Thursday, November 27, 2014

Alert - Fake ICOM certificates

Alert - Fake ICOM certificates
There are fraudulent websites which imitate ICOM institutional website. These websites  are not operated by or authorised by ICOM.  In return for a fee, some websites claim to provide certificates of authenticity permitting the unrestricted import and export of African cultural heritage. The certificate supposedly releases the bearer from requiring any other documents such as the title deed, export certificate and license, certificate of expertise, certificate of authenticity, etc. ICOM does not provide certificates of expertise, origin or authenticity. These certificates must be obtained from the relevant national Government authorities. Many people have already fallen victim to the scam, particularly concerning Cameroon and Central Africa. Please exercise vigilance when taking part in transactions involving cultural heritage property over the Internet.  Contact

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bolivian Ekeko Returns Home

The office of the Evo Morales, the Bolivian President ahas just announced to a press conference the return to that country  by Switzerland of a  pre-Columbian statuette representing Ekeko, the Andean god of abundance and prosperity, dating back to the 2nd century B.C. taken from the country in 1858 by explorer Johann Jakob Tschudi. Bolivia has declared a diplomatic crusade for the return of items of national heritage looted over the years.
The statue, according to Morales, was stolen from Bolivia in 1858, when a Swiss diplomat visited Tiahuanaco and "unfortunately" took it with him after getting the Indians there to drink "a liquor called cognac." In 1929 the diplomat's grandchildren sold the Ekeko to a museum in Bern, which has now returned it to Bolivia after a year of negotiations between Bolivian and Swiss authorities. [...] "During the colonial period, our natural resources were constantly being sacked," Morales said, adding that "thousands" of the nation's cultural treasures are now "in the hands of European countries, the United States and England." "It's time they returned our goods... through bilateral diplomatic relations and not under pressure," the president said, urging those countries to return objects of Bolivia's heritage "in the spirit of friendship and brotherhood." 
The Vice Minister for Bolivian Decolonization, Felix Cardenas, explained the need to make an inventory of all examples outside Bolivia in order to recover them. “We ask Bolivians living abroad to help us identify our heirlooms and that way start to arrange their possible return”, explained Cardenas. Cardenas said that the Chachapuma, a large Bolivian effigy is in Germany, and other pieces have been found in France.

 Swiss return to Bolivia pre-Columbian figurine looted in 1858  Vida Latina November 11, 2014 

In Berne, just an exhibited geegaw, but not to all viewers...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Montezuma headdress goes into storage

The quetzal-feather headdress, or penacho, supposedly once worn by Montezuma somehow ended up in the collection of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand II von Tyrol and has been in Austria since 1596. It is currently housed at Vienna’s Weltmuseum. On November 2, the museum closed its doors in order to undertake a two-year rebranding. Its vast collection will now be placed into vaults. Now, as a beloved part of Mexico’s heritage disappears from view for an uncertain period of time, it is a perfect time to figure out how to get the penacho back home.
According to Gerard van Bussel, curator of Montezuma’s penacho, 5 percent of the museum’s attendees are Mexican nationals--who don’t have to pay admission. “It’s our little gift to Mexico,” Bussel says. Many Mexicans are surprised to learn that the penacho exhibited at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City is a 1940 replica paid by President Abelardo Rodríguez. The president had seen the original during a state visit to Vienna and wanted Mexico to have a copy. “One can feel more the spiritual force seeing it here than the replica,” says Guillermo García Perez, a retired mathematics teacher who made the journey with his family. “I think about the greatness of the Mexica, the Aztecs. It should be taken to Mexico. It’s a treasure.” The reasons why it hasn’t been taken to Mexico are many. In a two-year joint study by Austria and Mexico between 2010 and 2012, it was concluded that moving the headdress could cause irreparable damage. 
Estimates of its value range as high as $50 million. 


Milady Nazir, 'A symbol of Mexico’s pre-colonial grandeur fades out of sight', Fox News November 14, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Greek Cultural Reply to British Museum Rudeness

This response to British Museum Director Neil MacGregor’s recent comments on the Parthenon Marbles in the Times is very well-phrased and argued, I reproduce it in full from the Elginism blog: with apologies but I think such a text should be as widely seen as possible. I think most readers will conclude that it pretty conclusively demolishes the BM's self-serving arguments.

Greek Ministry of Culture: Response to comments made by Neil MacGregor in an interview in the Times on 7th November
1. UNESCO, which has invited the Greek and the British Governments to take part in a mediation process to resolve the issue, is an intergovernmental organization. However, the Trustees of the British Museum are not part of the British government. It is the Trustees and not the Government that own the great cultural collections of the country.
UNESCO is indeed an intergovernmental organization. It is hard to believe that a Government would discuss an issue it does not have competence on. It is hard to believe that if there were political will from the UK for the return of the Marbles to Greece the BM would resist this will. Negotiations conducted all those years with the good services of UNESCO were between the two States (Greece and the UK). Yet, a BM representative was always there. In any case the links at all levels between the BM and the UK Government are well known. Returns have already been effected in Britain on the basis of changes in the law such as the enactment of the Human Tissue Act 2004. This Act enabled the return of human remains located in UK museum collections (under the same status as the one applying to the Marbles). Those were unethically removed from Australian Aboriginals, New Zealand Maori and Native Americans and were returned to their countries of origin. In this light persistence in formalities can only be used as an evasion of the real issue.

