Monday, December 15, 2014

Native Americans try to Block Another French Auction of Sacred Artefacts

What's left of Hopi and Navajo
An auction on Monday of sacred masks and objects in France has stirred fresh anger among Native Americans, with representatives of the Navajo people travelling to Paris to try and halt the latest sale. The Eve auction house has 270 Native American, Eskimo and pre-Colombian artefacts going under the hammer and the United States embassy has stepped in, urging a stop to the sale of items cherished by the Navajo and Hopi people. The sale is the fourth since 2013 that the southwestern Hopi people have tried to block of ceremonial masks and headdresses they consider to embody living spirits. All previous legal efforts to halt such auctions have failed, although a US foundation last year bought 21 of the masks at a Paris auction to return them to the Hopi people.
The name of the sellers or the buyers of the masks remain a secret (where are they all coming from?). If America was to implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention properly (with an export licensing procedure for such artefacts) then there would be no problem with stopping the sale of those that left the US after the date it was instituted. The problem is that the US does not want to protect this cultural property in such a way.

Indeed it is rather ironic that when a group of people from precisely the area occupied by these tribes were caught stealing artefacts, including sacred ones and robbing graves to obtain collectables, they got sentences no greater than a few months probation and the authorities that investigated, arrested and charged them received a lot of criticism for the way they did so.  It seems that illegal activities within the US concerning artefacts of precisely this region is not treated with any great seriousness.


Afp, 'Native Americans try to block French auction of sacred artefacts', 14 December 2014.

UPDATE 15th December 2014
Navajo officials won their bid to buy back seven tribal masks at a contested auction of native American artifacts in Paris that netted over a million dollars. Monday’s sale went ahead despite the best efforts by the U.S. government and Senator John McCain to halt it. The objects for sale at the Drouot auction house included sacred masks, colored in pigment, believed to have been used in Navajo wintertime healing ceremonies. The sale — which totaled 929,000 euros ($1.12 million) — also included dozens of Hopi Kachina dolls and several striking Pueblo masks embellished with horse hair, bone and feathers, the origins of which are unclear.[...] The lawyer representing the absent Hopi tribe, Pierre Servan-Schreiber, said the approaches of the Hopis and the Navajos were different — and said the Hopis see the sale as sacrilege. "Hopis were opposed to buying back their artifacts as they did not want to engage in the auction," said Servan-Schreiber.
Thomas Adamson, 'Navajos buy back artifacts at Paris auction', Salt Lake Tribune 15th December 2014.

Monday, December 8, 2014

British Museum Cosying with Russia: "Arrogance, duplicity and defiance with no end"

BM celebrates 'Russian Enlightenment'
Kwame Opoku, 'Arrogance, duplicity and defiance with no end: British Museum loans Parthenon Marble to Russia', reposted on Elginism
The arrogance seeping through the statements of the British Museum in connection with its latest act is glaring and unbearable. The museum arrogates to itself the right and duty to control the narrative of Greek history and culture. It is sending the headless sculpture to enlighten Russians about the glory and grandeur of ancient Greece. The British Museum determines which Greek sculptures are appropriate to fulfil this duty of enlightenment and has even appointed ambassadors to do this. The sculpture of Ilissos is designated “ stone ambassador of the Greek golden age.”. Taking control of the narrative of the history and culture of the Greeks is surely the worst form of cultural imperialism. 

Ancient Maori heads returning from US

This is the largest repatriation of ancestral remains in New Zealand's history. The American Museum of Natural History had a collection of Maori remains, acquired
from the early 1800s up until the 1900s when there was a strong commercial trade and network in indigenous peoples' remains, particularly in Europe and North America. This was fuelled by an intense curiosity with "native" peoples' culture and physical anthropology amongst very wealthy collectors, academic institutions, medical schools and museums, he said. After more than a 100 years abroad, the remains will arrive back in New Zealand this Friday. [...] The remains are made up of:

* 35 Toi moko (preserved Maori tattooed heads) and two tattooed thigh skins from the collection of Portuguese soldier Horatio Gordon Robley. Robley became fascinated with moko during an 1863 visit to New Zealand. He tried unsuccessfully to return his collection to New Zealand in his later life.

* 24 koimi tangata Moriori (Moriori skeletal remains) linked back to New Zealand naturalist Henry Hammersly Travers, the most prolific collector of Chatham Island remains.

