One of several new provenance labels now in the African galleries at the MFA Boston
Thursday, June 21, 2018
Thursday, May 17, 2018
|From left, a wooden mask, painted; a wooden idol; and the fragment of a wooden mask, which were returned to a representative of the Alaskan Chugach people in Berlin on Wednesday.|
The items, which included several masks, a wooden idol and a baby basket, had been in the collection of Berlin’s Ethnographic Museum, though they were never exhibited publicly. Between 1882 and 1884, they were taken by Johan Adrian Jacobsen, a Norwegian adventurer and amateur ethnographer acting on behalf of the museum. [...] The return of the items comes at a time when European museums are being called on to put more effort into provenance research and to return objects acquired in ways that were unethical and would now be unlawful.[...] In Germany, where most provenance research has focused on art looted during the Nazi years of the 1930s and ’40s, the subject of provenance research into objects taken during earlier times has been the matter of some controversy. Although Germany’s empire was much smaller than France’s or Britain’s, it had several African colonies and acquired many objects for its museums from these territories, as well as from other parts of the world.Once the objects get back to Alaska, they will be returned to the Chugach community displayed in community centers or local museums.
Germany has just released a Code of Conduct for Colonial-Era Artifacts in an effort to correct a blind spot in its cultural policies. The 130-page guidelines “Guide to Dealing With Collection Goods From Colonial Contexts” outline methodologies for provenance research and possibilities for restitution ( Kate Brown, ArtNet News 17th May 2018).
Since taking office for a second term, Grütters has made confronting Germany’s colonial history a centerpiece of her platform. Last month, she announced that the German Lost Art Foundation—originally established to investigate Nazi-looted art in public collections—would dedicate some of its funding and research to colonial-era objects. Her effort coincides with a similar push by French president Emmanuel Macron, who has been vocal about his support of the full restitution of African colonial-era artifacts. Public outcry over Germany’s forthcoming Humboldt Forum, which will hold its Asian and ethnographic collections in the reconstructed Prussian palace in Berlin, has also played no small role in instigating the German government to become more proactive about its colonial restitution policies. Still, some critics say the new guidelines represent more talk than concerted action. They note that the code is non-binding and largely only governs objects that violated the “legal and ethical standards” in former colonies at the time. [...] Eckart Köhne, the president of the German Association of Museums, has said that he hopes the code of conduct will generate global discussion. The association is also soliciting input from other countries, particularly those in Africa, and plans to publish a revised version of the guidelines in a year and a half.The guidelines will be published soon also in English and French,
Saturday, May 12, 2018
Nine Alaskan burial artifacts brought to 19th century imperial Germany are to be returned next week to indigenous Pacific coast residents. A Berlin-based museum trust has long admitted that the items were stolen ('German museum to return stolen grave artifacts to Alaskans' DW 09.05.2018).
Germany's SPK Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation confirmed Wednesday that its president Hermann Parzinger would hand over the artifacts to envoys of the Chugach peoples due to visit Berlin next week. The items, including two broken masks, a child's cradle and what is thought to be a shamanic figure, originate from Chenega Island, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Anchorage, along the Pacific coastline of the US state of Alaska. Norwegian adventurer Captain Johan Adrian Jacobsen, who toured Alaska's southwestern coastline in 1883, brought them to the-then Royal Museum of Ethnology, the forerunner of Berlin's ethnological museum within the SPK foundation's cluster of Berlin-based institutions. "At the time, these objects were taken without the consent of the Alaska Natives and were therefore removed unlawfully from the graves of the deceased, so they do not belong to our museums," Parzinger stated last December. "From Adrian Jacobsen's travel journal, it is clear that the graves [on Chenega Island] were opened solely for the purpose of removing their contents, said the foundation in December when its board agreed on the returns.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Turkey is seeking the return of more than 150,000 objects, some exported hundreds of years ago, that are currently in museums and collections in Europe and the United States.
A lot of items from Turkey have been stolen, now located in museums in the United States, England, Portugal, Denmark, France, Germany and Greece, one of the leading members of the repatriation commission, Serdal Kuyucuoglu, told Al-Jazeera Monday. [...] In recent months, the Commission's members have visited museums and collections that contain items from Turkey.
Friday, February 16, 2018
Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), has called for international guidelines to help museums handle collecting history research and repatriation of illegally acquired colonial heritage in public collections (Catherine Hickley, 'Berlin Museums chief calls for rules on restitution of colonial artefacts' The Art Newspaper 16th Feb 2018) . These guidelines would be the equivalent of the Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated art.* He postulates that international organisation such as UNESCO or the International Council of Museums (ICOM) should take the lead in organising conferences to devise the guidelines. The issue of colonial art in European collections is becoming increasingly uncomfortable in western Europe, for example in France, where President Emmanuel Macron has pledged “a temporary or definitive restitution of African heritage to Africa” over the next five years.
There has also been much debate on the collecting histories of non-European artefacts from former colonies in Berlin, prompted by the construction of the new Humboldt Forum, due to open in 2019. The building will provide a new home for the SPK’s ethnographic and Asian art collections, the ethnographic collections of the former Prussian state.
