Monday, July 27, 2015

Don't Export Sekhemka, but not for these reasons...

Something called a "PRESS STATEMENT FROM SAVE SEKHEMKA GROUP EGYPT"  seems to have been written by twelve-year-olds. It states that
"Sekhemka is a pharaonic statue which belongs to the Egyptian people  [...] Selling a stolen statue which is owned by the Egyptian people is a crime against all international norms and standards. The British government need to act fast in order to prevent this crime by taking civil and criminal responsibility in abiding by the international law".
What? Not only is that complete gibberish, its legal status is completely lacking. It gets worse:
We send an appeal to the Human Rights Institute in London that it is against humanity to conceal information about a stolen antique. To be sold to an unidentified person and sent to an unknown place goes against civilisation and is a huge crime against humanity. We therefore ask that the Human Rights Institute intervene in stopping this offence and standing up with the Egyptian people in the International Criminal Courts to defend and save Sekhemka from the illegal trade.
Where is the definition of the illegality of this transaction? Come on people, get a proper lawyer. Moreover:

We appeal to the British Prime Minister to take the necessary legal proceedings against Christie's Auction and against Northampton Museum for having introduced and sold this antique which was stolen from Egypt as it is Egypt's right to to be given compensation.
No it is not. Where did they get this from? Off the back of a cornflake box?
Furthermore, we appeal to the UNESCO in supporting in tackling this illegal trade crime as mentioned in UNESCO's law dated 1970, Article 7. 
I suggest they read Article 7 again (It is not a "law"). While we are all for the statue staying on public display (but far away from Philistine Shoe Town), it is totally counterproductive for activists to attempt to utilise the sort of (non-)arguments that can only bring the whole notion of what to do with antiquities into ridicule and disrepute. Stop this amateurishness please. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Sindika Dokolo Collection


Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman and art collector, and his wife Isabel dos Santos, one of Africa's richest couples, are buying up colonial and other looted African pieces to 'save' them. Dokolo is  on a crusade to force Western museums, art dealers and auction houses to return Africa’s art, particularly works that might have been removed illegally during the colonial era.
“Works that used to be clearly in African museums must absolutely return to Africa,” Mr. Dokolo said in an interview [...] “There are works that disappeared from Africa and are now circulating on the world market based on obvious lies about how they got there.” To forward his cause, Mr. Dokolo’s foundation has set up a network of researchers and dealers to comb through archives and monitor the art market in search of stolen African art. Any time such artwork can be identified, Mr. Dokolo said, its owner will be offered a simple choice: Either sell him the work for the price at which it was acquired or face a lawsuit for theft. Mr. Dokolo, 43, has the financial wherewithal to turn such a threat into action. Besides his own family wealth, he and his wife are one of Africa’s richest couples: She is Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, the president of Angola since 1979. [...]  Mr. Dokolo’s deep pockets have allowed him to amass a massive collection of African art — more than 5,000 works of mostly contemporary pieces he has stored in Angola and Belgium. (He declined to estimate the total value of the collection.) His latest initiative is to set up a European subsidiary of his Luanda-based art foundation in Porto, and to open within two years an exhibition space with educational programs to promote African art. [...] In addition to his Porto project, Mr. Dokolo’s foundation also plans to build a museum and a music school in Luanda, as part of his push for African countries to create their own cultural institutions. 
The interview (Raphael Minder, 'Collector Fights for African Art' The New York Times, 9th July 2015) focues on the issue of items missing from museums:
Mr. Dokolo asserts that some African museums have been looted by Westerners, citing the national museum in Kinshasa for one. He has been trying to locate 6,000 pieces made by the Chowke people of Central Africa that were in the Dundo Museum of Angola and that disappeared during the Angolan civil war. So far, Mr. Dokolo said that he has managed to recover a few masks, including one of the masks missing from the Dundo Museum, which he bought from a private Dutch collection. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Greece drops legal action plans for Parthenon Marbles.