* 46 koiwi tangata (Maori skeletal remains) collected from across the North Island. Most are from the private collection of leading Austrian anthropologist Felix von Luschan.
'Ancient Maori heads returning from US' NZ City1 December 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

The British Museum has just lost the Elgin Marbles argument

The British Museum has moved the statue of Illisos from his plinth in the Duveen Gallery to St. Petersburg for a celebration of Russian art collection at the Hermitage. "This loan is welcome — in that it gives the game away" says Geoffrey Robertson ('The British Museum has just lost the Elgin Marbles argument', Independent Friday 5 December 2014):
This raises two issues: first, why give a propaganda windfall to President Putin at a time when his breaches of international law can only be deterred by sanctions that are beginning to bite? Second, if a part of the Marbles can now been seen for the next two months by visiting St. Petersburg, why should all surviving pieces of the greatest art in world history not be seen, reunited at the Acropolis Museum under a blue attic sky and in the shadow of the Parthenon? [...] the event will be a cultural triumph for the man who a few years ago, closed down the British Council in St. Petersburg and had its Director arrested.[...] In the case of Russia, still fomenting war in eastern Ukraine, isolating sanctions are the only realistic way that Europe can respond in an effort to save lives. In this context, and at this time, the action by Neil MacGregor and his Trustees might seem not merely naïve, but irresponsible.
Neil MacGregor was heard to say as he posed for photographers whilst surveying Illisos in its new location: “It looks much better than it does in London”.
Indeed it does. In London it is located in the Duveen Gallery where half the extant Marbles sit under white light as if in a morgue. This was at the insistence of Lord Duveen, a crooked art dealer who made his money by shady dealings with the Nazis and who insisted in 1938 on scouring some of the friezes, permanently damaging them. If the River God looks so much better at the Hermitage, how much better would he look – along with all the other statues captured by Lord Elgin – back with his counterparts in the New Acropolis Museum?
The Museum, having loaned this piece to Russia now "cannot sensibly or morally refuse the mediation offered by UNESCO, to which the British government has been asked to respond by 31 March next year".

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Parthenon Marbles: Ilissos Goes to Petersburg

Obtrusively-labelled trophy item in BM (BBC)
The British Museum has loaned one of its ripped-off Parthenon Marbles statues to Russia.
A headless depiction of the river god [sic - personification not god] Ilissos will go on display in St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum until mid-January. [...] The museum director, Neil McGregor, said: "The British Museum is a museum of the world, for the world and nothing demonstrates this more than the loan of a Parthenon sculpture to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg to celebrate its 250th anniversary." In a blog for the museum's website, he wrote that the British Museum had opened its doors in 1759 and the Hermitage just five years later - making them "almost twins... the first great museums of the European Enlightenment". The British Museum was today "the most generous lender in the world", he said, "making a reality of the Enlightenment ideal that the greatest things in the world should be seen and studied, shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible". "The trustees have always believed that such loans must continue between museums in spite of political disagreements between governments."
Tell that to the people of Ukraine and Crimea this winter. This can be interpreted as nothing but a huge snub directed at Greece by the British Museum. Of all the pieces that could have been chosen to represent the Enlightenment, there was no reason to choose precisely one of these pieces - and especially at this time. What's the matter, could not find anything from a Hellenistic town in Crimea that the Russians have not already got? It is interesting to note that this loan was not announced until the looted sculpture was actually in Russia. Go on Greece, make a bid to get it back from Putin, maybe he'll agree to give the UK a poke in the eye over sanctions (I bet the actual loan agreement has some interesting small print to cover such an eventuality).

By the way, Catherine the Great's keep-up-with-the-Enlightenment kunstkabinett in the Small Hermitage was a private collection in 1759. The museum only "opened its doors" by Nicholas I in 1852, a century later. McGregor is making up history here.

 BBC 'Elgin Marbles: British Museum loans statue to Russia' BBS 5 December 2014.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Parthenon Marbles: The Adair Letter

In the light of the recent stressing by the BM Director that the Marbles were legally removed from Greece, the Elginism website has raised the question of the Adair letter of July 31st 1811 (see Theodore Theodorou, 'Robert Adair's letter to Lord Elgin') which certainly would weaken the BM case.