Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Three Years' of Repatriation Blog

I started this blog three years ago. Its purpose was to separate the discussions of pre-1970 repatriation issues from the discussion on the main blog of the ongoing despoliation of sites by antiquity collectors. I sensed that the mixing of the two separate (in my opinion) issues was clouding the debate, and it is my suspicion that this was being deliberately done. So I wanted to explore it separately.

In contrast to the main (PACHI) blog, I never intended this blog to present any particular case or be a systematic overview of the subject, these are mostly just loose jottings. I did however try to record here the more newsworthy topics that were being discussed as they came up. I was curious how it breaks down by topic:

Parthenon 21
Turkey 14 (mostly in 2012)
'American museums' 9

Human remains 8 (New Zealand 5, Ainu 1, Namibia 1)
African art 9
Egypt 8 (2011 and 2012 only)
Benin/Nigeria 7 (Ghana 1)
Cambodia 7
China 5 
Korea 3
Sri Lanka 3 (about one object though)
Russia 3
Italy 3
Greece 2
India 2 
Melanesia, New Zeland Australia 2
South America, Ecuador, Peru 5
Native American 3
Central America 2
Armenia 1
Jordan 1
Libya 2 (2011)
Obviously these results are skewed. They reflect what caught my eye rather than being a statistical survey. Nevertheless it seems that the picture is not entirely an artefact of my own interests. There is a massive campaign on behalf of the Parthenon marbles. There was a lot of pressure from Egypt not only about current loot, but loot of an earlier period, though the latter seems to have quietened with Zahi Hawass losing his position in the Ministry. Turkey has now taken the lead in insisting on the return of pre-1970s losses, though the peak was rather more last year than this. The controversy about US museums and their attitudes will not go away. The Benin campaign of course owes much to the tireless activity and forceful arguments of one academic Kwame Opoku. The relative prominence of African art issues stem from colonial history and the size of the continent. Human remains taken in colonial times also raise many easily recognizable concerns.  There seems to be a dearth here of South and Central American topics, but Donna Yates' blogs currently fill in those gaps quite well.

It does seem that the current repatriation debate does have certain foci. In 2014 I will give some thought as to where this blog is going, if anywhere. Comments welcome. I'd also like to hear from other bloggers doing the same topic.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

L'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient Donates Cambodian Objects to Japan

Julie Masis, 'Japan's Angkor art: Booty or fair exchange?', Asia Times Online, 22nd Dec 2013.
Visitors to Japan's most renowned museum are often impressed by its extensive collection of Angkor art from Cambodia. The Tokyo National Museum has the largest collection of ancient Angkor sculptures in Japan, as well as ceramics that experts say are generally of a higher quality than most of those on display in Cambodia's own museums. A curious sign next to some of the 69 displayed items says that they were acquired through an "exchange" with France, Cambodia's colonial ruler. More specifically, the exchange was supposedly made with the l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO), the still existent French institute dedicated to the study of Asian societies. In exchange for the 69 Angkor era objects, Japan reciprocally sent 31 of its own precious items, including ancient swords, textiles, lacquer ware, and sculptures, to the French.
The Angkorian objects comprised 31 sculptures from the 9th to the 13th century, 13 metalwork objects from the 12th to the 14th century and 25 ceramics from the 9th to the 17th century. The exchange was arranged in the spring of 1941, when there were japanese troops in Hanoi, and the ancient Cambodian items arrived in Tokyo in 1944, when the Japanese occupied French Indochina. It seems that it was the result of an agreement made at Japanese-French Indochinese talks held in November 1940, that 'Friendly relations between Japan and French Indochina shall be further promoted through cultural exchange'. Questions remain about the terms of the exchange and the legitimacy of Japan's claim to these antiquities, neither is it clear what happened to the objects that Japan sent in exchange, there is certainly no Japanese art on display in any of Cambodia's museums.
Ricardo Elia, an archaeology professor at Boston University [...] recently unearthed information about the exchange in the US's National Archives [...] "My impression is that the French school is not very eager to have this story come out," he said. "You have to remember this was not a complete military occupation by the Japanese. The French were collaborators with the Japanese ... The French were desperate to retain that colony, so they made the deal with the Japanese."
Japan has recently agreed to return to South Korea more than 1,000 works of art it had seized during its occupation of what was then a unified Korea from 1910 to 1945. However, Tokyo has not yet mentioned returning any of the Cambodian antiquities held in its museums.

Looting of Cambodia Under Japanese Occupation

Julie Masis ('Japan's Angkor art: Booty or fair exchange?', Asia Times Online, 22nd Dec 2013) discusses objects officially granted to Japan by the French colonial powers during the Second World War, but also raises the question of unofficial movement of Cambodian cultural property at the same time:
Artifacts may have been taken by Japanese soldiers from Cambodia during the occupation, admits [David] Miller. These items may have ended up in other Japanese museums or in private collections. The Kamratan Collection, a collection owned Hiroshi Fujiwara that includes 138 pieces of Khmer ceramics spanning the 9th to 13th centuries, is considered one of the finest collections of ancient Cambodian ceramics in the world, according to a book on the topic. "Such objects probably were taken to Japan by people returning to Japan, but there are no official records of these activities. It is therefore very difficult to say what objects were taken, when they were taken, and whether they were taken directly from Cambodia or from other places within Asia," Miller wrote in an email. Whether the Japanese looted during the occupation of Indochina is unclear, according to [Ricardo] Elia. "Everyone tends to assume that they looted as much as the Nazis. But there is a lot of documentation for the Nazis - and there isn't for the Japanese," he said.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Article: Germans Debate Legitimacy of Objects in Ethnology Museum, Berli

Kwame Opoku:

There has been a strong opposition in Germany to the proposed Humboldt Forum project which, inter alia, will, involve the transfer of looted African objects, including the Benin bronzes, from the Ethnology Museum, Dahlem, Berlin, to the centre of the city at the Museums Island. A large group of German NGOs has formed a coalition movement, No Humboldt 21, to oppose this transfer and have brought up the issue of the legitimacy of the African cultural objects in the Ethnology Museum. They consider the exhibition concept presented as Eurocentric and violating the dignity and the property rights of persons from many parts of the world. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

...and Hopi Masks are Returned

Annenberg Foundation Vice President and Director Gregory Annenberg Weingarten today announced that the Annenberg Foundation has purchased 24 sacred Native American artifacts from an auction house in Paris – totaling $530 thousand– for the sole purpose of returning them to their rightful owners.  Twenty-one of these items will be returned to the Hopi Nation in Arizona, and three artifacts belonging to the San Carlos Apache will be returned to the Apache tribe. 
Annenberg Foundation and Hopi Nation Announce Return of Sacred Artifacts to Native American Hopi Tribe PR press release

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hopi Masks Sold

In the French Drouot auction house sacred Hopi masks and other contested Native American artefacts have been sold for a total of £1m,after auction goes ahead. The "Katsinam" masks are put on sale by a private collector on Dec. 9 and 11, alongside an altar from the Zuni tribe that used to belong to late Hollywood star Vincent Price, and other Native American frescoes and dolls. The collector has realised his or her investment and no doubt made a lot of cash. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN cultural agency, UNESCO, David Killion, co-wrote an open letter to argue the Hopis' case. He called for countries, including France, to tighten "laws at a national level to impede profiteering in culturally significant sacred objects".
The Katsinam masks are surreal faces made from wood, leather, horse hair and feathers and painted in vivid pigments of red, blue, yellow and orange. Unlike commercial art, the Hopis argue, these objects are akin to tombs and represent their ancestors' spirits; nurtured and fed as if they are the living dead. The objects sold briskly on Monday. One "crow mother" mask, with a geometric face flanked by crow feathers, sold for 100,000 euros ($136,000). Another mask set off a phone-bidding war and sold for 31,000 euros ($42,300).  Pierre Servan-Schreiber, the Hopis' French lawyer, bought one mask for 13,000 euros ($17,700) and intends to return it to the tribe.

