ECONOMIZING WITH TRUTH: GREEK REQEUST OF PARTHENON MARBLES LOAN THAT WAS REJECTED BY BRITISH MUSEUM
TO LOAN OR NOT TO LOAN: BRITISH MUSEUM DID DISCUSS WITH GREECE PARTHENON MARBLES LOAN
“You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are a tribute to the democratic philosophy. They are our aspirations and our name. They are the essence of Greekness”
Melina Mercouri, at the Oxford Union.
Parthenon Marbles, Athens, Greece, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom.
After my recent article on the loan of a Parthenon Marble, Ilissos, to Russia, (2) a friend drew my attention to the existence of a letter from the British Museum to the Greek Ministry of Culture, dated 14 November, 2002, which throws further light on the relations between the two European Union countries as regards the Parthenon Marbles. (3)
Despite the frequent assertions of Neil MacGregor and others that Greece has never asked for a loan of the Parthenon Marbles, the letter shows that Greece has indeed made such a request but that the British Museum, through its chairman of the board of trustees, in 2002 firmly rejected any idea of loan, temporary or permanent.
Nevertheless, this assertion was recently repeated:
“The Greek government has always refused to borrow, to date, but the trustees’ position is very clear that they will consider any request from anyone who is prepared to return the object.” (4)
Melina Mercouri, Minister of Culture of Greece. (1981-89,1993-94).
A transcription of the letter of John Boyd to the Greek Minister of Culture, Evangelos Venizelos is reproduced below
A copy of the original letter is in the annex.
The British Museum
14 November 2002
H.E. Mr Evangelos Venizelos
Minister of Culture
Hellenic Ministry of Culture
The Parthenon Sculptures in the collections of the British Museum
It was a great pleasure to welcome you though this was no, I know, your first visit to the British Museum.
The Director and I are delighted to have held discussions with you and your colleagues on the Parthenon sculptures in the Museum’s collections and other matters. The exchanges suggested to me that there are many areas in which we can and should cooperate.
As I mentioned in our meeting, I am especially pleased to note that Dr Choremi, the Ephor of the Acropolis will speak at the Museum on Friday, 15 November, and that the British Museum is able to make generous loans to two exhibitions in Athens as part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2004. These are important examples of the fruitful cultural and academic relations that exist between us – and which can, I am sure, be developed further.
The Director and I naturally listened very carefully to what you had to say about the Parthenon Sculptures in our collections. I am grateful for the manner in which you approached the topic; grateful too for the understanding shown during the meeting for the Museum’s position. Nevertheless, it remains the opinion of the Board of Trustees that the Parthenon sculptures in the collections of the British Museum cannot be lent to the new museum currently under development in Athens, whether in the manner you proposed or for a temporary period.
Let me rehearse again the basis for our belief that the British Museum is the best possible place for these wonderful sculptures to be on display, as an essential chapter within the worldwide story of human cultural achievement. It is precisely this story which the Museum exists to tell through the rich and multi-faceted character of its worldwide collections. The ideas, aesthetics and skills of 5th century Greek civilisation are regarded here as elsewhere as central to this human experience. I am not sure that contemporary changes in political and economic attitudes, adduced at one point in our discussion, alter the point.
The Museum exists not only to delight but to instruct and provoke reflection. Its great collections, in close proximity, are seen by five million visitors every year entirely free of entry charge. The Parthenon Sculptures are integral to this unique experience.
When considering whether to make a loan the Trustees are required, by Act of Parliament, to have regard to the interest of the Museum’s visitors. While there is no list of objects that can never be lent, we do believe there is a prima facie assumption against the lending of key objects in the Museum’s collections which are normally on display and which the public reasonably expect to see in the Museum. The sculptures are precisely among that group of key objects indispensable to the Museum’s essential, universal purpose, and thus fall into the category of objects that can not be lent.
The Director and I much appreciated the opportunity to discuss these various matters frankly and in such a friendly context, and to establish friendly contact and undertake such an exchange of views between us. This must surely contribute to a relationship which we very much wish to promote and expand.
Again though, as I said in our meeting, I would not wish you to leave with the impression that any negotiation on the issue you raised is underway. This would be misleading. I am bound in all frankness, to repeat that I cannot envisage the circumstances under which the Trustees would regard it as being in the Museum’s interest, or consistent with its duty, to endorse a loan, permanent or temporary, of the Parthenon Sculptures in its collections.
I should like to end by thanking you for the kind gift of the coin replicas from the Numismatic Museum in Athens. They are especially appropriate as a symbol of the co-operation that exists between us, in the light of the recent collaborative British Museum / Numismatic Museum Internet project,
Presveis: One Currency for Europe
, which, I was delighted to see, is available on the Ministry of Culture’s website. Yours sincerely
Sir John Boyd
Anybody with some idea about the Parthenon Marbles can guess that when a senior Greek official visits the British Museum, it would be about the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. The letter of 14 November 2002 indicates in its title already that the visit of the Greek Minister of Culture was about this historic subject. It is to be noted that the letter does not indicate the date of the visit or the purpose of the letter. This deflects the attention of the recipient from the fact that the letter is a record of the meeting and avoids any objections, additions or corrections which the recipient might otherwise want to make to a record of the meeting.
The letter of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, John Boyd thus acknowledges that the Greeks have made efforts on this issue and also that it was not the first time the minister was visiting the museum. Before 2002 there had been visits by various Greek officials and personalities. Such a visit was made by the unforgettable great Melina Mercouri who was met with insults from the then Director of the British Museum, David Wilson. (5)
The Boyd letter, echoing essentially the ideas of Neil MacGregor, makes it clear that the British Museum was not willing to make any loan of the Parthenon Marbles to the new museum the Greeks were constructing:
“The Director and I naturally listened very carefully to what you had to say about the Parthenon Sculptures in our collections. I am grateful for the manner in which you approached the topic; grateful too for the understanding shown during the meeting for the Museum’s position. Nevertheless, it remains the opinion of the Board of Trustees that the Parthenon sculptures in the collections of the British Museum cannot be lent to the new museum currently under development in Athens, whether in the manner you proposed or for a temporary period.”
“Whether in the manner you proposed or for a temporary period”
This leaves out intentionally whatever the Greeks might have proposed that may appear reasonable. The Greeks have made suggestions of transferring to the British Museums valuable Greek artefacts in exchange for the Parthenon Marbles. The idea also is to take away the British fear that the Greeks might not return loans. The British fear is the reflection of bad conscience.
