Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Trade in African Cultural Property: "Je ne suis pas moi-même" (2007)

Je ne suis pas moi-même is a 52 minute Spanish 2007 documentary film produced by Nanouk Films which explores complex international African ethnic art market. Mysterious figurines pass from hand to hand, crossing continents and changing in value and meaning. The film concentrates on the  movement of objects from Cameroon, and reveals how Cameroon has become a paradise for art forgers and traffickers and is related to corruption. It also shows how African artworks are spirited away to end up in Europe's leading public and private collections, where they come from, and how they arrive in the showcases of the biggest galleries and collections in Europe. It also explores who decides how much each piece is worth in this post-colonial context. In Europe there's a market needy of new ethnic art pieces. In Africa they’re in need of economical resources, some are willing to sell their cultural legacy or even fake it if need be. The limits of authenticity grow blurry when sacred objects are sold by those who adored them a very short time ago.

Directed by Alba Mora & Anna Sanmartí
Producer: Ventura Durall
Screenplay by Alba Mora, Anna Sanmartí
Starring Jonas Njifouta, Ahmadou Mboumbou, Fabien Essiane
Music by Pol Ponsarnau
Editing by Vep Culleré

Watch the documentary: Je ne suis pas moi-même
Shortened trailer

Comments by  David Norden

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ten Years Old: Declaration on the importance and value of universal museums"

This document is ten years old today, how well have the ideas it embodies weathered that decade?
Declaration on the importance and value of universal museums
The international museum community shares the conviction that illegal traffic in archaeological artistic, and ethnic objects must be firmly discouraged. We should, however, recognize that objects acquired in earlier times must be viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values, reflective of that earlier era. The objects arid monumental works that were installed decades and even centuries ago in museums throughout Europe and America were acquired under conditions that are not comparable with current ones.

Over time, objects so acquired-whether by purchase, gift, or partage - have become part of the museums that have cared for them, and by extension part of the heritage of the nations which house them. Today we are especially sensitive to the subject of a work's original context, but we should not lose sight of the fact that museums too provide a valid and valuable context for objects that were long ago displaced from their original source.

The universal admiration for ancient civilizations would not be so deeply established today were it not for the influence exercised by the artifacts of these cultures, widely available to ail international public in major museums. Indeed, the sculpture of classical Greece, to take but one example, is an excellent illustration of this point and of the importance of public collecting. The centuries - long history of appreciation of Greak art began in antiquity, was renewed in Renaissance Italy, and subsequently spread through the rest of Europe and to the Americas. Its accession into the collections of public museums throughout the world marked the significance of Greek sculpture for mankind as a whole and its enduring value for the contemporary world. Moreover, the distinctly Greek aesthetic of these works appears all the more strongly as the result of their being seen and studied in direct proximity to products of other great civilizations.

Calls to repatriate objects that have belonged to museum collections for many years have become an important issue for museums. Although each case has to be judged individually, we should acknowledge that museums serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation. Museums are agents in the development of culture, whose mission is to foster knowledge by a continuous process of reinterpretation. Each object contributes to that process. To narrow the focus of museums whose collections are diverse and multifaceted would therefore be a disservice to all visitors.

Signed by the Directors of:
The Art Institute of Chicago
Bavarian State Museum, Munich (Alte Pinakothek, Neue Pinakothek)
State Museums, Berlin
Cleveland Museum of Art
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Louvre Museum, Paris
The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Prado Museum, Madrid
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Sunday, December 9, 2012

European Court to Judge the case of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus?

Two marble statues from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
Photograph: The Trustees of the British Museum
Will the British Museum oppose the human rights of citizens of Turkey that now want some ancient artefacts back? Campaigners are going to European court in attempt to repatriate artefacts created for the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, which campaigners want returned to their original site – Bodrum in south-west Turkey.

A Turkish challenge in the European court of human rights will be a test case for the repatriation of art from one nation to another [...]  a dramatic move to reclaim sculptures that once adorned the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus [...]  An Istanbul lawyer, Remzi Kazmaz, told the Observer that a lawsuit will be filed at the European court on 30 January and that 30 lawyers are acting on behalf of the town of Bodrum as well as district and provincial governors, the Turkish ministry of culture and other bodies [...].  Kazmaz said: "We thank the British authorities and the British Museum for accommodating and preserving our historical and cultural heritage for the last years. However, the time has come for these assets to be returned to their place of origin ... Preparations for formal requests are taking place now." [...] Gwendolen Morgan, a human rights lawyer with Bindmans LLP, suggested that "the most likely line of attack" will be a breach by the UK of article 1, 1st protocol of the European convention of human rights, which states: "Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions."
The mausoleum was built in 350BC to mark the burial place of Mausolus, king of Caria. It was a 40-metre-high monument, crowned by a colossal four-horse chariot on a stepped pyramid (of which the head of one of the horses in in the BM). The structure is believed to have collapsed after a medieval earthquake. Some of its sculptures were taken by crusaders to their castle at Bodrum, from where they were recovered in 1846 by the British ambassador at Constantinople and presented to the British Museum. Others were retrieved in the 1850s during site excavations by the museum. In both cases the activities were  carried out with the requisite documents issued by the Ottoman authorities (firmans) which granted permission for the excavation of the site and removal of the material from the site. A petition with 118,000 signatures has been organised and the Strasbourg court will be shown a  documentary film on how Turkey lost its ancient treasure.

Dalya Alberge, 'Turkey turns to human rights law to reclaim British Museum sculptures' Guardian 8 December 2012.