2. The Marbles will give “maximum public benefit” by staying in London rather than going to a new museum in Athens.
“Maximum public benefit” should not be seen in the light of the BM’s interests alone. This patronization of ‘benefit’ makes one think that the BM has still not shaken off the mentality of colonization. It is prime time for the BM to consider its humanistic role, depart from issues of ‘ownership’ and ‘property’ and focus on the actual benefit of the antiquity itself, of the visitors, researchers, archaeologists, historians and all those who have an interest to see and study the Marbles as a whole. The issue is not which Museum is better to accommodate the Marbles. We do not run a beauty contest. It is all about where the Marbles and the values they incorporate can best be exhibited and appreciated respectively.

3. In Athens they could only be part of an Athenian story for the Parthenon is not even a Greek monument. It is an Athenian monument. Many other Greek cities and islands protested bitterly about the money taken from them to build this in Athens.
One should bear in mind that the BM as such is mainly the beneficiary par excellence of British colonization. Therefore when one engages in accusations one also has to look into one’s own injustices of the past.

4. 30% of the sculptures are in Athens and 30% are in London. Quite a lot of them no longer exist. There is no possibility of recovering an artistic entity.
It is indeed true that parts of the Marbles are missing. One should first think of the tremendous damage done to the Marbles when they were removed by Elgin from the Acropolis site and shipped to Britain. Mentor (the ship that carried them) sank and the Marbles remained in the sea and some of them on the beach under stones and seaweed for two whole years. The Marbles also suffered from being transferred by various vessels to ports in England. Also in 1937 for a whole year and a half (while in the BM) the Marbles’ surface was scraped in order for them to become white and lose their patina.
The fact that parts are missing cannot be used as an argument for not reunifying the existing parts. Is the “either all or nothing argument” a new tendency in archaeology? In this case the BM should eliminate all incomplete artifacts in its collection.

5. The marbles were not illegally removed by Elgin. He had to surrender the document allowing him to take the marbles as he exported them. Everything was done publicly.
One wonders which records the BM refers to. Nothing was done legally, let alone ethically. Elgin was not authorized to remove the Marbles. He acted without official authorization as the Sultan was the only authority (and the sole owner of all important antiquities within his jurisdiction according to the law of his time), which could issue such a document (firman). Elgin had in his hand an amicable letter of a low ranking Turkish official, which gave access to his team for drawing casts and take only a few stones found on the ground. Even this document expressly referred to the fact that no damage should occur to the monument itself. Elgin used bribes in order to complete his mission and jagged the Marbles from the Temple using saws to remove the surface from the rest of the architectural part.

6. The Trustees have always been ready for discussions with the Greek government but the latter will not recognize the trustees as the legal owners, so conversations are difficult.
References to the matter of ownership are misleading and are used to deflect the discussion from the actual issue. The issue is not about ownership but about where the Marbles can be best exhibited for the sake of humanity. Although the Museum claims that the Marbles belong to everyone, in fact the Museum implies that they belong to it. UNESCO has officially invited in August 2013 the UK Government (including the Museum) to enter into mediation with Greece for the resolution of the matter. The UK can place the issue of ownership on the table of mediation if it so wishes. The UK has still not even replied. One wonders how much goodwill can be found in this indifferent stance. Replying to an invitation of an internationally renowned forum is not only basic good manners but adhering to the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes. This makes anyone think that it is not conversations that are difficult; only parties can be difficult.

7. These sculptures do belong to everyone. Letting them be seen in different places and not only in Athens is important.
That is indeed true. They incorporate the values of classical Athens and Greek identity and as such form part of the world heritage. The issue though is where they can be best exhibited for the sake of humanity. Exhibiting them in different places conveys half of the information (if not the wrong information) of the values they carry. How can an artifact (any artifact) broken in pieces be properly assessed, valued and interpreted, if parts of it are seen separate instead of as a whole? This is especially so if something was conceived, created and exhibited as a whole in its original context. In the case at issue it is not only the antiquity that is split apart but also the fact that it is not found in its original context. This argument defies any logic and is there only to serve the purposes of the BM. It is even more weird that the argument is used by a leading institution in the museum world to serve its own purposes when this argument is unknown in the area of cultural property law and relevant international treaties. It is a long and well-established principle that antiquities should be preserved and exhibited (even in situ where this is possible) as a whole respecting their integrity, whilst when broken this constitutes a crime. How does this act (or any argumentation to its favour) differ from the vandal acts in Afghanistan or Syria?
The point about the wording of the (conveniently lost) 'firman' is important, on it hinges the whole legality argument, and cutting through the idiotic, 'ev'rybody saw it happen and di'nt stop it, so must've been legal then' argument better suited to the BM's partner metal detectorists than a responsible flagship cultural institution, but then do not both very well illustrate the depths to which 'British culture' is sinking? Note the subtle dig in point six referring to the actual aim of the existence of UNESCO - building peace in men's minds. That's not exactly what the BM is up to at the moment.  I also appreciate the point made about the all-or-nothing approach which also annoyed me, the response to that one from Athens is a cracker. I think  that round goes to Athens, back to you BM Trustees.... what nonsense arguments will you come up with next? 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tlingit Totem Pole to be Returned