As if to reinforce the message in the preceding paragraph which was clear enough, Boyd emphasises in the very next paragraph the determination not to loan any Parthenon Marble:
“Let me rehearse again the basis for our belief that the British Museum is the best possible place for these wonderful sculptures to be on display, as an essential chapter within the worldwide story of human cultural achievement. It is precisely this story which the Museum exists to tell through the rich and multi-faceted character of its worldwide collections. The ideas, aesthetics and skills of 5th century Greek civilisation are regarded here as elsewhere as central to this human experience. I am not sure that contemporary changes in political and economic attitudes, adduced at one point in our discussion, alter the point”.
Boyd then in a curious argument turns the Parthenon Marbles into objects that are necessary for the museum in order to fulfil its essential functions and and therefore cannot be loaned;
“The sculptures are precisely among that group of key objects indispensable to the Museum’s essential, universal purpose, and thus fall into the category of objects that can not be lent.”
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees is here telling the Greek Culture Minister that the Greek sculptures that had been taken under contested circumstances to Britain are absolutely necessary to fulfil the essential functions of the British Museum as a universal museum. How much more cynical can one be? Body for the fourth time in his short letter repeats again that the Parthenon Marbles cannot leave the British Museum:
“Again though, as I said in our meeting, I would not wish you to leave with the impression that any negotiation on the issue you raised is underway. This would be misleading. I am bound in all frankness, to repeat that I cannot envisage the circumstances under which the Trustees would regard it as being in the Museum’s interest, or consistent with its duty, to endorse a loan, permanent or temporary, of the Parthenon Sculptures in its collections
Ministers of Culture are usually well-educated and intelligent persons but the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum felt he must repeat several times the unwillingness of the Bloomsbury museum to loan the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Evangelos Venizelos, former professor of Constitutional Law, educated in Greece and France, held Cabinet positions -Justice, Transport, Culture and Deputy Prime Minister.
We now know that one of Parthenon sculptures has been loaned to Russia and thus the argument that they could not leave the museum has been destroyed by the Board of Trustees and the Director of the British Museum. Indeed, it seems the British Museum is discussing with others the loans of other Parthenon Marbles. A step which would lead to future complications.
But why the strenous denials of any discussions or requests by Greece for a loan of the Pathenon Marbles, in the presence of unquestionable overwhelming evidence that they have asked for a loan as well as restitution? This is a well-calculated strategy by the holders of contested cultural artefacts that has been used in the past and seems to worked in favour of the holders who thereby gain time.
The British Museum is past master in such tactics but others have followed its strategy and tactics. The British deny that there has ever been a demand for the restitution of Benin Bronzes even though a brother of the Benin Monarch has been before a British Parliamentary Committee to present Benin’s case for the return of the artefacts that were looted by the British in 1897 during a brutal invasion of Benin. The demand known as Appendix 21 has been recorded in Parliamentary records but there are academics who deny there was ever a formal demand. (6)
The Germans deny that there has ever been any demand by the Nigerian Commission on Museums and Monuments or the Oba of Benin for the return of the 500 Benin Bronzes they allegedly bought from the British invaders even though a Nigerian Minister of Culture has been to Berlin specifically to make such a request in what was appropriately designated, Berlin Plea for the Return of Benin Bronzes. (7)
James Cuno, then Director of the Chicago Art Institute, stated at the opening of a Benin exhibition in his institute that if a demand for the return of the Benin Bronzes in his institute were submitted to him he would consider A Benin princess hand-carried a letter of demand to Chicago. Up to today, there has not even been an acknowledgement of receipt of the Royal letter.(8)
Sometimes, the holders of cultural artefacts of others hide behind formalities such as that there has been no formal request or that the demand did not come from the appropriate high official. The Germans did this with regard to Egypt’s request for the return of the bust of Nefertiti which they have been holding in the Neues Museum, Berlin. When the then Secretary-General of the Egyptian Supreme Council, Zahi Hawass made a request for Nefertiti he was told to make a formal request. When the formal request was made, he was informed that the request should come from a Minister. Hawass became a minister and made a request but the Germans said the request should come from a Prime Minister or a President. (9)
The psychology here seems to be that of arrogant holders who are conscious of their power or strong position that no one can force them to deal with the matter. By their denials, the holders want to send a message to the claimants that they have more important matters to deal with and would not allow the likes of claimants to set their agenda. They can convince their supporters that since they have not recived a request to deal with the issue, they are not obliged to take any position.
This practice which the Germans call “Verweigerung der Realität”, denial of reality, can result in the end in convincing the holders and their supporters that no one has asked for the return of the artefacts since there is no one powerful enough to confront them with the reality of demand. Future generations may find no records of such demands. The claimants or their descendants would in time have no exact memory of the facts or the circusmstances. Claimants may become tired and discouraged and finally give up the fight or for reasons of their inability to secure their rights, gradually appear to forget which is a form of denial of reality. The risk of such a situations exists with many African peoples that have not demanded the return of their cultural artefacts from the imperialists States since Independence. Cultural officials recognizing their evident powerlessness as regards the holders, gradually accommodate themselves to the situation, helped by whatever personal benefits they can derive from the situation of persistent powerless demands. They and the former colonialists become friends and do not seriously talk about restitution. But cultural artefacts are not quickly forgotten especially among peoples with long traditions of recording their history and culture. This is precisely the lesson of the Parthenon Marbles.
It has bee said that “The British Museum is the most generous lending collection in the world.”
This may be so but it is also obvious that it is easy to be very generous in lending if the objects are not yours. It is less difficult to distribute the money of others than our own money. MacGregor may be generous in lending objects of others that have been looted, robbed, confiscated, stolen or otherwise acquired under dubious circumstances that are still contested.
Generosity born out of the lending of the property of others does not increase the prestige or fame of the lender as the recent loan to Russia has demonstrated. What the recent handlng of the property of others does, is to revive memories that are better left unmentioned – oppression, murder, denigration, arson, looting, destruction, assasination and all the evils of colonialism and imperialism are awakened among all those who themselves or their ancestors have lost property and suffered during the colonial and imperialist period. The association of such deeds with cultural artefacts becomes alive. MacGregor and his supporters are not sensitive to such suffering and may not appreciate what that means to us, former colonial subjects. The world could do without such revivals and the alleged generosity that disturbs us all.
The loan of contested artefacts must be stopped before it becomes a custom with museums harrassed by requests for restitution of artefacts. Soon we will hear the Humboldt Forum, Berlin, lending some of the 500 Benin Bronzes it will soon control to many States except Nigeria and it would be claimed the institution can better represent Benin culture than the Oba of Benin and the Queen Idia statute in Berlin will be sent by the Humboldt Forum to another place as ambassador of Benin culture in bronze..
The Neues Museum will soon claim to present Egyptian culture better than the Egyptian Government and therefore entitled to keep Nefertiti in Berlin to be seen by thousands rather than in Cairo where few will want to travel. The museum will ocassionaly lend the bust of the Egyptian Queen even though it has been often said the Queen is too fragile to travel.
