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.