Thomas Adamson, 'French auction house goes ahead with Hopi tribe mask sale, ignoring US plea to delay', Associated Press December 9, 2013.

["The Associated Press is not transmitting images of the objects because the Hopi have long kept the items out of public view and consider it sacrilegious for any images of the objects to appear"]. after ignoring a plea from the US embassy to delay the sale.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

French Court Allows Auction of Hopi Artifacts to Proceed

On Monday an auction is going ahead in the Eve Auction House in France which contains 66 Native American artefacts. Among them are 25 Hopi masks, which the tribe believes are imbued with divine spirits. Last month representatives of the tribe tried to prevent the sale, saying that the objects were stolen and that selling them is a sacrilege. On Friday a French court delivered its verdict, allowing the sale to go ahead. The French legal authorities say the sale is legal because, despite their religious value to the tribe, the items are not associated with human remains or living beings in France.
It was the second unsuccessful effort by the tribe to block a sale. In April [...] [the tribe represented by its French lawyer], Pierre Servan-Schreibertook legal action against Tessier, Sarrou & Associés, another auction house, which had put 70 similar Hopi artifacts on sale. That auction went forward and generated more than $1 million in sales, d
espite protests and an appeal from Charles Rivkin, the United States ambassador to France, to delay the sale.
On Friday, the Eve auction house said: “American law doesn’t forbid the sale of items coming from Indian tribes when they are in the hands of private owners.”
Maïa de la Baume, 'French Court Allows Auction of Hopi Artifacts to Proceed', NY Times Blog December 6, 2013

Vignette: The Hopi have a reservation right slap-bang in the middle of the Navajo reservation (top right corner). 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

China to Britain: Give us Back our Looted Treasures

British Prime Minister David Cameron has not been having a very nice time during his official visit to China.  John Ross was rather scathing ('David Cameron’s humiliation in Beijing', Dawn December 5, 2013). Among other problems, British officials set up a microblogging page on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, inviting questions for the leader, saying he would aim to reply during the visit. It attracted more than 260,000 followers a few days later. Among other things, it was inundated with demands for the return of artefacts looted from Beijing in the 19th century.
One of the most popular questions was posted by a prominent Chinese think-tank, the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, which is headed by former vice-premier Zeng Peiyan and includes of the country's government officials among its members. The organization posed the question 'When will Britain return the illegally plundered artefacts?' referring to 23,000 items in the British Museum which it says were looted by the British army. The British were part of the Eight-Nation Alliance that put down the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century, a popular uprising against the incursion of European imperial powers in China. To the Chinese, the ransacking of the Forbidden City, and the earlier destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 remain key symbols of how the country was once dominated by foreign powers.
the article illustrates quite well how often the truth is casualty to accusations in such situations:
 A spokesperson from the British Museum said: 'There is clearly a serious misunderstanding. There are around 23,000 objects in the Museum’s Chinese collection as a whole, the overwhelming majority of them peacefully traded or collected. 'Many indeed were made for export. Very few objects entered the collection, in the context of – even less as a result of – the Boxer Rebellion. 'The Museum has not received any official requests for the return of any objects to China.' [...]  In 2009 calls for a Chinese delegation to be allowed access to the British Museum archives were reported. But the a spokesperson from the Museum confirmed that as yet, there has been no formal request from the Chinese government to return artefacts. 
Not like the Parthenon Marbles then?

'Return our looted treasures Chinese think-tank tells visiting UK PM', Daily Star, December 5, 2013

'Give us back our treasure': Chinese demand Cameron returns priceless artefacts looted during 19th century Boxer Rebellion' Daily Mail 4 December 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ask Me Anything, Timothy Potts

Timothy Potts (Director Getty Museum)  answered a load of questions from the public online on Reddit (Ask Me Anything). The range of questions was interesting in itself, understandably in the time available (this must be very time-consuming), Dr Potts could only answer a selection of them, but two are worth highlighting here

Eistean asked
Where do you stand on the repatriation of artifacts such as the Elgin Marbles and others held in major institutions worldwide? [...]
TimothyPotts replied
Repatriation has become an extremely complex issue both from a legal and from an ethical perspective, and it continues to be the subject of great debate. The easy part is to say that museums must follow US law (or, for foreign museums, the laws of their respective countries). When it comes to the ethical issues, it is hard to generalize about "artifacts such as the Elgin marbles", since each case is different and must be judged on its own circumstances of discovery, export, ownership etc, as far as these are known or can be determined. One point I would make is that the legal movement of art between nations and cultures has been an important part of the interaction and evolution of culture and art throughout history. So it is important that we try to find legal ways that this cross-fertilization and appreciation of other cultures can continue. [...]

quesopantolones asks

In what ways has the acquisition process of the Getty been changed over the years? Are black market artifacts still prevalent within the museum world, even in the wake of The Morgantina Aphrodite and Marion True?
TimothyPotts replies:
In 2006 the Getty adopted the same principles on acquiring antiquities as other US (and most international) museums, which is that the object must have been outside its source country by 1970. We do not buy objects that cannot be traced back to that date, even though they can be legally bought and sold by dealers, auction houses and collectors. So this is a self-imposed restriction that the museum community has decided is appropriate. That said, there continues to be much debate on whether this restraint on the part of museums really does reduce the illicit excavation and trade in antiquities, or just diverts it to other parts of the world and thereby feeds the untraceable markets there, where most material is not published or accessible for research.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"Stolen Korean National Treasures Come Home for 90 Days"

Julian Ryall, 'Seoul clash over artefacts taken to Japan during colonial period' South China Morning Post, Wednesday, 27 November, 2013
There is growing anger in South Korea over an exhibition of ancient Korean artefacts that are on loan from a museum in Tokyo [...]  Under the headline "Stolen national treasures come home for 90 days", The JoongAng Daily on November 21 said visitors to an exhibition of treasures from the Gaya period at the Yangsan Museum, in South Gyeongsang province, were "stunned" that the items were only on loan from the Tokyo National Museum. The exhibition includes earrings, necklaces and a gilt bronze crown excavated from a nearby tomb that were confiscated during Japan's colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula [1910–1945 PMB] and transferred to Japan. Under the treaty signed in 1965 by Japan and South Korea to normalise diplomatic relations, Seoul essentially gave the artefacts - and an estimated 66,824 others - to Japan. South Korea requested the return of 4,479 items of particular national importance, of which just 1,432 have been given back. 

