Monday, June 15, 2020

Display It Like You Stole It – Museums and Ethics

Conway Hall Ethical Society presents:
Thinking on Sunday: Display It Like You Stole It – Museums and Ethics
Sunday 28th June @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

** This event will be held ONLINE. Please register using the “Book Now” link. **
** Conway Hall is a charity and we politely ask you to add a donation of at least £5 when registering. **

In a country that’s repeatedly failed to come to terms with its colonial past, led by politicians who seem to think the past is the future, Alice Procter seeks to resist triumphalist nostalgia with art history. How did the narratives of Empire come into being? Who controls them? And how can we learn to see through the whitewash to the truth?

“Display it like you stole it” is a call for museums to rethink the politics of display in their galleries. From label text to lighting, how is ownership created and dissent shut down? Who is the authorial voice here, and what is considered worthy of inclusion? It’s well past time for museums to be honest about their acquisitions history and how objects arrive in their collections in the first place.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Could Greece Force EU to Demand Repatriation of Parthenon Marbles after Brexit?

A European 'us' against an alien 'them' row may possibly break out soon on matters of cultural identity. It is argued that the EU could get tough with the British (possibly soon to be renamed "English") Museum after the Brexit (Philip Chrysopoulos, 'Could Greece Force EU to Demand Repatriation of Parthenon Marbles after Brexit?' Greek Reporter, 17th Dec 2019):
As Britain leaves the European Union, it is taking with it one of its members’ most invaluable cultural treasures. It is likely now that the issue of the repatriation of the Parthenon sculptures will take on a new dimension. As a member of the EU, Britain remained adamant about the British Museum’s rightful ownership of the sculptures in response to Greece’s repeated requests that they be returned. [...] After Britain’s withdrawal from the Union, the country will have to sign new agreements with the EU on a range of important issues. One of these concerns the realm of culture and cultural artifacts. And without a doubt, Greece’s ancient Parthenon sculptures belong to this category, and take pride of place in it. What Greece can push for now is the issue of the repatriation of these particular cultural artifacts to their original and rightful owners, regardless of any possible claims of legality from centuries ago expressed by the British Museum. 
Claims which seem pretty dodgy anyway. In 2015, the United Nations began an initiative called “The Restitution or Return of Cultural Property in the Countries of Origin,” which includes an explicit reference to the return of the Parthenon Marbles.  What Greece simply must do now is bring the issue of the repatriation of the Parthenon sculptures to the Brexit negotiation table. As a member of the European Union, Greece can at last take a hard stance and use its veto power in all future deals made between Great Britain and the EU. Greece could be able to force the EU to demand the repatriation of the Parthenon marbles as part of the Brexit deal. Keep the Parthenon Marbles in Europe, where they belong.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

James Acastor on British museums and colonial theft

James Acastor on British museums and colonial theft.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Sacred shield returning to Acoma

The Pueblo of Acoma will be getting back an object that they hold sacred that was stolen (Ryan Laughlin, 'Sacred shield returning to Acoma' KOB news November 18, 2019).
The Acoma shield was stolen in the 1970s, and its whereabouts were unknown until it popped up at an art auction in Paris in 2016. The shield was eventually pulled from auction, and the Pueblo of Acoma began a fight to get it back. The man who was unknowingly in possession of a stolen sacred artifact came forward this year and decided to give the shield back to its rightful owners. [...] The knowledge of shield's true significance is closely guarded by the Acoma people.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

George Soros’s Foundation Is Launching a $15 Million Initiative to Repatriate Cultural Objects to African Nations

Hungarian-born US investor and philanthropist George Soros’s Foundation is launching initiative to repatriate African cultural objects. It will support African organisations campaigning for the return of artefacts taken during the colonial era ( Taylor Dafoe, 'George Soros’s Foundation Is Launching a $15 Million Initiative to Repatriate Cultural Objects to African Nations', artnet News November 15, 2019).
The Open Society Foundations, an international grant-making organization founded by billionaire George Soros, has launched a four year, $15 million initiative to aid in restitution efforts. “The legacy of colonial violence has deep implications for the ways that racism and imbalances of power are perpetuated today,” Patrick Gaspard, the president of the organization, said in a statement. “This isn’t just about returning pieces of art, but about restoring the very essence of these cultures.” The Open Society’s initiative will support African lawyers, scholars, archivists, and grassroots organizations campaigning for the return of artifacts taken during the colonial era. It will also fund meetings between cultural leaders and work to promote partnerships between museums, governments, and other organizations.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Kwakwaka’wakw sun mask returns to B.C.

A Kwakwaka’wakw sun mask was seized during an infamous raid on a potlatch in British Columbia, then improperly sold, and spent decades in France before being returned home to B.C. (Marsha Lederman, 'Almost 100 years after being seized and sold, a Kwakwaka’wakw sun mask returns to B.C.', July 20th 2019)
 Donald Ellis, a Canadian dealer in Indigenous art for nearly 45 years, orchestrated the mask’s return, negotiating the sale and putting up his own money – a six-figure sum, he says – to buy the mask [...] Mr. Ellis’s involvement with the mask dates back to 2017, when an academic, Marie Mauzé, told him a story over dinner in Paris. She had been asked to assist in the auction catalogue entries for a group of Northwest Coast objects at Christie’s. Among them was the sun mask, which Ms. Mauzé recognized from photos taken after it was seized in 1921. “You can’t sell this,” she said, as Mr. Ellis recounts. 
It was on record as having been seized by 'Indian Agents' during an illegal potlatch in December 1921 held on remote Village Island east of Alert Bay.
Indian agent William Halliday got word and officials descended on what has come to be known as the Cranmer Potlatch, arresting participants and confiscating some 750 items. [...] Halliday sold [the sun mask] with more than 30 other pieces, to George Heye in New York [...]. Halliday was not permitted to sell these objects and was reprimanded for doing so. [...] It has now been discovered that the mask was brought to France after the Second World War by the world-renowned anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, and sold at auction in 1951 to collector Pierre Vérité. His son, Claude Vérité, inherited it and offered the mask at Christie’s [...] Mr. Ellis decided to purchase it [...] “I have a pretty strong sense of right and wrong,” Mr. Ellis said of his motivation during an interview at a Vancouver hotel on Tuesday. “I want this to show that … dealers are not all bad guys.” Also, he says, he has done very well and wanted to do something to give back.

Friday, July 5, 2019

France retreats from Recommendations of Savoy-Sarre Report

Vincent Noce, 'France retreats from report recommending automatic restitutions of looted African artefacts' (The Art Newspaper 5th July 2019) Suggestions from the controversial report on repatriation written last November by Bénédicte Savoy and Felwin Sarr were all-but buried at a recent conference held at the French Academy in Paris. This instead of discussing what the report had suggested focused on “wider cultural cooperation with Africa“. The Savoy-Sarr report had recommended a systematic and unconditional return of African cultural heritage and created alarm in French and European museums. The prospect that it raised of automatic restitutions to African states of all goods seized during the colonial era was hailed on one side as a welcome advance in the process of building links between nations and towards a long-overdue decolonisation, but on the other as a threat to the so-called Universal Museum notion so beloved in the western world.
In his opening speech at the symposium on Thursday, the French culture minister Franck Riester only pledged that "France will examine all requests presented by African nations" but asked them not to "focus on the sole issue of restitution."[...] The conference was attended by some 200 archaeologists, anthropologists, art historians, curators and representatives of ministries of culture from Europe and Africa. Despite being invited to address the meeting by the minister, Savoy and Sarr failed to show. They were not available for immediate comment.