Helena Smith ' Greece drops option of legal action in British Museum Parthenon marbles row Guardian, Wednesday 13 May 2015.
The new Greek cultural minister Nikos Xydakis said the route to retrieving the treasures lay in diplomatic and political channels and not international courts where outcomes were far from assured. [...]  What was needed, he insisted, was “low-key persistent work” as the climate was gradually changing.
Indeed it is. The days of cultural property philistinism are numbered. 
The minister was speaking barely 48 hours after receiving a 150-page dossier from Amal Clooney and fellow leading human rights lawyers at London’s Doughty Street chambers exhorting the Greek government to pursue legal channels immediately. The report, outlining the options Athens faced in its decades-long struggle to win back the fifth century BC carvings, described a “now or never” opportunity for Greece and advised it to take the British Museum to the international court of justice. “The British adhere to international law,” said Clooney who co-authored the report with Geoffrey Robertson and Norman Palmer, British QCs regarded as pre-eminent experts in cultural restitution. “The Greek government has never taken advantage of this Achilles heel. You must take legal action now or you may lose the opportunity to do so due to future legal obstacles.”
I think it is a wise move not to take the lawyers up on it. It is difficult to see what legal arguments would stick. If they lose the case the Marbles stay. We do not need a legal judgement to say the Marbles should be returned. The moral case is clear. Crystal clear.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

James Cuno on Museums: The Case Against (sic) Repatriating Artifacts

Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, recently sat down with Cuno to discuss his case against repatriating museum artefacts. It seems to me that he is gently parodying Cuno's views. They initially employed a dyslexic typing monkey to provide the transcript but it has been silently corrected since. Of course what he gracelessly avoids talking about are the objects in US museums that are sent back to the source country because they ended up in the US illegally - which is absolutely the number-one reason why these repatriations take place. the man is muddying the waters.

Right now, this nonsense about "repatriation". Note this is an American term. If Cuno is going to get pedantic about it, let us remember that there is an allied term depatriation. This is what Cuno is arguing for. So when is Cuno going to advocate for the USA withdrawing from the 1970 UNESCO Convention where cultural property and nations go together? The problem seems to be that America has no real national culture of its own, mainly what it has taken from others and the deletion of much of what was there before the European dominance.

This follows his "Culture War The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts
" in the same periodical at the end of last year - described by the American Committee for Cultural Philistinism, as an "important article". Well, they would, wouldn't they?

The sixth blood antiquity from a US museum went back to Cambodia this week. Cleveland Museum at last admitted that there were problems with "their" Hanuman.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Robbers Return Maori Loot

A week ago, fourteen 19th-century Maori artefacts dating from the 1800s were stolen from a private collection during the burglary of a rural home near the small town of Hastings in northeastern New Zealand.  Included in the haul were a number of items made of greenstone (known in New Zealand as pounamu), several ceremonial mere, a club [patu] made from whalebone, and a ceremonial adze with a pounamu blade. Some of the important ceremonial items taken were registered as national treasures [taonga] with New Zealand's Natonal Musuem, Te Papa Tongarewa, and thus protected from export under New Zealand law. In a public statement, detective sergeant Craig Vining of the Hawkes Bay Police called for the return of the items, explaining that the artifacts had significant cultural and monetary value:
"We appeal to the people who took these items to return them immediately so they can be cared for by their proper guardians and remain in their turangawaewae [resting place].
"He added “This will have a major impact on local Maori. We appeal to the thieves to do the right thing and bring the taonga home".
On Friday the items mysteriously resurfaced and were taken to the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. No other details of the return have been released, though one may speculate that the thief's intention may have been to get these sacred (?) objects out of private hands.

Judge Arthur Tompkins, 'Stolen Treasures Mysteriously and Anonymously Returned' ARCA Blog April 24, 2015

Henri Neuendorf, 'Stolen Artifacts Returned to New Zealand Museum in Peculiar Theft', Artnet, April 28, 2015.