There is a separate case arousing discussion at the moment. This is the Tathagata Buddha, which was stolen from a shrine in Nagasaki prefecture in 2012 by a South Korean criminal group. The statue is believed to be originally Korean. Defying requests from the Japanese government that the statue be returned, a local court in Seoul has ordered the South Korean government not to hand the artefact over. The case has yet to be resolved.

There is growing interest in South Korea in their cultural property now in foreign countries. In the case of material held in Japan, military dictator, and former collaborator with Japan during the occupation, Park Chung-hee, (father of the current president of South Korea), agreed to let Japan keep all of its loot from the war. Both countries have ratified the conventions that cover these artefacts. But in recent years the   South Korean media is becoming more and more emotional about these issues, which is a question of identity.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dealing with Old Collections of Human Remains

In colonial times, preserved human heads made by Maoris were eagerly collected by private individuals for purposes one can only guess now. They were often deposited in museums by their heirs finding such objects in their homes after their death and not wishing to keep them. The trade began in the 18th century "Enlightenement"  and continued into the nineteenth century.  In 1831 the sale of these toi moko was banned by the governor of New Zealand, but the trade continued illegally for almost a century. Now there are an estimated 650 Maori remains held worldwide, mostly in European institutions. Other skeletal material (skulls in particular) were also eagerly collected for pseudo-scholarly or status-enhancing reasons. 

Wellcome Library, via BBC
The University of Birmingham in the UK currently has a large number of mummified heads, preserved tattooed heads and relics of sacrifices among the collection. Some 60 ancient body parts have been identified in the medical school stores, and the University no longer wants them in its stores. Deaccessioning these potentially culturally sensitive artefacts is a problem that has to be faced.
Dr June Jones, religious and cultural diversity expert at the university, said the remains reflect European exploration and the former British Empire.   Each item is boxed and labelled with a location, including Fiji, East Africa, Australia, the USA and New Zealand. Some are simply classified 'Inca'. The fact is the university would rather not own this material at all. There is scant paperwork about how the body parts came to be in Birmingham, but it is likely they were collected by wealthy individuals in the 1700s and 1800s before being donated to the medical school, which was founded in 1825. "To keep them would be wrong," said Dr Jones. "These items being stolen or traded is an example of historical practices we're now deeply ashamed of," she added. [...]  Dr Jones recently instigated the repatriation of a tattooed Maori head and skeletal remains to New Zealand. Inviting Maori delegates from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to collect the artefacts - their ancestors - was the culmination of more than two years' research work. Arapata Hakiwai, the Maori leader of the museum, said: "Repatriation is always very special, it's the return of our ancestors home." 
Source: Faye Chambers, 'What to do with an ancient skull and head collection?' BBC News Online23 November 2013

The Birmingham Toi Moko

The University of Birmingham recently returned a Maori tattooed head and skulls to New Zealand, which had been held in their collections for many years.

Toi moko - Maori preserved heads

  • Under Maori tradition tattoos were inscribed on the faces of chiefs and warriors
  • After death the head - considered sacred - was smoked and dried in the sun for preservation
  • Heads were sometimes taken in tribal wars
  • In the late 18th Century European collectors started to buy them as curiosities
  • In 1831 the sale of toi moko was banned by the governor of New Zealand
  • Trade continued illegally for almost a century
  • Experts estimate there are 650 Maori remains held worldwide, mostly in European institutions
Dr June Jones, from the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, recently instigated the repatriation of a tattooed Maori head and skeletal remains to New Zealand. Inviting Maori delegates from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to collect the artefacts - their ancestors - was the culmination of more than two years' research work.

The New Zealand government has been proactive in researching Maori remains and has archives suggesting more than 400 are still held in the UK alone.

 'Birmingham Maori head returned to New Zealand', BBC News, 

Faye Chambers, ' What to do with an ancient skull and head collection?' BBC News Online 23 November 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Parthenon Marbles: The Game Could Soon be up?

David Hill is chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.
After many years, the dispute between Greece and Britain over the possession of the ancient Parthenon sculptures may be moving towards resolution as a result of a recent change to UNESCO's rules dealing with stolen cultural property [...] The new opportunity to resolve the issue comes with a change to rules agreed by UNESCO in September 2010. Under the new rules, any UNESCO member can apply to it to mediate in a dispute where it claims cultural property has been 'illicitly appropriated'. Last July, Greece became the first UNESCO member to test the new rules when Culture Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos went to Paris and asked UNESCO to intercede. Following the meeting, UNESCO's secretary-general, Irina Bokova, wrote to the British government asking it to agree to mediation. Under the new procedure, it is still open to Britain to reject the request because the mediation can take place only by 'mutual consent'. [...] If the matter does go to mediation, Britain can expect little support from the other UNESCO members or the international community[...].
David Hill, 'Rule changes could end Britain’s game of playing with marbles', Sydney Morning Herald, November 8, 2013.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jane Austen's ring

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recent Discussions on Holocaust Art

William D. Cohan ('The Restitution Struggle: Malaise, Indifference, and Frustration', Art News, 11th September 2013), discusses recent developments concerning the return of art confiscated during the Holocaust to the heirs of those who were forced to relinquish it. Decades after the effort began, hundreds of thousands of artworks and other objects looted from victims of the Holocaust have yet to be returned to the owners or their heirs
“There is an enormous amount of work yet to be done,” concludes Webber, and other experts agree. “It’s 80 years after Hitler came to power and this still has not been dealt with. I think that’s a sign of the problem. I think it shows how much it means to people,” Webber says. And “it’s an indication of how much resistance there still is to providing justice after all these years.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Louvre Exhibits Antiquities From Ligortinos, Crete wants them Back

Maria Korologou, 'Louvre Exhibits Antiquities Stolen From Ligortina', Greekreporter.com September 10, 2013

They were stolen from Ligortina and today are exhibited at the world famous Louvre Museum. We are talking about the dozens of antiquities stolen in 1896 from Ligotirna and are now exhibited at the French museum and particularly in the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman collection wing. These findings belong to ditches that coincidentally were discovered in the region of Ligortinos, in the Messara Plain, Crete. They were crafted while Crete was under Mycenaean rule and were stolen from Greece. The issue has taken on bigger dimensions after the mobilization of the local cultural association with their intervening with the ministers of Culture and Sports and of Foreign Affairs. A New Democracy deputy from Heraklion requires answers to whether there is an explicit record of the objects stolen from Ligotirna, how many and what findings are exhibited at The Louvre, while Lefteris Augenakis asked for the antiquities to be returned from wherever they are displayed.