The position of the British Government and the British Museum on restitution is now abundantly clear and it is left to those who believe in the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles to reconsider the ways and means of recovering the sculptures which were removed from Greece under dubious circumstances.`
The notion that foreign cultural institutions can represent a culture better than the government and people of the country that produced them must be rejected. The idea that the British Museum is entitled to keep the Parthenon Marbles because the museum is better qualified than the Greek people and government to represent the glory and grandeur of Ancient Greek culture and history is surely perverse and must be rejected without hesitation.
Verses by Roger Casement
Give back the Elgin marbles, let them lie
Unsullied, pure beneath the Attic sky
The smoky fingers of our northern clime
More ruin work than all ancient time.
How oft’ the roar of the Piraean Sea
Through column’d hall and dusky temple stealing
Hath struck these marble ears, that now must flee
The whirling hum of London, noonward reeling.
Ah! let them hear again the sounds that float
Around Athene’s shrine on morning’s breeze —
The lowing ox, the bell of climbing goat
And drowsy drone of far Hymettus’ breeze.
Give back the marbles; let them vigil keep
Where art still lies, over Pheidias’ tomb, asleep.
More ruin work than all ancient time.
Roger Casement. (10)
Parthenon Marbles, Athens, Greece, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom
Kwame Opoku, 12 December, 2014
2. K. Opoku, “
Arrogance, Duplicity and Defiance with no end: British Museum Loans Parthenon Marble to Russia”,http://www.modernghana.com/news/584950/1/arrogance-duplicity-and-defiance-with-no-end-briti.html
5. Christopher Hitchens, The Parthenon Marbles, Verso, London, 2008, pp. 97-99 I found in this useful book, a report on an interview said to have been given by David Wilson, then Director of the British Museum who threw the accusation of “nationalism” and “fascism” at the supporters of restitution. His statements are so remarkable in their violence and lack of logic that I feel everyone should read them. Note also the lack of respect displayed towards the Greek minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri who is likened to a burglar when she expressed the wish to see the Parthenon Marbles.:
“In a BBC television discussion on 15 June 1985, Sir David Wilson, Director of the British Museum, was invited to contrast his opinions with those of Melina Mersouri. Sir David had already exhibited a certain lack of gallantry when, on an earlier visit to London, Mrs. Mercouri had expressed a wish to visit the Museum and view the marbles. On that occasion he had said publicly that it was not usual to allow burglars ‘to case the joint’ in advance. But once before the cameras he easily improved on this ill-mannered exaggeration. ‘To rip the Elgin Marbles from the walls of the British Museum’ he said, ‘is a much greater disaster than the threat of blowing up the Parthenon’. This might have been thought hyperbolic, if Sir David had not gone on to say, in response to a mild question about the feasibility of restitution:
Oh, anything can be done. That’s what Hitler said, that’s what Mussolinisaid when he got Italian trains to run on time
The interviewer, David Lomax, broke in to say:
You are not seriously suggesting there’s a parallel between…
Sir David was unrepentant:
Yes, I am. I think this is cultural fascism. It’s nationalism and it’s cultural danger. Enormous cultural danger. If you start to destroy great intellectual institutions, you are culturally fascist.
LOMAX: What do you mean by cultural fascist?
WILSON: You are destroying the whole fabric of intellectual achievement. You are starting to erode it. I can’t say you are destroying, you are starting to erode. I think it’s a very, very serious, thing to do. It’s a thing you ought to think of very careful, it’s like burning books. That’s what Hitler did; I think you’ve to be very careful about that.
LOMAX: But are you seriously suggesting that the people who want the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece, who feel there’s an overwhelming moral case that they should go back, are guilty of cultural fascism?
WILSON: I think not the people who are wanting the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece if they are Greek. But I think that the world opinion and the people in this country who want the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece are actually guilty of something very much approaching it, it is censoring the British Museum. And I think that this is a bad thing to do. It is as bad as burning books”.
This is an extraordinary performance by a Director of the British Museum. One can sympathize with his desperation in face of the mounting pressure to return the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles to Athens and the great presence of the unforgettable Melina Mercouri in London. But can anyone excuse his shameful performance?
K. Opoku,” Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria’s Demand for Return of Looted Artefacts?”
8. K. Opoku, “
Cuno reiterates his views on Ownership and Location of Antiquities”,
Copy of letter from Chairman,Board of Trustees,British Museum to Minister of Culture of Greece
IMPORTANT PRESS RELEASE: THE HOLOCAUST ART RESTITUTION PROJECT AND THE CHAIRMAN
OF THE HOPI TRIBE JOINTLY FILE AN ACTION IN FRANCE REQUESTING THE SUSPENSION OF AN
AUCTION SALE OF SACRED HOPI “KWAA TSI” TO BE HELD AT PARIS’ HOTEL DROUOT ON
DECEMBER 15, 2014.
For Immediate Release
In Washington, DC: Marc Masurovsky, (00) 1 202 255 1602 , email@example.com
In New York, NY: Pierre Ciric (00) 1 212 260 6090, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Kykotsmovi, AZ: Marilyn Fredericks, (00) 1 928 734 3107, MFredericks@hopi.nsn.us
Washington, DC, USA – December 09, 2014 – The Holocaust Art Restitution Project ( “HARP”), based in
Washington, DC, chaired by Ori Z. Soltes, and Herman G. Honanie, Chairman of the HOPI Tribe Council, are
jointly announcing the filing of an action before the French “Conseil des Ventes” (“Board of Auction Sales”), an
administrative body in charge of regulating and supervising auction sales on the French market, requesting the
administrative suspension of an auction sale of sacred “kwaa tsi” owned by the Hopi tribe, scheduled for
Monday, December 15, 2014.
The action argues that title for these objects never vested with subsequent possessors due to the sacred
nature of these objects, as well as to the numerous American statutes and regulations protecting these objects.
“The Conseil des Ventes has the power to suspend this sale on two grounds. First, the presumption of good
faith of the seller, which is the legal rule in France to challenge these sales, is eradicated by the numerous
regulations and statutes which have been in effect in the U.S. for years. Furthermore, the Conseil must seek
the provenance information for these objects from the seller. These objects cannot be sold or disposed of for
legal, cultural and moral reasons, period. We hope that the French Government will look favorably at our
request, and do the right thing,” said Soltes.
The Hopi Tribe is a federally recognized tribe of American Indians, who live in northeastern Arizona. The Hopi
Tribe remains one of the most religiously traditional tribes within the United States.
HARP is a not-for-profit group based in Washington, DC, dedicated to the identification and restitution of looted
artworks require detailed research and analysis of public and private archives in North America. HARP has
worked for 16 years on the restitution of artworks looted by the Nazi regime.
