Sunday, September 6, 2020

British Museum's Stuff "All Bought and Paid For" Director

Hartwig Fischer said it was a 'simplification' to treat the British Museum's collection of 13 million historical objects from all over the globe as a hoard of stolen goods that can be returned because many of its artefacts were bought and paid for (Craig Simpson, 'The British Museum's 'loot' was bought and paid for, says director', Telegraph 27 August 2020).
Mr Fischer has argued that many significant pieces in the museum were acquired by less controversial means, including purchases, donations and treasure finds. These items cannot simply be sent back to their country of origin, the director said, and the legitimate acquisition of objects had to be taken into account. [...] the museum has worked to address its colonial legacy, and the issue of possessing cultural artefacts taken during the pomp [sic] of empire. [...] When asked why treasures cannot simply be handed back, Mr Fischer referenced the complex histories of many of the displays. Items from the Sutton Hoo hoard were gifted by Edith Pretty, the landowner of the site where the famous ship burial was found, and pieces like the Bronze Age Ringlemere cup were given to the museum after being legally declared as treasure finds.
See the text by Kwame Opoku: "Did British Museum Buy Most Of Its Thirteen Million Artefacts?" in Modern Ghana who analyses Mr Fischer's apologism.
It is depressing to realize that those who often preach the rule of law and human rights seem not to care much for the human rights of others to an independent cultural development and the right to determine freely the location and use of their artefacts. If the British Museum wants to discard its reputation as a citadel of looted and stolen artefacts of others, it should stop trying to advance baseless arguments and justifications for its illegitimate and unjustifiable detention of artefacts of others. [...] A large portion of the 13 million artefacts in the British Museum were clearly acquired under colonial rule with all the force at the disposal of the defunct violent British Empire.
Also, in the relationship to the debate on "who owns?", note the issues that it runs the Portable Antiquities Scheme handling finds for the most part dug and brought in by artefact hunters. Has legal title of the many individual objects the PAS handles been cleared with the owners of the property they were taken from? Or do PAS not really bother about title assignment and provenance documentation? 


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Denver Vigango go back to Africa

Denver Museum of Nature and Science repatriates thirty looted wooden carvings to Mijikenda people in Kenya and northern Tanzania. "We should not be curating people’s souls," said Stephen Nash, the museum’s director of anthropology and curator of archaeology.
The Denver Post reports that the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has repatriated 30 wooden carvings to the Mijikenda people of Kenya and northern Tanzania. The museum received the carvings as a gift in 1991, according to Stephen Nash, the museum’s director of anthropology and senior curator of archaeology, but are now thought to have been looted. The long, rectangular carvings with round heads, known as vigango, memorialize members of the community who have died and are thought to embody their spirits. “Once we realized that we were curating the physical embodiment of 30 dead people’s souls, that’s when we said ‘Look, the Mijikenda never had a chance for informed consent like you and I enjoy when disposing of our loved ones. We should not be curating people’s souls,” Nash said. The original site where the vigango stood is not known.
Actor Gene Hackman donated the 30 vigango to the Denver museum in 1991, Nash said. When the museum contacted his representatives, they said they had no record of the transaction. Nash and Chip Colwell, the museums’ former curator of anthropology, believe a late art dealer whose clients included Hollywood actors and producers ended up with most of the vigango. The people who looted the grave sites likely got paltry sums while the traders who sold them got thousands of dollars and buyers got tax write-offs for donating them, Nash said.

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.