In 1896 Crete was under (failing it is true) Ottoman rule, but is that in itself grounds for the use of the verb "stolen"? But yes, by all means let a full inventory be made and published, together with documenting how they left Crete. Then, and not before, their fate can be discussed.  Who's going to pay for it? 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ainu Fight for Return of Ancestral Remains

A landmark case pits the indigenous people of Hokkaido against a local university holding the majority of a series of human remains of uncertain origins.
Based on a yearlong survey, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology revealed earlier this year that the bones of over 1,600 Ainu are still being stored at 11 universities across the country. These remains were taken from grave sites primarily in Hokkaido, but also from Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands (both now part of Russia), between 1873 and 2011, for the purpose of carrying out studies on the skulls. At the center of the controversy is Hokkaido University, which is holding the majority of the remains — those of 1,027 individuals. A lawsuit has been filed against the university by a group of Ainu from the Kineusu kotan,* seeking to have their ancestor’s bones returned. [...]
This is the first case where the Ainu people have argued for their aboriginal title to be recognized in a Japanese court, and also the first time they have demanded the return of their ancestors’ skulls and bones - under Japan’s Civil Code, human remains can only be transferred to an individual who is a direct descendant or proven blood relative of the deceased, the Ainu community is arguing that the bones of the kotan’s members belong to the whole kotan as a tribe, not to an individual.
the university’s position has hardened in recent years, making it more difficult for Ainu who want their ancestors’ remains returned. “Hokkaido University now insists the individual Ainu must prove ownership of the bones — I think that is impossible. I do not know its reasons, but I guess Hokkaido University wants to carry out DNA research on these bones.” The circumstances by which the universities came into possession of the Ainu remains are murky, in part because of the time that has elapsed since most of the exhumations occurred — 140 years in some cases.[...] very little in the way of reliable records exists detailing the circumstances surrounding the removal of the remains. Ainu argue there is evidence that in at least some cases bones were stolen, but it also seems likely, considering the poverty in which the Ainu lived at that time, that in other cases money may have changed hands. Hokkaido University Vice-President Takashi Mikami refutes the claim that remains were stolen and says they have found “no documents that suggest grave robbery.”
Unlike in contemporary Japanese Buddhist ceremonies, where cremation is the norm, traditionally Ainu have always buried the dead and, according to Kato, this is a way to ensure their “spirit remains connected to the family.”

 Simon Scott, 'Ainu fight for return of plundered ancestral remains', Japan Times Aug 12, 2013.

[see also: 'The Ainu: persecuted, ‘assimilated’ people of Japan’s far north']

* “Kotan” means both village and tribe in the Ainu language and was the central unit of social organization in traditional Ainu society.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cheshire Museum Surrenders Toi Moko

A Maori tattooed head is to be returned to New Zealand from Warrington Museum in the UK who have had it since the 1840s. The museum announced it was sending the head back to its motherland due to its "great cultural importance". On the trafficking of  these Toi mokai see the Trafficking Culture website, to be repatriated due to its 'great cultural importance'

Press Association, 'Maori chief's mummified head to return to New Zealand after 150 years in UK', The Guardian, Tuesday 6 August 2013.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Return of the Parthenon Marbles to the Acropolis A destined meeting

Here is an effective film. Return of the Parthenon Marbles to the Acropolis A destined meeting (Script and video editing by Nikolaos Chatziandreou):

Monday, July 22, 2013

Restitution of Melanesian Carvings

Verity Algar ('When is restitution a bad thing? The case of Melanesian wood carvings', ARCA blog July 19, 2013) argues that "not all cultural groups want to re-possess their cultural heritage", or at least certain elements of it. She takes as her example Malanggan from Northern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea - wood carvings from Melanesia.
The people of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea [...] do not wish for the malanggan which they themselves created, to be returned to them, despite malanggan being essential to their culture [...] they are not made to be displayed, treasured and revered [...] Malanggan are displayed for a few hours during mortuary ceremonies, before being left to the elements to decompose [...] During the carving process, the sculpture is imbued with life force, which is “symbolically killed” when ownership of the malanggan is transferred from the deceased’s family to related kin in exchange for money [...] To restitute these objects to the people of New Ireland would be to rekindle a specific aspect of their cultural memory, thus interfering with the process of “deliberate forgetting”.[...] decisions about whether or not to restitute cultural objects need to be made on a culture-specific basis.
I find this a little odd. It is almost as though the author is suggesting that it is the collector who decides (should decide) for a native community. Surely "restitution"/"repatriation" should be a result of respecting a request of the people whose heritage it is, rather than something graciously offered or even insisted upon by the collectors who have it.

Vignette: Malanggan 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Story of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire

Zainab Bahrani, Zeynep Çelik, Edhem Eldem (eds) "Scramble for the Past: A Story of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire" - reviewed by William Armstrong 

 Nineteenth century archaeology and artefact hunting were often used by different European powers for colonialist purposes instituting expeditions in the Ottoman Empire. Concerned to sustain diplomatic relations, the Ottoman governments supported these efforts, rather than preserving the remains of the ancient past of their territory.
"The object of this beautifully illustrated volume of scholarly essays is to explore the archeological enterprise in Ottoman lands from the mid-18th to the early 20th century, with diverse contributions from a range of foreign and local voices. [...] The Ottomans were slow to realize the political significance of archeology and the potential value of the antiquities held within their empire, despite the fact that acquisitive Westerners had been pilfering them for many years. Actually, it was this lack of understanding that allowed the Europeans to get away with it for so long, and helped give credence to their claims that they were the true stewards of such important historical items. However, the Ottoman perception of archaeology underwent a slow transformation over the course of its 19th century modernization process. After a period of “blissful ignorance,” the Ottoman authorities took concrete steps to prevent the removal of artifacts from their territory in a series of decrees starting in 1869 [...] Such was the spirit behind the opening of Istanbul’s Archeology Museum in 1891, intended as the Ottoman answer to the British Museum and the Louvre. Thus, one of this book’s central points is that integrating into the wider world of western archeology and belatedly joining the “scramble for the past” was a crucial indicator of Turkey’s modernization throughout the 19th century. The Culture Ministry’s recent campaign shows us that national assertion through antiquities is still alive and well, which makes this book not only an enjoyable read, but also a very relevant one".
Scramble for the Past: A Story of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire, 1753-1914’ edited by Zainab Bahrani, Zeynep Çelik, Edhem Eldem (SALT, 2011, 80TL, pp 520)

Scramble for the Past: The Venus de Milo

Zainab Bahrani, Zeynep Çelik, Edhem Eldem (eds) "Scramble for the Past: A Story of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire" - reviewed by William Armstrong
"Unearthed in the 19th century, the Venus de Milo is one of the items that most clearly illustrates archeology’s inextricability from politics. A brilliantly distilled essay here by Philippe Jockey describes how this essentially unremarkable Ancient Greek statue of ordinary workmanship was inflated by the French almost exclusively out of hard-nosed political considerations. Discovered on the Aegean island of Milos in 1820, Jockey explains how the Venus de Milo’s “aesthetic qualities alone would never have engaged the passions of more than a few specialists. Rather, the statue was discovered at the right moment and by the right people … Simply put, the Venus de Milo was and remains today, more than any other artwork of antiquity, a mirror of the international relations of the times.” Immediately sent back to the Louvre for display, the Venus exemplifies how the “scramble for the past” (a title echoing the imperial “Scramble for Africa”) was not only a competition for material objects to fill newly established European museums, but “also a rivalry among nations at the height of European geopolitical interests in the east.”
It was only in the second half of the nineteenth century that the Ottomans began to preserve ancient objects by creating their own museums, imitatating western models and ultimately serving a political purpose.

Two returned bronze zodiac heads officially unveiled at Chinese museum

From Laurie Frey's "The Heritagist":
"The two bronze zodiac heads from Beijing's Old Summer Palace that were given back to China by the Pinault family of France arrived at Beijing's National Museum in late June.  The return of the rabbit and the rat, two among twelve original sculptures from the palace looted during the Second Opium War in the 1860s, was announced back in April.  The rat and rabbit, which had been part of the collection of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, join the ox, monkey, tiger, pig and horse, which have already returned to China.  The current whereabouts of the five remaining statue heads is unknown.  Bringing the zodiac sculptures back to China has become a significant, if sometimes controversial, source of national pride".