For more information, please visit www.facebook.com/plunderedart, on Twitter: @plunderedart,
Copyright © 2014 Holocaust Art Restitution Project, Inc., All rights reserved.
ARROGANCE, DUPLICITY AND DEFIANCE WITH NO END: BRITISH MUSEUM LOANS PARTHENON MARBLE TO RUSSIA
ARROGANCE, DUPLICITY AND DEFIANCE WITH NO END: BRITISH MUSEUM LOANS PARTHENON MARBLE TO RUSSIA.
“Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning, MacGregor said he hoped the Greek government would be delighted that the sculpture would now be on display to a new audience”
Headless statue of the Greek river god Ilissos
Athens, Greece, taken to British Museum, London, now on loan to Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
As if to reinforce its defiance against the will of the British people and the vast majority of States, the UNESCO, United Nations and all those who have urged that the British Museum return the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles to Greece, the venerable museum that is known to hoard thousands of looted artefacts of others, has sent one of the Parthenon Marbles to Russia on loan for an exhibition from 6 December 2014 until 18 January 2015. (1)
The headless statue of a Greek river god will be displayed in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg as part of the celebrations for the institution’s 250th anniversary. Though the Director of the Museum and the Board of Trustees are delighted with the loan, they have not disclosed the terms of the arrangement with Russia.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, is reported to have told the
The politics of both museums have been that the more chilly the politics between governments the more important the relationship between museums.”
This may be the policies of the museums that often pretend not to have anything to do with politics but it seems to us that the British people who have overwhelmingly demanded that the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles be returned to Greece will not be amused by this latest act of defiance by the museum. This comes on the heels of an incredible interview in which the museum director even goes so far as to deny that the Parthenon Marbles are Greek. (2)
In a blog on the British Museum’s website, entitled
Loan of a Parthenon sculpture to the Hermitage: a marble ambassador of a European ideal
MacGregor stated: “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
Lending a contested object is not a demonstration that the British Museum is a museum of the world for the world. This can at best demonstrate that the museum does not care for the opinion of the British people, the Greek people, the United Nations and all those who seem to support Greece in its efforts to recover the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. The lending is furthermore a demonstration that the old British argument that the Marbles are too fragile to move outside Bloomsbury is gone forever.
There is no objection to cooperation between museums but this type of cooperation should not be encouraged since it is very likely, in the end, to create problems in the relationship of Russia and Greece. We cannot see a Greek minister going now to Russia to participate in the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Contested or looted cultural artefacts are clearly not appropriate instruments for cultural diplomacy. They serve at best to complicate situations where there have been more than enough disputes of long-standing.
MacGregor who is known for incredible and provocative statements is reported to have said that he hoped the Greek Government will be delighted by his latest action of defiance:
“I hope that they will be very pleased that a huge new public can engage with the great achievements of ancient Greece. People who will never be able to come to Athens or London will now, here in Russia, understand something of those great achievements in Greek civilisation.”
Visitors at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, looking at the headless statute of the Greek river god Ilissos.
As we have often written these acts of provocation and insults to the Greeks may be part of a strategy to prevent Britain and Greece from sitting together at a table to solve the issues concerning the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles. One side insults the other party to such an extent that the two cannot stand one another.
It is not by accident that this provocative act comes at a time when there is much discussion on taking legal proceedings on the matter. This latest act will surely inflame the Greeks and their supporters.
It is also noteworthy that the British Museum is loaning a contested cultural object to a country against which the European Union of which Britain is still a member has enacted sanctions against Russia. Questions are likely to arise as to whether decisions of the EU bind cultural institutions in member States. Can the British Museum loan cultural objects, as part of regular business to a country against which the British Government has enacted sanctions? Is the museum allowed to carry on parallel diplomacy with institutions in States sanctioned? Who leads the country in such matters? The Government or the museum?
The implications of the provocative act of the British Museum and the affront to the Greek people may be more than the museum officials realize. They may have to bring their action in line with the policy of the Government. One institution cannot be dancing with a foreign partner whilst the other practices economic sanctions.
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. The museum withholds Greek artefacts and states it will explain Greek culture to other nations. What are the Greeks to do when someone else has seized their magnificent cultural artefacts and using that as instruments of didactic history and culture? May Zeus and all the gods of ancient Greece protect Greece from this form of imperialism.
Whilst professing to be ready and willing to discuss issues relating to the Parthenon /Elgin Marbles with the Greeks, the British Museum was busy at the same time negotiating or finalizing negotiations with the loan of the Ilissos sculpture and its secret transport to St. Petersburg. When the whole deal was revealed, the Museum still unashamedly states it has always been willing to discuss the matter with Greece.
This latest act of affront and provocation shows clearly the museum‘s stand on resolving longstanding disputes on cultural property and appears to be very proud of it.
O what a glorious deed in Bloomsbury!
Kwame Opoku, 6 December, 2014.
1. The Times, Elgin Marbles moved out of Britain for first time
2, K. Opoku, “
British Museum Director Defends Once More Retention of Parthenon Marbles”,
In view of the following letter of Mr. R. Adair a Senior Official in the British Embassy to Turkey to Lord Elgin, the legal argument based of permission from the Ottoman authorities to take the Parthenon Marbles can no longer be sustained:
In answer to your Lordship’s enquiry respecting the marbles collected by your Lordship at Athens, and for leave to transmit which to this country I was directed by the Secretary of State for foreign affairs to apply to the Turkish government, I have to inform your Lordship that Mr Pisani more than once assured me that the Porte absolutely denied your having any property in those marbles. By this expression I understood the Porte to mean that the persons who had sold the marbles to your Lordship had no right so to dispose of them.
At the same time I beg leave to add that this communication was not made to me in any formal conference with the Turkish ministers.
I have the honour to be, my Lord,
your Lordship’s most obedient and humble servant
DIRECTOR OF BRITISH MUSEUM, REPEATS OLD ARGUMENTS FOR BRITISH RETENTION OF PARTHENON MARBLES
BRITISH MUSEUM DIRECTOR DEFENDS ONCE MORE RETENTION OF PARTHENON MARBLES.
“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.”
Neil MacGregor on the Parthenon Marbles.
Parthenon Marbles, East Pediment, British Museum, London
.Photo Andrew Dunn.
On reading the recent statements of Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, regarding the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, I had to remind myself constantly that I was not reading an old article but a fresh report of an interview with Richard Morrison, in the British newspaper, the Times. The director of the British Museum has not changed, improved or modified his position on the issues. (1) He is singing the same song as James Cuno even though in a different key. (2) We shall spare the reader the time and effort of going through all the untenable British arguments which have been discussed elsewhere. (3)
MacGregor repeats his insulting statement that the Greeks are copying Lord Elgin who removed the Parthenon Marbles and brought them to Britain:
“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.”
