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.