a BSc in Sociology and Anthropology in the same University. She also holds a Diploma in Air-Ticketing and Reservation from Anis School of Travel and Tourism. She worked under the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development Imo State during her National Youth Service Corps, 2015-2016. Obobaifo joined BAMSHACK Tours, Benin City in 2016 as a tour guide and educator, where she served as the Assistant educator in-charge of visitation to Heritage sites within Benin City. Beyond her role as Research Assistant and Data Steward, responsible for the collection of metadata from Nigerian museums, Obobaifo’s MSc thesis shall focus on the use of Digital Benin as a research interface for Museum Studies among Nigerian Scholars.

︎ Contact

Mabel Osaruemwinnomwan Oviahon

Research Assistant

Mabel Osaruemwinnomwan Oviahon is a Junior Research Fellow at the Institute for Benin Studies. She is a Research Fellow of the French Institute for Research in Africa, Nigeria (IFRA-NIGERIA). Her research interests are Cultural History in general and Benin Art History in particular. She worked as a Research Assistant at the Institute for Benin Studies until 2021. She is a graduate in the Department of History and international Studies, University of Benin, where she obtained her B.A in History. Currently, she is collecting and documenting funeral songs by the Benin people of southern Nigeria as part of an Institute for Benin Studies and IFRA-Nigeria collaborative project on digitalization.

Gwenlyn Tiedemann

Data Engineer

Gwenlyn Tiedemann is a digital humanties expert and software engineer, specialising in research data management and digital art history. Especially data processing, modelling, visualisation, as well as virtual (reality) museums and 3D modelling. She studied Information Processing and Art History at the University of Cologne. There she also worked at the WiSo IT and Infrastructure, the Institute of Art History, the Institute of Musicology and the Cologne Center for eHumanities. In recent years, she was head of the information infrastructure project of the Collaborative Research Centre 1167 “Macht and Herrschaft – Premodern Configurations in a Transcultural Perspective” at the University of Bonn. Her work focuses on the digital preservation of cultural heritage. She has conducted numerous projects. Including the conception and implementation of a VR museum for the instrument museum of the Cologne Musicology and of a digital edition of letters from World War II. Moreover, she has developed platforms and apps for museums and cultural institutions.

︎ Contact