What is not said is that the Greeks built the ultra-modern new Acropolis Museum largely in response to the British argument that there was no suitable museum in Athens for them to return the Marbles. Once the new museum was completed MacGregor said the location of the Marbles was never an issue. What mattered now was how the British and the Greek could make it possible for the Africans and Chinese to see the Marbles. This was stated by MacGregor in a discussion at the London School of Economics.(4)
Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece.
Regarding the question whether the action of Lord Elgin in removing the Marbles from the location in Athens was legal, Neil MacGregor responds:
“I think everybody would have to agree that it was”
The ground advanced by MacGregor for this bold statement is that: “Elgin had the permission of the Ottoman authorities who were then ruling Greece’.
On the comment that the written authorization, firmen, alleged to have been obtained from the Ottoman authorities has not been seen by anyone, MacGregor responds confidently that at that time “You had to surrender the document as you exported.”
To strengthen his point of view on the legality of the removal, MacGregor adds that the removal was done slowly in the public view of many. Surely, if it were not legal, somebody would have stopped it.
“That’s the point. Everything was done very publicly, very slowly. In 1800 you couldn’t move great slabs of marble quickly. At any point the Ottoman authorities could have stopped it.”
That the Ottoman authorities then ruling Greece were an occupying force does not seem to bother the director of the British Museum. And how is one to evaluate his statement that Lord Elgin could have been stopped from removing the Marbles and since no one stopped him his action must have been legal?
This argument could be advanced to defend any crime or act committed where the offender was not stopped. Many persons saw colonial officials and Apartheid South African officials commit acts or offences but did not or could not stop them. Does that make those acts legal? Making the legal or illegality of an act depend on the reaction of persons who saw the act is surely not a scientific way of determining legality.
MacGregor resorts to the usual argument that the ownership of the Marbles, like all property in the British Museum, is invested in the Board of Trustees of the museum and only they can deal with ownership questions. Not even Parliament could dispose of ownership of museum items. The trustees have a duty to preserve the objects entrusted to them and no trustee, in the legal system MacGregor describes as “Anglo-Saxon law” could or would want to dispose of the property entrusted to them.(5)
A demand for restitution sent to the British government or Parliament would be referred to the British Museum which in turn would declare it is bound by a law of the British Parliament to preserve the objects and so they cannot be returned. This favourite game has been played so often and long enough for all to understand that its purpose is to shield objects in the museum, however acquired, from restitution. The motto seems to be: Once in the British Museum, always in the British Museum.
The director of the British Museums states in the interview that the trustees have always been willing to discuss the Marbles with Greece but the later refuses to recognize British ownership in the Marbles:
“The trustees have always been ready for any discussions. The complication is that the Greek government will not recognise the trustees as the legal owners, so conversations are difficult.”
How can the British expect Greece to recognize their ownership in the very object that is at the heart of their differences? What then is the debate about if not about ownership?
Having stated sometime earlier that the location of the Marbles was never an issue, with the recent renewed call for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, location appears to be important to MacGregor and he advances again the self-serving theory of the advantage of having different objects located in the same museum. The Marbles gained great value when they came to London. Athens is demoted to a provincial town and London promoted to the universal city:
“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.”
The Director of the British Museum restates again the pretention that the museum has the duty to tell the history, or the story as he prefers, of the objects in the museum:
“From its beginning 250 years ago, the point of the BM was gathering together objects in one place to tell narratives about the world”
But who in the world authorized the British to tell the histories of others? There does not yet seem to be a realization that many peoples would like to have their own objects back in order to tell their own history. The seizure of the narratives of the history of others is clearly a bare-faced imperialism which cannot be accepted in this 21st century. Are the other peoples, the Greeks, the Turks and the Edo (Benin) congenitally incapable of telling their own histories? To advance the telling of their histories as argument for the non-return of their artefacts acquired under dubious circumstances is more than an insult.
The United Nations, UNESCO, uncountable conferences and meetings and the British people have expressed the view that the British Museum should return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. (6) The British Museum and the British government have played deaf ears. Whom does the museum serve? The British people? The world?
The interview given by Neil MacGregor indicates an unwillingness to find a solution to this long-standing dispute. If the legality of British ownership is as clear as presented by the director why does Britain not agree to a settlement by an international arbitration board or some other body?
One should perhaps remind all concerned that as far as International Law is concerned the obligation to return cultural artefacts lies squarely on the government and not on a museum. One cannot advance internal legal arrangements or system as a defence for not fulfilling an international obligation.
Is it by sheer coincidence that MacGregor and Cuno are singing, at about the same time, the praises of the so-called “Universal Museum” which they have championed over the years, one on this side of the Atlantic and the other on the opposite side of the Ocean? Is it also by sheer coincidence that the one is British and the other U.S. American? Is it by coincidence that one is president of the most powerful cultural institution in the world, situated in the USA and the other the director of a most prestigious museum situated in London?
After reading MacGregor’s latest statements, I could not help feeling that the cause of those wishing to hold onto the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles would be better helped by avoiding such statements as discussed above.
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch’d thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!
Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (7)
Kwame Opoku, 14 November, 2014.
2. K. Opoku
,” Dr.Cuno again; Reviving Discredited Arguments to prevent Future Repatriation of Museum Artefacts”,
There are excellent discussions on the Parthenon Marbles are, Christopher Hitchens, The Parthenon Marbles, Verso, London, 2008 and Mary Beard, The Parthenon, Profile Books, London, 2004.
See also K. Opoku,
Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project”,
K. Opoku,”Will the British Museum Ever Modify its Claim to be Unquestionable Legal Owner of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles and all other Stolen Items in the Museum?”
K. Opoku, A History of the World with 100 Looted Objects of Others: Global Intoxication?
K. Opoku, Democratization through Vandalism; New Answer to Demands for Restitution of Cultural Artefacts?”
4. K. Opoku, “The Amazing Director of the British Museum: Gratuitous Insults as Currency of Cultural Diplomacy? “
5. Comparative Law specialists, have always raised objections when some European Continental lawyers, especially the French, referred to the British or English law as “Droit anglo-saxon” or “système anglo-saxon”.
6. K. Opoku, “The Guardian Poll on the Return of the Parthenon Marbles”
7. Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Marbles Lord Byron expressed in this stinging verse his objection to the removal of the Parthenon Marbles from Greece by Elgin.
Mexico Says Bonhams Knowingly Sold Fake Antiquities
Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has accused Bonhams New York of selling 29 fake pre-Columbian pieces in an auction that took place on Wednesday, El País reports. According to the Spanish newspaper, Bonhams repeatedly ignored complaints that the INAH had been issuing for over a month, and has sold a number of the fake items for a total of $159,375.
