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.