Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Problems Surrounding Return of Human Remains

A UN conference has called for an intensified effort to achieve the repatriation of Indigenous ceremonial objects and human remains being held in foreign museums and other institutions. This is a key outcome of the inaugural World Conference on Indigenous Peoples that has just ended at UN headquarters in New York. The article focuses on Australian aboriginal remains and objects
Many European museums and galleries have held Australian Indigenous remains without even looking at them for decades [...] it was only when Indigenous communities began asking for the remains be returned, that their scientific value was suddenly deemed paramount. "Most collections that have been assembled overseas have never really been studied. That's the irony anyway. It's the irony from [the point of view of] anthropology. It might not actually be from the Aboriginal point of view. I can accept that. But often when institutions in Europe have been asked to return remains, they say, 'But these haven't been studied.' They've only had them [for] a hundred years and they've still not studied them and all of a sudden they've found that they're very valuable. Now, they're reluctant to give them back because now they want to study them."
Over the years, Australia has emerged as a global leader in the repatriation of Indigenous remains.
 Kristina Kukolja, 'UN conference calls for return of Indigenous remains', World News Radio 1 Oct 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Iznik Tile Panel in Louvre

Turkey, stolen heritage: Iznik tile panel: Stolen by a dentist, replaced with fakes, now in Louvre Museum.

"In 1892, a French dentist then living in Istanbul, Albert Sorlin Dorigny, somehow got permission from the Sultan to restore various tiles in Istanbul. In context of this process, one of the panels was taken to France by Dorigny and he brought fakes to Istanbul. In other words, Dorigny stole original 60 tiles and replaced them with the fakes. Now in 21th century, although truth revealed and this theft case has been enlightened, famous Louvre Museum still holds these stolen objects captivated. We want captivated cultural objects return to their homes".
See related stories too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Repatriation claims by Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom

There is an opinion-piece by Fredrick Nsibambi ('Should Britain return the artifacts allegedly stolen from Bunyoro in the 1890s?', New Vision (Uganda daily) Aug 27, 2014) about repatriation claims by Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom (Uganda) demanding for the return of artefacts allegedly stolen by the British colonial masters.
One of the key objects in question is the 9-legged royal stool/throne on which all current King of Bunyoro’s predecessors sat, up to King Kabalega, who was exiled by the British for resisting colonialism in 1899. The royal throne is currently kept at Oxford in Pitt Rivers Museum in England. According to some people, the current King was not properly installed because he did not sit on the same throne as his predecessors. Therefore, there is a general belief that the return of the missing throne would be a significant political victory for not only in what was once the greatest and richest kingdom but also for Africa as a continent. Besides the stool, Bunyoro says that during the colonial era, almost 300 artefacts were taken – with or without her consent. The kingdom's current Monarch, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I, has spent the better part of his reign campaigning for their return. The kingdom has taken legal action against the British government for theft and destruction of property.
He presents the pros and cons of return, mainly using the usual 'Universal Museum' arguments.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Jonathan Jones, 'The Parthenon marbles are the world's most beautiful art – and that's why we should give them back'

Jonathan Jones, 'The Parthenon marbles are the world's most beautiful art – and that's why we should give them back' Guardian Monday 18 August 2014

"The way the Elgin Marbles debate has turned art into an ideological plaything is a terrible distraction from looking at the bloody things".
The sad truth is that in the British Museum, the Parthenon sculptures are not experienced at their best. For one thing, they're shown in a grey, neoclassical hall whose stone walls don't contrast enough with these stone artworks – it is a deathly space that mutes the greatest Greek art instead of illuminating it. So if the British Museum wants to keep these masterpieces it needs to find the money to totally redisplay them in a modern way. Or, it could give them to Greece, which has already built a superb modern museum to do just that.

Native American Tribe Wants a German Museum to Return Native American Scalps

In a story mirroring the Hopi masks controversy, another request for repatriation of cultural property held in foreign collections highlights the problems of applying internal US laws such as that which governs the repatriation of human remains - The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to external cases without an MOU.Melissa Eddy reports for the New York Times, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of the Chippewa Indians have sent a letter to the Karl Kay Museum in Radebuel, Germany,  demanding that the museum return 17 human scalps (four of which are on display) in order that the tribe could give those remains a proper burial. The German museum has so far refused the Chippewa:

In the guidelines drawn up last year by the German Museums Association recommending how to care for human remains, a reference to scalps from “the indigenous people of America” who “fashioned trophies from the heads of their killed enemies” is listed under exceptions to human remains acquired in a context of injustice. “Killing one’s enemy and making use of his physical remains were socially accepted acts in those cultures,” the recommendations say. Though public sentiment in the United States has slowly shifted since the 1960s toward supporting the right of indigenous peoples, especially the American Indians, to reclaim and define their own cultures from museums and institutions, no such transformation has taken place in Germany.
The German curators insist that artefacts made out of  human remains, like any other museum objects, are important as historical items worthy of preservation and protection.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wampum in Museum Collections: Tracking Broken Chains of Custody

One of the forthcoming Penn Cultural Centres' 'Brown Bag Lectures' ('bring a lunch), on October 2, 2014 will be delivered by Margaret Bruchac, University of Pennsylvania on: Wampum in Museum Collections: Tracking Broken Chains of Custody

 Wampum belts (constructed of light and dark shell beads woven together with twine and leather) have long been used by Native American peoples to encode and facilitate inter-tribal and international relations. Federal legislation and national museums have identified wampum belts as iconic and inalienable items of cultural patrimony, and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tribal leaders have been actively seeking to repatriate wampum for more than a century. Yet, a number of wampum belts in museum collections are classified as only vaguely identifiable objects lacking in provenance. This talk highlights recent research that recovered detailed provenance data on several supposedly mysterious wampum belts. A five diamond wampum belt recording ongoing relations among the Six Nations and the Catholic Mohawk at Kanesatake was once secreted among the collections at the Museum of the American Indian, and recently surfaced for sale at a Sotheby’s auction. A path wampum belt currently housed at the Penn Museum, originally intended to facilitate peaceful relations among the Haudenosaunee, Mohican, and missionaries in the 1790s, was acquired and sold by a collector. In each case, collectors and curators represented these significant indigenous cultural records as though they were merely valuable antiquities, abstract art objects, and relics of vanished Indians. These false representations concealed historical origins even though much of the key data was preserved in museum archives and correspondence. Through restorative research, Bruchac successfully tracked the movements of each of these belts through the hands of various collectors, while charting the imposition of values that obscured indigenous meaning. These objects were also caught up in the emergence of a lucrative market in American Indian art that relied upon the physical alienation of iconic artifacts and the scholarly re-classification of tribal patrimony as privately-owned "art." This research project critiques the pervasive influence of museum fakelore, and illustrates the importance of combining archival research with Indigenous consultation to recover far more coherent understandings of colonial events and Indigenous objects, past and present.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Honglujing Stele

A Chinese organisation has appealed to Japan's Emperor Akihito to return a 1,300 year-old stele taken from China over a century ago. The Honglujing Stele  dates to the period between the turn of the 7/8th centuries AD to the first third of the tenth century AD. It was taken from Lushun city (Liaoning province), some time between October 1906 and April 1908, after the Russo-Japanese War. The stone is  3 meters wide, 1.8 meters tall and two meters thick was the only stele dating to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) from Manchuria. Its historical importance derives from the inscription in Chinese characters it bears, recording that the first king of the northeast Asian Bohai (Balhai) kingdom was given his title by a Chinese emperor from the Tang Dynasty. The identification of the nature of this entity is disputed (considered Chinese, Korean, or independent, depending on the nationality of the researcher, while  Russian and Japanese scholars classify it as an independent  Mohe state). The stele is currently located in the Japanese Imperial Palace.

Old photo of Honglujing Stele (Asia One)

Old photo, Stele relocated?

Ink impression of inscription (composite image)
Liaoning (formerly: Fengtien) province is now in China (most recently since 1907) and the Chinese have been asking the Japanese to return the stele, together with other antiquities for some time. According to Einhorn:
Japanese troops went on a rampage in the mainland in the 50 years between China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War and the end of the Second World War, with Japan stealing some 3.6 million relics.
The demand comes with relations between Beijing and Tokyo at their lowest point in years, with a territorial row over islands in the East China Sea rumbling against a backdrop of disputes over history.


'1,300-year-old stele eyed by Chinese, Japanese archaeologists' The Peoples Daily, 1 June 2006

Bruce Einhorn, 'China Presses for Japan's Return of Plundered Antiquities' Bloomburg Business August 12, 2014

AFP 'Chinese group appeals to Japan's emperor over artefact', Channel News Asia 12 Aug 2014 and Asia One  Aug 12th 2014.