Bonhams offered 314 lots as part of its African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art auction, which took place yesterday in New York, despite the INAH warning that up to 50 percent of the pre-Columbian pieces included in the catalogue were fakes.
Some of the allegedly apocryphal artifacts—listed as being original Mayan effigies, sculptures of Aztec warriors, and a sculpture of the Mexican goddess of sexuality, Xochiquétal—might have been fabricated fairly recently, according to the INAH. “Two of the pieces, purportedly carved from volcanic red stone, have cracks that evidence modern materials: a grey composite covered with a paste that simulates the color and texture of stone,” the institute declared in a press release.
According to El País, 30 percent of the auctions total sales come from artifacts that the INAH blacklisted. The most expensive blacklisted item is a sculpture of a Mayan female leader, dated between 550–950 AD, which sold for $25,000. In the auction catalogue, Bonhams states that the sculpture had previously been sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1999.
The Consul General of Mexico in New York, Sandra Fuentes, tried to stop the auction on Tuesday, a day before it took place, to no avail. The INAH insists that the sale has infringed the Federal Law on Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Zones, as well as the Treaty of Cooperation Between the United States of America and the United Mexican States Providing For The Recovery and Return of Stolen Archaeological, Historical and Cultural Properties, which was signed in 1970.
According to AFP, a Bonhams representative said on Tuesday: “We work closely with Interpol, government authorities, the Art Loss Register as well as institutions and academics with expertise in this area to ensure that provenance is correct and that we have complied with applicable legal requirements, which is exceptionally important to our business.”
However, according toNPR, on Wednesday, the day of the sale, a Bonhams spokeswoman said the auction house was evaluating “new information” about the items.
Nonetheless, according toEl País, some questions remain unanswered as to how, when, and where the INAH’s experts conducted their assessment. The INAH claimed that their experts analyzed the artifacts in situ, but also that Bonhams had refused provide technical assistance to their team.
Center for Art Materials Analysis, Inc. Signs Agreement With Stealth Mark for Artwork Protection OTCBB:WCUINovember 11, 2014 – 08:33
Center for Art Materials Analysis, Inc. Signs Agreement With Stealth Mark for Artwork Protection
| Source: Wellness Center USA, Inc.
SCHAUMBURG, Ill., Nov. 10, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Wellness Center USA, Inc. (OTCQB: WCUI) today announced that the Center for Art Materials Analysis Inc. (CAMA) has signed an agreement with WCUI’s wholly-owned subsidiary StealthCo, Inc. (dba: Stealth Mark) for exclusive use of Stealth Mark’s premier technologies to combat elicit fraud, forgery, and theft within the highly targeted world of Fine Art.
The Center for Art Materials Analysis, Inc. offers expert chemical analysis of paintings and objects for the collector, dealer, gallery, conservator, appraiser, auction house, or historian. This depth of expertise, in conjunction with the unique technologies of Stealth Mark, will position CAMA in the forefront of employing unique, secure, and accurate methodologies for assuring transactions of highly-valuable pieces of art, such as paintings, sculptures, artifacts, prints, documents, and more, remain free from fraud and deception.
Dr. Kenneth J. Smith Ph.D., President of the Center for Art Materials Analysis, commented on the agreement stating, “When the Center for Art Materials Analysis went through the process of finding a technology provider for the tools to provide definitive identification of artwork, addressing issues such as art loss and tracking of objects, Stealth Mark was the clear choice with the suite of technologies offered for our application.”
According to the terms of the agreement and purchase order, the relationship between Stealth Mark and CAMA commences immediately. Accordingly, Stealth Mark has granted CAMA usage license to its technology, and its StealthFire™ suite of security software, including cloud, PC, and mobile applications. These applications, in conjunction with Reader hardware also being delivered under the program, will provide CAMA complete capabilities for structure and control of their art security program, including assignment controls, comprehensive analysis tools, and forensic-level reporting. In addition, Stealth Mark will be providing security labeling, customized to CAMA, for a variety of artwork transactional purposes, including identification and tracking.
Stealth Mark will also provide consultation services and partner with CAMA in regards to the overall program design, both currently and as the program expands. As per the agreement with CAMA, certain matters, including additional security features pertaining to use of the technology within the program, are being treated in a confidential nature.
“We feel our products and capabilities are well-suited to the actions envisioned by CAMA and are delighted to establish this relationship with such a highly respected organization,” states Rick Howard, CEO of Stealth Mark. “Art has long been a seductive and lucrative target for fraud and forgery, and we’re very excited to support CAMA in their efforts towards curbing these criminal activities by utilization of our technologies.”
As stated in a recent article on CNN, “Today’s booming international art market creates a near-irresistible draw for attic-raiders and flea market-shoppers hoping to win big—and seductive target for fraudsters and forgers, too. Currently, the U.S. Department of Justice lists art crime as the world’s third-highest-grossing criminal trade – only behind drugs and arms dealing”.
StealthMark™ technology is applicable to wide-ranges of industries affected by counterfeiting, diversion, and theft including: Pharmaceuticals, Defense, Automotive, Electronics, Technology, Consumer and Personal Care Goods, Designer Products, Beverage/Spirits, and Aerospace, and many others. In 2012, counterfeit Auto Parts accounted for $4 billion in the US and $12 billion globally, Electrical Parts were $15 billion, and Personal Care was $4 billion in the US. Furthermore, over 8% of the medical devices in circulation are counterfeit, Aerospace & Defense accounted for 520,000 counterfeit parts in the US, and greater than 5% of wine sold on the secondary market is counterfeit. More information on market data can be obtained by clicking on the following link: http://www.havocscope.com/tag/art-theft/
About Wellness Center USA, Inc.
Wellness Center USA, Inc. (www.wellnesscenterusa.com) is a hybrid healthcare company that combines best in class technologies, software, devices, providers, protocols, goods, and services. It was created to address important healthcare and wellness needs via breakthrough solutions, all centered around the “well-being of the body and mind”. Wellness Center USA, Inc. is the parent company of three businesses reporting consolidated: Stealth Mark, National Pain Centers, and Psoria-Shield.
About Center for Art Materials Analysis Inc. (CAMA)
The Center for Art Materials Analysis, Inc. (www.camaonline.net) located in Downers Grove IL, offers expert chemical analysis of paintings and objects for the collector, dealer, gallery, conservator, appraiser, auction house or historian. From sample preparation through sample analysis and interpretation of results, scientific analysis provides objective data that aids in authentication efforts, art research and in choosing appropriate conservation methods.