See: "French collector returns looted relic to China" Pakistan Defence blog.
Moment crate opened to reveal looted China head statues - BBC shows the objects' arrival at the museum.

Reconstruction of original look of the Haiyantang fountain before being broken up
Still missing:  Rooster; Goat; Dog, Snake. The dragon is in Taiwan. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Novel Approach to Parthenon Marble Campaigning

Author Tom Jackson talks about his book on the Parthenon Marbles. Asked if he thinks it’s likely that they will ever be on show in the New Acropolis Museum replied:
I remain positive. I believe it’s only a matter of time before the Marbles return home. I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but the British are, by nature, a logical people. Once the ‘people-in-the-street’ fully understand the circumstances surrounding the original removal and acquisition of the Marbles by the British government, the flawed arguments for retention over the years, and the significance of the Marbles to the people of Greece, I believe they will exert the necessary pressure on the British government for ‘Reunification’! We will see a groundswell for their return. [...] However, the vast majority of British society is simply unaware of the true facts and events surrounding the removal of the Marbles. If people can be shown the light, then... [...] Experience has shown that the British government and the British Museum are totally immune from independent, indiscriminate, one-off approaches. I believe that what is required is a concerted and co-ordinated campaign. Only by making people fully aware of the true facts can you hope to create interest . . . to motivate . . . to energize . . . support for their return.
Of course it is the very same British archaeological establishment that has vested interests in hanging on to the looted marbles which are the ones that - in a healthier situation concerning antiquities - would be informing public opinion.

‘The Devil’s Legacy’ is available now as an ebook on the Internet from   Smashwords (http://www.smashwords.com/ ), and shortly from online ebook   retailers including: Amazon, Apple, Barns & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel and   others.
ISBN: 978-1-4660-1282-0

Tom Jackson will be donating 10% of the royalties he receives from this ebook to the Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where Are the 400 Benin Bronzes?

 Kwame Opoku asks what might have happened to the 400 Benin treasures which had been looted in the nefarious British invasion of 1897 held in the Field Museum in Chicago some of which had been donated by Captain A. W. F. Fuller and his wife to the museum. He is disconcerted to find that they have disappeared from the museum's webpage "although there was mention of Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Madagascar, Yoruba peoples, Merina, Tanala, and Betsileo".
Many museums in Europe and America are facing a financial crisis and from recent reports, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they may be tempted to sell, loan, transfer, or exchange African artefacts they are illegally holding, such as the Benin bronzes without anybody taking much notice, especially since the museums have several artefacts they never or rarely display in public. How would we know, if they dispose of Benin artefacts when they refuse to inform the public about the number of Benin artefacts they have in their possession? [...] My main worry is with regard to the sale, transfer, using as security or in any way dealing with contested African artefacts that may in future prejudice or affect the rights of claiming African owners.
Dr Opoku suggests we should start formalising the approach to the objects held in foreign collections:
It is high time Nigeria and other States with claims to artefacts in Western museums issued a list or lists of the artefacts they wish to recover from the museums. The Cairo Conference on Restitution had recommended the issuance of such a list. This list would serve as notice to potential purchasers of the artefacts so that in future no one can say they never knew that those objects had been looted or stolen. Any defence of good faith would be excluded.
Kwame Opoku, 'Africa: Where Are the 400 Benin Bronzes?', AllAfrica.com 27 June 2013.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Looting in Lanka

The Poson Festival, typically held on the first full moon in June (Poson), celebrates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. On this occasion the Srilankan Sunday Times has an editorial article "Poson reflections: Save our heritage", Sunday, June 23, 2013 devoted to the question of looting and antiquity smuggling and the involvement of criminal gangs in the activity.
There is heightened awareness among these criminal networks about the monetary value of ancient artifacts especially in the international market. Sri Lankan Buddha statues are openly traded on the internet with little or no information about their source. Oriental artifacts are a rave in Western homes. [...]  For the most part, this mania over antiques is a continuation of that European tendency to collect and hoard that has led them to deprive poor nations of their heritage for centuries. Diplomats in the past smuggled out valuable artifacts in their luggage, which passed unchecked through Customs. Much before that, colonialists, notably the British, freely plundered territories under their control. Even today, these governments refuse to return stolen property to their rightful owners.
The article is strangely silent about where the author thinks the items being currently looted are ending up. A recent London sale, ignored by Srilankan authorities there is, however, mentioned:
 The auctioning by Bonham’s of London in April of a “sandakadapahana” or moonstone believed to be of the Anuradhapura period has added to the frenzy at home. Although a Sri Lankan expert based in Britain dismissed the moonstone as a replica, it fetched a massive £553,250 or about Rs. 110 million. Not two months later, a group of robbers “disguised in military clothes” walked into the Herath-Halmillewa Raja Maha Viharaya in Kebetigollewa and spirited away its moonstone after gagging and binding the local guards. This was no random act. Police later claimed to have found its remains, after the robbers had broken it apart to search for treasure. 
 It sounds to me like claiming it was a fake was just an excuse for not taking any action. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Merkel and Putin at exhibition of Disputed Art

The BBC's Steve Evans explains how an exhibition in Moscow of ancient objects, including some taken from German museums in 1945 escalated yesterday into "a bit of a diplomatic incident":
The two countries are in dispute over whether works of art taken by Soviet forces in the war should be returned to Germany, the BBC's Steve Evans reports from Berlin. No-one quite knows how much art was looted from German collections as the Soviet Army closed in on Berlin but it certainly runs into thousands of paintings and sculptures, our correspondent says. One gallery alone in Berlin lost 441 pictures, including works by Rubens and Caravaggio. The new exhibition at the Hermitage Museum includes work previously in German museums. The Russian position has in the past been that the works were paid for with the blood of Soviet soldiers, our correspondent says. Russian officials have also pointed out that Napoleon's troops looted works from Russian collections, works which ended up in the Louvre. Furthermore, Nazi forces destroyed or looted Russian art treasures during the invasion of the USSR.

Russia and Germany Dispute War-Trophy Art

Speeches by Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin at the opening of a major exhibition of Bronze Age treasures were temporarily cancelled because of a long-running disagreement over the looting of art works from territories occupied by the by the Red Army at the end of the Second World War.
The exhibition – Bronze Age, Europe without Borders with more than 1,700 artefacts on display in St Petersburg’s historic Hermitage museum – was supposed to mark the culmination of a Year of Germany in Russia after three years of co-operation between German and Russian curators.[...] But when it emerged that the German leader intended to use her museum speech to insist on the return of hundreds of art works that Germany claims were looted by victorious Soviet soldiers after 1945, the opening ceremony at the Hermitage was suddenly abandoned.[...] It was clear that trouble had been brewing for many weeks after it emerged that some 600 of the exhibits are also listed in Germany as looted works of art. They included the so-called Treasure of Eberswalde, said to be the largest prehistoric hoard ever found in Germany, with 81 separate gold pieces dating from the 9th or 10th century BC, including bowls and beakers, armbands and bracelets. The other most significant part of the treasures that Germany claims were carried off as “war booty” by Soviet soldiers are archaeological remains from the ancient city of Troy. The Hermitage exhibition marks the first time such treasures have been put on public display after years when the former Soviet government denied having them. But their reappearance has inevitably sparked demands in Germany for their return. However, in Russia they are seen as compensation for art works that were looted from Russia by Germany after their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and have never been rediscovered.
but of course Troy is not in Russia. Perhaps we should ask Turkey where the stuff belongs? By what right was the Eberswalde hoard taken to Russia?

