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.

Korean Stele Returned by Japan

Pukkwan Victory Monument
A recent article (AFP 'Chinese group appeals to Japan's emperor over artefact', Channel News Asia 12 Aug 2014) mentions:
"Japan in 2005 gave South Korea a stele commemorating Korean victories against invading Japanese forces in the late 16th century that had been taken to Japan in the early 20th century. Seoul later sent it to North Korea for return to its original location".
This was the Pukkwan Victory Monument (often referred to as the Bukgwan Victory Monument in South Korea). This was "a stone stele written in Classical Chinese commemorating a series of Korean military victories between 1592 and 1594 against the invading army of Japan during the Imjin War. It was subsequently taken to Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. It was eventually discovered on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, prompting a Korean outcry that it be returned. In a ceremony on 12 October 2005, it was turned over to officials from South Korea, who returned it to its original location, which is now in North Korea". The monument is now in Kimch'aek (formerly Sŏngjin) in North Hamgyong Province. (Wikipedia).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Not About Culture but Money

There are a series of objections to the proposed sale by the Borough of Northampton of the ancient statue of Sekhemka from the town's museum. The statue was donated 'in perpetuity' to the Northampton Museum over 100 years ago  by Lord Northampton’s family. The museum's governing body however seems determined to betray the trust placed in it and want to sell the statue. It is reported that a deal has been reached whereby the present Lord Northampton will receive 45% of the proceeds of the sale, with Northampton Borough Council receiving 55% .
Sniping xenophobe collectors and their lobbyists object to Egypt's new Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh El-Damati  expressing disapproval of the sale They miss the point entirely. The Minister's statement indicates an extreme shift of policy.
El-Damati has denounced the decision made by Northampton Museum, claiming that it is against the values of museums world wide as they should act as vessels to spread culture, rather than businesses searching for a profit.
This is totally at odds with the policies publicly expressed by previous Ministers which demanded iconic objects and others be returned to Egypt. Collectors claim that antiquity collecting is all about spreading culture, but their notion of that is through private possession of trophy objects like this one, which is why on their websites and forums they simply ignore this important shift.
Mr El-Damati has called on the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to stop the sale on the grounds that it goes against the council’s ethics. Ali Ahmed, head of the ministry’s stolen antiquities section, said the Sekhemka statue was given to Northampton Museum at the end of the 18th century by an Ottoman sultan and has been a part of the museum’s collection on display since 1849. But a spokeswoman for Northampton Borough Council said Eqypt had no right to reclaim the statue and this had been confirmed after an investigation. The spokeswoman said: “We contacted the Egyptian Government two years ago regarding our plans to sell Sekhemka. “According to UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, Egypt has no right to claim the recovery of the statue, as the statue left Egypt before this convention was put in place and this was confirmed by the Egyptian Government on June 15.”
I doubt it was "given" by an Ottoman sultan - no documentation of such a gift has ever been produced. The spokeswoman is simply wrong. There is nothing exclusive about the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Of course Egypt has a right to ask for the return of something taken out of Egypt in the past which is no longer wanted by those who hold it in trust. What she means is there is nothing in the Convention (or international or local law) which would oblige Northampton to comply. That is a totally different matter. If Northampton do not want to continue to look after this statue, and no other public collection in the UK will take on this role, then it should be offered back to Egypt.  
Sources: 'Egyptian government launches last-minute legal bid to stop sale of Sekhemka by Northampton Borough Council', Northampton Chronicle and Echo  7th July 2014.
'Egypt threatens legal action to stop UK museum selling ancient statue', Al Arabiya News Tuesday, 8 July 2014.
Northampton residents have formed a Save Sekhemka Action Group. Sign the petition now, just two days left to convince the Borough's footwear philistines they are doing wrong.  To Councillor David Mackintosh, Leader of Northampton Borough Council STOP the Sale of Sekhemka by Northampton Council.

Vignette: The contested statue.