Safe Harbor Statement:
Certain statements and projections contained in this presentation that are not statements or financial results of historical fact constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Such statements and projections include statements regarding any proposed exchange transactions, the anticipated closing date of such transactions and future results following a closing of the transactions. Forward-looking statements can be identified by the fact that they do not relate strictly to historical or current facts. They often include words like “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “pending”, “estimate,” and “intend” or future or conditional verbs such as “will,” “would,” “should,” “could,” or “may.” While it is not possible to identify all factors, risks and uncertainties that might relate to, affect or arise from the proposed transactions and plans which might cause actual results to differ materially from expected results, such factors, risks and uncertainties include delays in completing the transactions, difficulties in integrating operations following the transactions, difficulties in manufacturing and delivering products, potential market rejection of products or services, increased competitive pressures, changes in general economic conditions, legislative and regulatory changes that adversely affect the business in which the parties are engaged, changes in the securities markets and other factors, risks and uncertainties disclosed from time to time in documents that the Company files with the SEC.
At Wellness Center USA, Inc. Tel: (847) 925-1885 www.wellnesscenterusa.com Investor Relations Contact: Arthur Douglas & Associates, Inc. Arthur Batson Phone: 407-478-1120 www.arthurdouglasinc.com
CUNO AGAIN:REVIVING OLD ARGUMENTS TO PREVENT FUTURE REPATRIATION OF CULTURAL ARTEFACTS
DR. CUNO AGAIN: REVIVING DISCREDITED ARGUMENTS TO PREVENT FUTURE REPATRIATION OF MUSEUM ARTEFACTS
When I read Dr. Cuno’s latest article entitled “
in the American journal Foreign Affairs,(Nov/Dec 2014) appearing under a bold heading, “Culture War”, I was very surprised.(1) The last time I commented on the work of the American scholar and President of the J. Paul Getty Trust , I had written that Professor Cuno, whose writings had been heavily criticised by scholars all over the world, was changing and seemed to be moving away from his provocative positions and adopting a more reconciliatory approach in contrast to the abrasive tone of most of his comments. (2) His latest output however, is a full blast of the well-known but often unsubstantiated attacks on his opponents whom he seems to lump into a group of undifferentiated nationalists and nationalist States that, in his view, are constantly making “frivolous” requests for the repatriation of their cultural artefacts that belong to the whole world, not being subject to any geographical limitations and are, according to the cosmopolitan Cuno, better kept in the so-called ‘Universal museums’/Encyclopaedic museums” – the British Museum in London, Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:
“Rather than acquiesce to frivolous, if stubborn, calls for repatriation, often accompanied by threats of cultural embargoes, encyclopedic museums should encourage the development of mutually beneficial relationships with museums everywhere in the world that share their cosmopolitan vision. Cultural property should be recognized for what it is: the legacy of humankind and not of the modern nation-state, subject to the political agenda of its current ruling elite
As we have argued before, the use of the term”culture war” is completely misleading and unfortunate in the context of restitution of cultural artefacts. When Egypt, Greece, Italy, Nigeria or Turkey ask for the return of their looted/stolen artefacts they do not consider themselves as being at war with the holding countries. In a world in which there are real wars that result in great loss of lives and people experience untold suffering and great deprivation, one must be careful in the use of terminology that would tend to obscure the tragedies of wars. Perhaps coming from a non-warfare nation, we are rather too sensitive about such terminology in an area where co-operation should be the basic principle.
Cuno is back presenting again the false view that it is nationalism that fuels demands for return of cultural property and laws tending to control the handling of cultural property:
“Such claims on the national identity of antiquities are at the root of many states’ cultural property laws, which in the last few decades have been used by governments to reclaim objects from museums and other collections abroad. Despite UNESCO’s declaration that “no culture is a hermetically sealed entity”, governments are increasingly making claims of ownership of cultural property on the basis of self-proclaimed and fixed state-based identities. Many use ancient cultural objects to affirm continuity with a glorious and powerful past as a way of burnishing their modern political image — Egypt with the Pharaonic era, Iran with ancient Persia, Italy with the Roman Empire. These arguments amount to protectionist claims on culture. Rather than acknowledge that culture is in a state of constant flux, modern governments present it as standing still, in order to use cultural objects to promote their own states’ national identities.”
Many persons support restitution of cultural artefacts who can by no means be described as nationalists. But who are more nationalistic than the British, US Americans and the other States that stubbornly refuse to return artefacts that are undoubtedly looted, stolen or acquired under dubious circumstances? Ironically, many of the States demanding restitution are countries that suffer from lack of strong national cohesion or nationalism which explains partly the instability in those areas.
The American scholar starts his essay by presenting as nationalist Francesco Rutelli, a former Italian Culture Minister who was largely instrumental in obliging leading American institutions in 2006 to return a great number of looted artefacts to Italy. Referring to the exhibition of the returned looted artefacts that was held in Rome in 1977, Cuno writes:
“Leading nearly 200 journalists through the exhibition, Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s then cultural minister, proclaimed, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum. With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.” Rutelli was not just anthropomorphizing ancient artifacts by giving them souls. By insisting that they were the property of Italy and important to its national identity, he was also giving them citizenship”
Rutelli may have exaggerated a little and been also somewhat lyrical. But even before the grandparents of the Italian Minister were born, the returned artefacts had a home and place in Italy before they were looted and taken to the USA by various devious routes. Does welcoming the pieces back to Italy imply conferring on them a “citizenship” which they did not have before?
One of the museums Dr. Cuno admires most has as part of its name the word ”British” but the American scholar is not unduly worried by this and presumably does not see it as a nationalistic mark. “British” appears to be synonymous with “universal” for some people. On the other hand, “Italian”, “Turkish” or “Nigerian” surely appears to be a nationalistic designation.
Many will remember the Italian Minister and his colleagues for their success in forcing leading American institutions to return to Italy cultural artefacts that had been illegally exported from Italy to the United States. Contrary to the impression created in the essay, the American institutions did not freely agree to return the objects. The Italians forced them to do so through a combination of pressures, legal process and even the imprisonment of a senior curator of a leading American museum. It was realized that there was no alternative but to agree to Italian requests for repatriation. Incidentally more artefacts were returned than the 69 objects in the exhibition Cuno mentions in his essay.
An unflattering image of Zahi Hawass, the dynamic former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, emerges from Cuno’s essay under what he titles “Claim Game”:
“Although the UNESCO convention has helped crack down on the illegal trade in antiquities and led to the rightful repatriation of illicitly acquired art, it has also inspired many governments to make combative and sometimes dubious claims for restitution. As Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s then long-serving antiquities minister, said in 2010, “We will make life miserable for museums that refuse to repatriate.”
Many who did not always agree with the former Egyptian Minister will remember him for his untiring efforts to secure the return of Egyptian artefacts that are illegally in Western museums, including Nefertiti in the Neues Museum in Berlin, and the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, London. Hardly anybody now speaks for the return of African artefacts after the departure of the active Egyptian archaeologist from his post. Zahi Hawass was a great voice in discussions on repatriation.