Russia and Germany Dispute War-Trophy Art

read the rest here:
Quentin Peel, Neil Buckley and Charles Clover, 'Russia and Germany in spat over ‘looted’ art', Financial Times June 21, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How objects get to Museums

The recent repatriation of the two 10th century Khmer statues by the Metropolitan Museum of Art has led to some comments from India (Neha Paliwal, 'How objects get to museums' The Indian Express Jun 03 2013).
Public museums are wonderful spaces because they allow us to see and imagine things and societies that most of us will never get to witness first-hand. At the same time, we rarely question how these objects have been obtained; how they move through the world and ultimately come to rest in a museum where we can see and be moved by them. The Met's actions force us to ask this question, and to realise that many collections, private and public, contain items that have been obtained by violent means — previously by imperial and colonial governments, and more recently through looting during stressful times such as civil war (in the case of these Cambodian statues), or war (in the case of the National Museum of Iraq in 2003). It is clear that such plunder happens precisely because of the great aesthetic and cultural value of the artefacts, often at the behest of private collectors. [...] Illicit traffic is hardly unique to cultural objects. But in these cases, museums play a critical role [...]  when an object is loaned or donated to a museum, with little verifiable information about origins, its display in a public institution masks its violent acquisition, assigns it value and legitimises it. In other words, displaying a statue looted from a remote site in Cambodia in the halls of the Metropolitan Museum allows similar artefacts to circulate, and gather value in the international art market. [...] It is our appreciation of the art on the walls and the statues in a hall, and our unquestioning belief in the credibility of the museum that confers final value on the artefact. As public institutions, museums then have a special responsibility to ensure that the objects they display are not dubiously acquired. 

The writer then addresses the question of considering ancient objects as global cultural heritage (opposed by "nationalist notions of cultural property") and therefore displaying them in "universal" museums such as the Met or the British Museum, admitting that the idea has some credibility. There is little doubt that objects displayed in big museums in large European or American cities will be seen by many visitors. So-called "encylopaedic museums" spur curiosity about distant places:
However, we must acknowledge that the universal museum itself is a product of modern imperial and colonial interests. They are located almost exclusively in First World countries, their visitors are overwhelmingly from the West, and their collections are filled with objects taken from poorer nations over the last few centuries. Such situations do not make for universal access, by any measure.
While claims of many 'source countries' asking for the return of  numerous artefacts on display in British, French and American museums may ultimately be unsuccessful, the author argues that to assuage them, there may  perhaps in future be more loans, greater circulation of artefacts between the big collecting museums and those in other nations. This in turn would create a more genuinely cosmopolitan kind of museum.
The return of the Cambodian statues is one act in the recent history of repatriations that signals a change in attitude among museums. It shows us that, more and more, illicit acquisition of cultural and historically significant artefacts is intolerable, not just when buying or receiving artefacts as donations in the future but also with regard to past acquisitions. In this instance, the Met has set a standard that other museums ought to follow, both with regard to international acquisitions as well as artefacts obtained within the nation — from minority and oppressed communities. Even as we speak about the responsibilities of museums as public institutions, we as visitors also have a responsibility — to ensure that our museums reflect the concerns and values of their communities. The next time you visit a museum, you might wonder how a Manipuri manuscript found its way to the display case, and maybe you'll even ask the curator. 
Which brings us back again to the issue of public engagement with museums, including Jason Felch's idea of Wikiloot. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Finnish Museum Asked to Return Ancient Artefacts to Iraq

In April, the Iraqi Embassy in Helsinki sent a letter to Helena Edgren, the Director General at National Museum of Finland asking her to return to Iraq six ancient artefacts from its collection. The items include a clay foundation nail inscribed with cuneiform characters and an incantation bowl.
The unusual request led to a thorough investigation of how the artefacts came into the museum's collection that included information from records at the Office of the President and the Urho Kekkonen Museum.  In August 1977, the Amos Anderson art gallery in Helsinki saw the opening of a "Land of Two Rivers" exhibition of ancient art from Iraq. The opening coincided with the visit of an Iraqi delegation that included the country's Information Minister Tariq Aziz, and Iraq's chief state archaeologist.  The Iraqi group met with President Kekkonen both at the opening of the exhibition and at his residence. During the visit to his residence, the delegation presented President Kekkonen with a number of objects as gifts. These same items are those that the Iraqi Embassy has asked to be returned. In the autumn of that same year, President Kekkonen donated the artefacts to the National Museum which added them to its general ethnographic collection. [...] The National Board of Antiquities reviewed applicable laws and international regulations regarding the case, as well its ethical aspects. Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Culture pointed out that the request was not official, as it did not originate from the Iraqi government. The conclusion reached was that the items were legally obtained and there is nothing legally suspect about their entry into Finland. Early this month, the directors of the National Board of Antiquities decided that there is no need to comply with the request to return the artefacts. 
The Iraqi Embassy has so far refused to discuss the matter with Finnish journalists. I would say the situation is relatively clear-cut and the donation of the items in 1977 makes the Finnish Museum's hanging onto them entirely legitimate (whatever people want to say about the past Iraqi regime). It really looks as if the intention was to share Iraqi antiquities with the people of Finland. The only complication may arise (and there is no word of this here) if the objects had been taken from the inventory of an Iraqi museum collection by a member of the ruling elite in a manner that raises ethical issues. 

'Finland refuses to return ancient artefacts to Iraq', Yle News, 30th May 2013. 
Photo: President Urho Kekkonen attended the opening of the Land of Two Rivers exhibition in Helsinki in August 1977. Also in attendance were ministerial-level guests from Iraq (Image: Amos Andersonin taidemuseon kuva-arkisto). 

G.I.'s family returns World War II antiquities to Italy

Antiques lifted from an Italian church by a G.I. during World War II, were returned in a ceremony at the Italian Embassy, the latest in a call for aging veterans and their families to repatriate such "souvenirs" of the war. In 1944, Irving Tross of Chicago, now 96,  was a radio operator with the U.S. Army's 88th Infantry Division. The soldiers came across  170 crates of cultural property hidden by the University of Naples library during the Invasion of Italy, inside a church that was damaged by shelling and some of them it seems helped themselves to some of what they found. Mr Tross was troubled by his conscience however which led to yesterday's ceremony. The return
represents the latest efforts of the Monuments Men Foundation, a group set to become more famous this year with the release of the upcoming movie, The Monuments Men, starring and directed by George Clooney. The film will highlight efforts spearheaded by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, acting as allied commander, in a 1943 order that required all military personnel to safeguard cultural treasures. The order created the Monuments Men, formally the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, some 345 men and women, curators, librarians, historians and artists, who raced around Europe in the last years of World War II, until 1951, seeking the return of looted artwork and antiquities. [...] Ironically, the United States only formally ratified a 1954 international treaty built around Eisenhower's orders in 2008, says antiquities law expert Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University in Chicago. Eisenhower's elevation of protecting cultural artifacts into a military priority was a far-sighted change to the rules of war, she says. "I think it is a fair question to ask if we are doing as good a job now as we did then," Gerstenblith says.
There is also a book out, by Robert Edsel, "Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation's Treasures from the Nazis". The recent ceremony, however, is a reminder that it was not just "the Nazis" who were pinching stuff, as happens everywhere, many people took advantage of the chaos of conflict to enrich themselves.