A Tlingit Totem Pole totem pole stolen from Takjik’aan (Tuxecan), Prince of Wales Island decades ago  seems to have been taken from the site by actor John Barrymore in May 1931 during one of several yachting trips to Southeast Alaska, sawing it off at ground-level, leaving just a stump.
  Barrymore died in 1942, and the totem pole was bought by Vincent Price (" who had a degree in fine art and an interest in “primitive art”....") . It was then deposited in three pieces  in  the Honolulu Academy (later Museum) of Art,
Though the pole has been sawed down, sawed into pieces, cemented and bolted together, altered, showed off and hidden away [...]  the process to return the pole home to Tuxecan is underway. The Klawock Cooperative Association has been in contact with Honolulu Museum of Art Director Stephan Yost about repatriation of the pole — the board of directors voted to repatriate to Klawock and the pole is being prepared for shipment. 
Melissa Griffiths, 'Stolen totem pole comes home', November 5, 2014

UPDATE 24th October 2015

Yaxchilan Lintel 24

British Museum director Neil McGregor

Late Classic Maya limestone carving from Yaxchilan, in modern Chiapas, Mexico (" A masterpiece of Maya art"). Wikipedia, friend of Universal Museums says:
"Lintel 24 was found in its original context alongside Lintels 25 and 26 in Structure 23 of Yaxchilan. Alfred Maudslay had the lintel cut from the ceiling of a side entrance in 1882 and shipped to Great Britain where it remains today in the British Museum of London"
This lintel would be seen better in the company of Lindow Man and the Hamilton vases, or the other sculptures from the same building and the contemporary (and preceding and succeeding) buildings on the same site? What about their regional context?What use is it sawn off, ripped out and taken away from all of that isolated as a lone trophy piece of sawn-off stone in amongst a hose of other pieces of sawn-off, ripped out and carted off pieces of trophy stone?

British Museum: "the Parthenon Marbles aren’t Greek"

Richard Morrison, 'British Museum director: the Elgin Marbles aren’t Greek', The Times November 07, 2014
It’s the belief of MacGregor and his trustees (who, he points out, include “two Nobel prize-winners and distinguished people from all over the world”) that the Marbles will give “maximum public benefit” by staying in London, rather than going to a new museum in Athens. “From its beginning 250 years ago, the point of the BM was gathering together objects in one place to tell narratives about the world,” he says. “When the Parthenon Sculptures came to London it was the first time that they could be seen at eye-level. They stopped being architectural details in the Parthenon and became sculptures in their own right. They became part of a different story — of what the human body has meant in world culture. In Athens they would be part of an exclusively Athenian story.” Athenian? “Yes. It’s not even a Greek monument. Many other Greek cities and islands protested bitterly about the money taken from them to build this in Athens.” Surely one of the strongest Greek arguments is that all the Parthenon Sculptures should be reunited — and the obvious place for that to happen is as close to the Parthenon as possible. “Well, about 30 per cent of the Sculptures are in Athens and 30 per cent are here,” MacGregor counters. “You don’t have to be very mathematical to see that quite a lot of them no longer exist. So there’s no possibility of recovering an artistic entity and even less of putting them back in the ruined building from which they came. Indeed, the Greek authorities have continued Lord Elgin’s work of removing sculptures for exactly the same reason: to protect them and to study them.”
The Parthenon is not a Greek monument because it was "built in Athens"? So it is displayed in the British (London) Museum's Department of Greek, Roman and Athenian antiquities? That's next to the Museum's 'Department of Halicarnassan and Carian Antiquities' I suppose. What nonsense is this?

I guess his other one is a Two Wrongs Argument, the Ghent Altarpiece "should not be displayed ever again as a whole" because one of the panels is missing. Dachau can now be dismantled because some noxious jerk walked off with the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. It is a really dodgy argument that no work of art or monument should be protected from dismemberment unless we have all the pieces. The Parthenon Marbles dispute is descending even further into the depths, being already the lowpoint of British Museology and the heritage debate.

Vignette: "It's broken so no need to return it".