Friday, November 23, 2012

The Repatriation of the Vienna "Penacho" Feather Headdress?

With reference to the  "Penacho" Feather Headdress currently housed in the Vienna Ethnological Museum, Dr Kwame Opoku asks 'Has Mexico Renounced her Claim to Montezuma's Feather crown at the Vienna Ethnography Museum?' (Modern Ghana 20 November 2012). He points out that recent statements by Dr. Steven Boudewijn Engelsman, the director of that Museum, has thrown doubts on the belief that this Mexican cultural artefact will ever return to its country of origin. "Director Engelsman, said that, as a matter of fact, the Mexicans authorities, have never formally asked for the return of the famous feather crown and that claims for the return for the artefacts came only from persons in Austria". Opoku finds inconsistencies in such statements and suggests that:
Either the Mexicans have officially requested the return of Montezuma's crown or they have not. It seems the director of the Ethnology Museum is resorting to the discredited strategy and bogus arguments of the universal museums as described in our article mentioned above; we have described these tactics, used in the past by the British Museum with regard to the Benin artefacts and by the Berlin Neues Museum with regard to the restitution of Nefertiti... /
Opoku points out that the catalogue of the new exhibition of the piece, the work of a group of Austrians and Mexicans (Sabine Haag, Alfonso de Maria y Campos, Lilia Rivero Weber and Christian Feest - eds 2012 'Der Altmexiksnische Federkopfschmuck', ZKF Publishers, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia, Museum fur Völkerkunde), adopts more balanced view:
The curator of the exhibition, Gerard van Bussel, has stated that whatever may be the truth about the crown, whether it was used by Montezuma or used by some priest, it has become a symbol of Mexican identity and as such, a settled part of the collective memory of Mexicans of Indian and non-Indian origins. It is the importance of this artefact for Mexican culture and identity that should be in the forefront of any considerations on restitution. All considered, Mexico has every reason to expect Austria to treat it well in the matter of the restitution of Montezuma's Feather Crown.

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