Dan Vergano,  G.I.'s family returns World War II antiquities to Italy USAToday May 29, 2013.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Greek Antiquities Excavated during Second World War Repatriated from Germany

In June, Germany's Pfahlbaumuseum will return to Greece 8,000 pottery fragments excavated from Thessaly during the Second World War. The material is Neolithic in date and was excavated in 1941 near Velestino, Thessaly.
The ministry's general directorate for antiquities is collecting data for all antiquities illegally removed from Greece during the German occupation. The repatriation of Greek cultural artefacts is among Greece's demands for German reparations from World War II, according to the foreign ministry. The two ministries are working together on the formation of an international cooperation network through the signing of bilateral agreements for the protection of cultural goods and the prevention of artefact trafficking. Greece has already signed agreements with Switzerland, China, the US and Turkey and negotiations are ongoing with several other countries for the signing of similar agreements. 
'Thousands of Greek antiquities repatriated from Germany', EnetEnglish.gr, Wednesday 29 May 2013.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Koh Ker fragments in US Collections

The New York Times has an article which is the follow-up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent decision to return two statues to Cambodia (Tom Masberg, 'Cambodia Presses U.S. Museums to Relinquish Antiquities', New York Times May 15, 2013).  This refers to the several other US museums that own works believed to have been taken from the same 10th-century Khmer temple, Prasat Chen, part of the archaeological site Koh Ker. It shows that at least six of the looted works ended up in the United States. Among them are the figures at the Metropolitan Museum, and the one in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, and the one being contested with its Belgian owner (Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa after she shipped it to Sotheby's in the US to flog off). In addition to these, Cambodia says the Denver Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art also have material illicitly taken from this temple. There is an excellent presentation here -  From Jungle to Museum and Back? which puts the known statues in the context of the site itself and the plan of the temple. It gives the date of acquisition of the items in US museums ("acquired in four pieces 1987-92", "acquired 1980", "acquired 1982", "acquired 1986"). If we assume that they were looted at the same time as those presently contested (ie c. 1970/71) it raises the issue that several of them must have passed through some private collection or other after dismemberment. 

Here are several other "Koh Ker style" objects at the Cleveland Museum,  note in particular the:
"Head of a Deity or a Deified King, 928-941 Cambodia, Style of Koh Ker, Reign of Jayavarman IV, 928-941 gray sandstone, Overall - h:37.40 cm (h:14 11/16 inches). Dudley P. Allen Fund 1923".95"
thus dating back to 1920s. So how did this leave the jungle site? Who removed it? How did it get to Cleveland? 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Some Germans and the Rest of the World

Dorothy King, in a discussion on German attitudes to other nations ('German Propaganda Continues ...', Monday, April 29, 2013), on the recent article [Archaeology strains German-Turkish relations | Europe | DW.DE | 27.04.2013] suggests:
I think that the 'best' possible interpretation of all this 'Germany Know Best' anti-Turkish propaganda is that the Germans are bloody arrogant. Since this German superiority is often directed at people who are not as Aryan as they are, the term racist springs to mind. I don't think this represents the views of all Germans  [...]  according yet again to Hermann Parzinger, who keeps making these claims (see here) when the Turkish Ministry of Culture refuse to behave like good little children and do what he says. [...]  I have no problem with Turkey's new approach to cultural property (here), because it is an autonomous country (and not part of Großdeutschland).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Stop Britain's Possession of the Looted Parthenon Scultpures !

"Let the world protest and shout that the Parthenon Marbles belong to Greece and that it is time for the Houses of Lords and the Commons to immediately pass a law for their return if a shred of decency is to be left behind in this whole shameful affair. The Greeks have engaged in endless rounds of civilised dialogue, sent delegations and ministers to Britain and attempted to find a chink of humanity in the stony and arrogant hearts of the British Museum's administrators and in the corridors of Whitehall - in vain. The time for dialogue is over, as it was one day for British colonialism"

Bronze Heads to return to China

The two bronze heads from the Qing dynasty looted in the nineteenth century have become a cause celebre for Chinese nationalists seeking their return from the attempted sale of the YSL collection in France (when the buyer refused to pay for them). On Friday the billionaire owner of Christie’s auction house said he would hand the rat and rabbit heads back.

Scheherazade Daneshkhu, 'Pinault family offers to return bronze heads to China', Financial Times April 26, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crowbars out, Looting Pays

The carved granite temple step (Sandakada pahana) step is a feature unique to Sinhalese architecture in Sri Lanka. This 1,000 year old pre-Hindu stone step is similar to those found in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, and is one of only seven examples known to date from this period, the other six being in situ. The massively heavy – three-quarters of a tonne stone measure eight ft by four foot and is six inches thick, but nevertheless was carted off by a colonial looter to England:
There was a battle between buyers in the room and on the telephone for this remarkable find which finally sold for £553,250 against a pre-sale estimate of £20,000 to £30,000. There were no fewer than eight telephone bidders and three in the saleroom [...] The Devon based owners, Mike and Bronwyn Hickmott, commented after the sale: "We are overwhelmed with the price achieved. It goes beyond all our expectations." Mrs Hickmott added: "I'd like to say a special thank you to Sam Tuke of Bonhams Exeter office. We had been turned away by other international auction houses as well as television antiques shows. Everyone pooh-poohed our belief that the stone was special. It was only Sam's determination to research the stone that has led to this happy result. We are thrilled."
Of course the idea that this knocked-off piece of an architectural monument from the other side of the world should be in neither a Devon garden or a London showroom presumably never occurred to the thrilled sellers (it said "property of a lady" in the catalogue). I expect the price obtained means that a few more bits of Anuradhapura will now be "surfacing" on the market with nice-sounding provenances before long. "Bonhams said it was unable to disclose who the new owner of the artefact was" what's the betting that it is NOT the people of Sri Lanka?

Bonhams Press Release: 'Rare Buddhist Andradhapura period (377 BC-1017 AD) Indian (sic) Carved Stone Temple Step Discovered in Devon Garden Sells for £553,250', 23 Apr 2013. BBC News, 'Devon garden Sri Lankan artefact sells for £550,000', 24 April 2013.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Who owns history, Mr. Cameron?

Op-Ed from India on Koh-i-noor diamond by "Who owns history, Mr. Cameron?"
The world has changed dramatically since the days of Queen Victoria. South Asia cannot be denied of its rich heritage because of its colonial past. Britain with its present status does not own history nor is it capable of defending its history. In all fairness, let Britain understand its own limitations now.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

British PM Cameron Rejects "Returnism"

Disgraceful. "Cameron rules out return of Parthenon marbles " Ekathimerini February 21, 2013
British Prime Minister David Cameron has ruled out the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece. Speaking from India, where he is on an official visit, on Thursday the Tory leader turned down requests for the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond to Britain’s former colony saying he did not believe in “returnism.” “It is the same question with the Elgin marbles,” [...] “The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do, which is to link up with other institutions around the world to make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world,” Cameron said.
The British leader might at least have the decency to call them the Parthenon Marbles, which is what they are.