Bénédicte Savoy, an art historian and member of the advisory committee of the Humboldt Forum, abruptly resigned from the board last July complaining about a lack of attention to provenance research. The German culture minister Monika Grütters agreed, saying that “we have for a long time paid too little attention to the subject of colonialism” and that the debate over provenance research “was absolutely necessary”. She pledged government funding for such research. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its potential coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, have agreed that investigating and coming to terms with the country’s colonial past is a priority for the new government. Parzinger, a founding director of the Humboldt Forum, says the new museum will seek to provide full information on the provenance of its exhibits for visitors who are interested. The SPK received funding last year for a project to transcribe and digitise all its acquisition documents for the Ethnological Museum from 1830 until after the Second World War. “This is an important step towards transparency,” he says. “The project has been approved for three years but it will take many more. Our collections of world cultures will keep us busy for many years to come.” The foundation is also working with curators and scholars from Tanzania on an exhibition of objects that were removed from the country at the time of the Maji Maji War, an 1905-07 rebellionof against German colonial rule in German East Africa. “If you are conducting provenance research, then you also have to expect that you will come across objects that came into the collection illegally, and you have to be willing to hand them back,” Parzinger says.
The Washington Principles on Nazi-confiscated art were endorsed by 44 countries in 1998. They call for “just and fair solutions” to be applied to art in public collections that is claimed by the heirs of Jewish collectors who were allegedly robbed by the Nazis. They provide guidelines on provenance research on art in public collections and establishing processes to deal with disputes over claims.
Bénédicte Savoy (professor at the Collège de France in Paris) has an opinion piece in Le Monde, reprinted in the Art Newspaper ('The restitution revolution begins ' 16th February 2018) arguing that France's President Macron is ushering in a new era for the return of displaced heritage
In two minutes and 33 seconds, on 28 November 2017, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, swept aside several decades of official French museum policy. He did it publicly, in the crowded lecture theatre of Ouagadougou University, in front of several hundred students, under the gaze of Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Kaboré, and the cameras of the news channel France 24. He did it in the name of youth—of his own youth, evoked seven times in the speech. “I am from a generation of the French people for whom the crimes of European colonialism are undeniable and make up part of our history, he said, adding: “In the next five years, I want the conditions to be created for the temporary or permanent restitution of African patrimony to Africa.” There were whistles and applause. On Twitter, the Elysée (the presidential office and residence) drives the idea home: “African heritage can no longer be the prisoner of European museums.”She hails this as the beginning of a revolution. The move has delighted those who have long called for the restitution of displaced heritage from Africa. In Berlin, Macron’s speech has added power to the 'heated debate about the colonial amnesia that seems to have afflicted the planners of the Humboldt Forum'. 'In a letter to Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, 40 organisations of the German African diaspora asked her to react to “the historic initiative of the French president”...'.
Although it concerns Paris and its prestigious collections of African art first of all, the Ouagadougou speech also implicates Europe and the colonial or missionary basis of all its ethnographic or “universal” museums. From the British Museum (which has more than 200,000 African objects) to the Weltmuseum in Vienna (37,000), the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium (180,000), the Humboldt Forum (75,000) and France’s leading ethnographic museum, the Quai Branly in Paris (70,000), the history of African collections is a shared European history—a family affair, if you wish, where aesthetic curiosity, scientific interests, military expeditions, commercial networks and “opportunities” of all kinds contributed to the justification for domination and national rivalries. The museums of our European capitals are brilliant conservatories of human creativity, but they also derive from a darker history of which we are not sufficiently aware.In the museum world, the mere word “restitution” 'sparks an almost kneejerk defensiveness and withdrawal'. Curators feel a certain unease, what if such acts become commonplace? Calls to repatriate items stolen in military actions and colonisation in the past have been hotly contested by museums eager to hang on to such items:
No one in France has forgotten the trench warfare conducted by curators at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 2010, when, as a corollary to trade negotiations, the then president Nicholas Sarkozy ordered the return to South Korea of nearly 300 precious manuscripts deriving from a bloody French army expedition in 1866. No one in Italy has forgotten the 50 years of negotiations it took before the return to Ethiopia of the Axum obelisk, seized by Benito Mussolini in 1937. And no one in Berlin wants to return the massive fossilised skeleton of the world’s biggest dinosaur, Brachiosaurus brancai, to Tanzania, where it was taken in 1912 from territories then under the protectorate of the Reich.She discretely fails to mention the Parthenon Marbles, mainly because, shamefully, they still have not been returned to Greece.
The time seems right for such a move. Interestingly, Macron’s proclamation in Ouagadougou —contrary to expectations— has not sparked the institutional outcry that we have been used to in recent years.
On the contrary: the president of the Quai Branly museum, Stéphane Martin, was pleased to bend in Macron’s direction, stressing that “nowadays we cannot have an entire continent deprived of its history and artistic genius”. So a second revolution, an institutional change, has taken place.In the final part of her text she outlines how consensual restitutions of such artefacts should be 'motivated by the dual interests of peoples and objects' and in which the stake would be neither purely strategic nor political, but cultural. She urges a multi-sided dialogue, in which the parties listen to each other. There is no place for the object-centred lobbyists of the market countries dictating to the source countries how they should treat their own heritage, even if they do so masking their smokescreen as due to concerns for the 'safety of the objects':
we must listen to each other. And then we must be careful not to interfere in the decision-making remit of others. After Waterloo, when France returned the works removed to Paris during the Revolution and the Empire from other countries in Europe, it did not dictate to the pope and the sovereign states of Germany, Austria, Spain and elsewhere the proper way of looking after their collections. It often takes decades and much debate for “modern” heritage policies and suitable infrastructure to develop. In Berlin, for example, it was not until 1830 that the works France had returned 15 years earlier were displayed in a public museum. We must give time to those who recover works to find solutions that suit them.