Vignette: Britain in pirate bandanna

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What the other artefacts think about the ones that get returned

South Korea Might not give Stolen Buddhas back to Japan

The two controversial statues
Two Buddhist statues stolen from Japanese temples in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, and found in South Korea might not be returned. The government is first intending to investigate how the statues came into Japan’s possession in the first place. The statues were recovered on January 29 and the South Korean police said they were detaining a member of a theft ring. Local clergy believe that the statues are of Korean origin.
The “Kanzeon Bosatsu Zazo” which belongs to the Kannonji Temple was designated a cultural property by the Nagasaki Prefectural Government. A document dated 1330 (Goryeo Dynasty) was discovered inside the statue and included the name of a temple in Korea. The other statue is called “Dozo Nyorai Ryuzo”and was stolen from the Kaijin Shrine also in Tsushima. [...] The Chosun Ilbo newspaper published the contradicting opinions of academics on this matter. One said the statues may have been plundered by the “wako” or medieval Japanese pirates. Another said that the statues were probably part of the bilateral trade between the two countries at that time, meaning it could have been sold or donated to Japan.
Ida Torres, 'Stolen Buddha statues found in South Korea may not be returned', Japan Daily Press, February 13, 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Clare Flynn, "Pondering about the Parthenon"

Clare Flynn, sister of a blogging brother has a blog post of her own which is worth a look: "Pondering about the Parthenon" (25th January 2013):
I also felt ambivalent about everything else I saw in today’s brief visit. It all felt a bit too vainglorious. Maybe I find the concept of the universal museum a difficult one to swallow. It feels too diluted, diverse, unfocused, worthy and reminiscent of school trips and the days of the unchallenged hegemony of Pax Britannica. I've never been to the New Acropolis Museum – it was not yet open last time I was in Athens so I can't make a comparison. I did however spend a very happy afternoon wandering awe-struck around the National Archeological Museum there, gaping at the beauty of the sculptures. It's completely dedicated to Greek classical civilization and just makes so much more contextual sense. I am not sure that looking at the Rosetta Stone a few minutes before examining the Greek marbles does anything to increase my enlightenment or understanding of either. But then I'm just a punter not a scholar.
But then is it not the aim of the men in Bloomsbury to interact with those punters?

America's "Great Giveback"

There is a thought-provoking opinion piece by Hugh Eakin in the New York Times  ('The Great Giveback',  NYT January 26, 2013). The topic of the text is that US museums are giving up items they have acquired from foreign countries:
The news has become astonishingly routine: a major American museum announces it is relinquishing extraordinary antiquities because a foreign government claims they were looted and has threatened legal action or other sanctions if it doesn’t get them back.  [...] Since 2006, more than 100 statues, bronzes, vases, mosaics and other works have left public collections in the United States.
This text unexpectedly reveals quite clearly the robber baron attitude of entitlement, hypocrisy, xenophobia and supremecism when it comes to appropriating for their own uses other peoples' cultural property, that underlie the reluctance of collectors to return stolen items.  Note the language of this article, "foreign government claims..." "statue of a Greek goddess was given to Italy", "agreed to send to Turkey...", "responding to trophy hunting from abroad"...

He refers to these developments merely as:
rewarding the hardball tactics of foreign governments and impoverishing Americans’ access to the ancient world.  [...]  in zealously responding to trophy hunting from abroad, museums are [...]  making great art ever less available to their own patrons [...] museums [...] are supposed to be in the business of collecting and preserving art from every era, not giving it away.
Eakin's gripe appears to be that Americans are in some way being 'victimised' here: 
In nearly every case, the museums have not been compelled by any legal ruling to give up the art, nor are they receiving compensation for doing so. And while a few of the returned works have been traced to particular sites or matched with other fragments residing in the claimant country, many of them have no known place of origin. 
He seems disturbed to observe that US museums are caving in, not holding out like the SLAM attempted over that Ka Nefer Nefer mask. They just gave in to the pesky olive-skinned furriners.  Furriners who go so far in their insolence as sometimes to refuse permits to archaeologists from other nations including the USA to dig up the archaeological heritage in their territories in response to them harbouring stolen (I almost feel Eakin would use scare quotes there) antiquities. How dare they? How dare they say who will enter their sovereign territory to do what they like there?  Eakin also warns that by coming to agreements with furriners, US museums:
[...]  have also spurred a raft of extravagant new claims  [..] museums’ relationships with foreign governments have become increasingly contingent upon giving in to unreasonable, and sometimes blatantly extortionary, demands.
Well, I think that is enough of that. The author of this text steadfastly refuses to even hint that the Americans (demonised by "alarming stories of rogue curators and nefarious dealers") might actually be in the wrong here. That the proverbial Truth, Justice and the American Way might here not really being applied at all assiduously. Certainly I think we can all see a serial avoidance of an uncomfortable truth and a warping of a sense of justice in these writings. This is ridiculous, the US is not some banana republic with 80% of the population barely able to write their own name, its a nation that claims to have a responsible and enlightened society, to be a world leader and moral arbiter. Yet in writings like this we time and time again come across the expression of ideas which conflict with the moral stance one would expect from such a country. The stuff is stolen, if it somehow got into the USA and the original owner wants it back, why kick up such a fuss about handing it back, and how about saying "sorry"?

Eakin concedes that "museums themselves are partly to blame", by buying looted stuff in the first place (duh). Skipping somewhat lightly over that topic, he sees the damaging effects somewhere else:
Observing the success of this hardball strategy, other countries have been making threats of their own to retrieve objects from American collections, regardless of how long the object may have been out of the country and how little basis they have for claiming it.
The Cambodian government is threatening to sue the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif., to get back a 10th-century statue that has been on display since 1980 and whose ownership has never before been challenged. 
Italian prosecutors have revived efforts to claim the “Getty Bronze,” a statue created in ancient Greece and found in international waters. 
And the United States government is continuing a lawsuit against the Saint Louis Art Museum to help Egypt reclaim an ancient Egyptian mask, despite a ruling by an American judge last March that the government “completely failed to identify” the “established law that was violated” in its acquisition.
Odd though that he omits mention of the all-important question of how each of those items left the source country to end up in America. Then the new antiquitists' bogeyman:
Meanwhile, Turkish officials have declared an all-out war on Western museums. Claiming a long list of works from the Getty, the Met, the British Museum, the Louvre and the Victoria and Albert Museum — some of them acquired in the 19th century and some from countries other than Turkey — the Turkish government has cut off ties to the offending institutions until they give them up. “All loans have been stopped; all cooperation suspended,” said Neil MacGregor, the British Museum’s director. “This is a kind of behavior that is really unprecedented.” It was the recent wave of restitution agreements that emboldened foreign governments to make the threats.
"Emboldened" foreign governments to ask the Americans to give back whatdoes not belong to them? How dare they? Eh? The New York Times editor says 'no'. What about the rest of us?