Cuno refers to UNESCO declaring that” no culture is a hermetically sealed entity”. One wonders whether any of the claimants for restitution has ever asserted that their cultures were completely sealed from other cultures. Besides, this point could not reinforce or weaken any demand for repatriation. Even if two States have the same or similar cultures, the fact that one is holding illegally cultural artefacts stolen or looted from the other would not be affected by evidence that the two cultures are related. One is reminded of the noble British Lord who, with respect to claims for restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, suggested the Greeks should be informed that admiration of Greek culture is part of British culture and history.
Dr. Cuno does not mention that it is the same UNESCO that in the interests of mankind puts certain obligations on States where cultural objects are located. Who else can better take care of artefacts than the States where they are located? It is interesting to see Cuno relying on a UNESCO citation for he has not always been supportive of the aims of that organization in its efforts at cultural preservation.
Cuno criticizes UNESCO and ICOM for encouraging and assisting States to demand repatriation of cultural objects:
“UNESCO, despite what it says about cultural fluidity, has joined with nation-states to assist in the repatriation of cultural objects on the grounds that they represent countries’ exclusive national heritages. Its repatriation and restitution committee has a broad mandate to facilitate bilateral negotiations for the return of “any cultural property” that a state deems to have “fundamental significance from the point of view of the spiritual values and cultural heritage of [its] people.”
Dr.Cuno does not seem to accept that international bodies exist to assist the international community and all member States and not only the powerful States of the West which were instrumental in establishing these organizations. But what Dr. Cuno laments above all is that it is up to each State to determine what objects form part of its culture:
“But individual countries alone determine when something is part of their cultural heritage: there is no international institution with the authority to make that determination. A national government or state-backed entity can even declare a preceding state’s or regime’s self-proclaimed national cultural property idolatrous and destroy it, and there is nothing any other country or any international agency can do to stop it. In 2001, UNESCO tried in vain to prevent the Taliban from demolishing the Bamiyan Buddhas, two monumental sixth-century statues carved into a cliff in central Afghanistan. Not even a meeting between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and representatives of the Taliban leader could spare the statues.”
It would appear that Cuno and his supporters would prefer to have a situation where a body, preferably controlled by the West, determines what is and what is not part of the culture of the non-European States from which many artefacts have been looted or stolen. That body could then decide that modern Egyptians have nothing in common with ancient Egyptians. Could such a body also determine that modern Europeans have nothing in common with ancient Europeans?
Dr. Cuno writes about his first visit to Louvre and how he was fascinated and captivated by an object he saw there which came from the ancient Near East and goes on to attribute to the universal museums a power and promise and praises them for offering to visitors examples of the diversity of cultures in one place:
“And in doing so, they protect and advance the idea of openness and integration in a changing world. Over the last three decades, more people have moved across or within national borders than at any point in human history, straining the very contiguity and definition of nation-states, which are now less politically defined and territorially circumscribed than ever before. But all too often, as a result, governments seek fixed national cultures to shore up their hold on their states’ identities”.
Probably Prof. Cuno does not care to know the impression the so-called universal museums make on young persons from Africa, Asia and Latin America who visit these citadels of Western culture for the first time. My own recollection of my first visit to the British Museum more than forty years ago was one of shock and anger. I was jolted by the architecture of the building, its vast size and fortress character reminded me of the forts and castles European imperialists- British, Danes, Dutch, French, Germans, Portuguese, and Swedes-built on the west coast of Africa in order to protect their goods and later to hold slaves they had acquired. But what could a museum have that required such massive protection?
Once I entered the museum and had recovered from the shock of seeing so many huge artefacts from all over the world, I thought I understood why they needed a fortress like this. There seemed to be so many looted and stolen objects there that they had to protect them from possible attempts by the enraged original owners to retake their artefacts.
My anger boiled over when I realized there were many objects from Africa which one would no longer see on our continent. I wondered whether our ancestors had made gifts of all these objects to the British or were forced to deliver them or face punishment or worse. And when I read that the Benin artefacts had been looted as a result of British invasion of Benin in 1897, my suspicions seemed to have been confirmed.
Cuno cannot expect us to see in universal museums our salvation and his calling to build universal museums where there are none appears to be an attempt to obscure the true history and development of such museums.
When Dr. Cuno writes about the movements of people across territorial boundaries and writes on migration, I wonder whether he is writing about our world as it now exists or about some other world. Is he familiar with the policies of those States where there are universal museums and their stand regarding immigration? What he writes on these issues apply more appropriately to Western States and their determination to keep all others out of the parts of the world they now occupy.
What Cuno writes about the Parthenon Marbles and about Nefertiti can be easily ignored. He tells only part of the histories and the reader may go away with too many misleading impressions. These objects were acquired under very dubious circumstances and yet we are given the impression they were legally acquired. Why then have we had disputes for decades on their acquisition?
What surprises me most about the essay by Dr.Cuno is that after appearing for some years to have retreated from his untenable position of intransigent retentionism, the President of the J.Paul Getty Trust now suddenly launches one of his usual attacks. The essay does not appear to have been motivated by any particular demand for restitution and Dr. Cuno does not explain to us why he has returned to his old aggressive and abrasive position. We are left with speculation.
Given his high position as President of the most powerful cultural institution in the Western world and writing in a very prestigious journal, we may assume that all this is not a personal whim. The essay comes also at a time when as a result of fighting in the Middle East, a lot of cultural artefacts have been destroyed, stolen, looted and displaced.. Could it be that as usual, some clever people have started to think about the post-war situation? Could this essay be part of a strategy to warn or disarm States in the conflict area about any attempts to claim in future the return of looted or stolen artefacts? This strategy would be following the path of the notorious Declaration on the Value and Importance of Universal Museums. (2000).
Or has the British Museum, in view of recent publicity concerning a possible legal action by Greece to recover the Parthenon Marbles, again resorted to the same strategy used in connection with the discredited Declaration on the Importance and Value of the Universal Museum in getting other museums to work on its behalf and allow it to stay in the background? If this were the intention then they could not have made a better choice to lead this revival of imperialist museology.
Readers will recall that the intention of that Declaration was to discourage claims for return of cultural property and especially to discourage Greece from claiming the return of the Parthenon Marbles. None of the intended effects were achieved and the Declaration was followed by massive claims and returns from American institutions to Italy and other States.
Whatever may be the objective behind the unexpected revival of the aggressive posture, it is not very likely to be successful unless and until supporters of that strategy seriously examine the objections made to the position of the notorious Declaration. They would also have to show some respect to claimants for restitution and not reject their demands as”frivolous” and “nationalist.”
Insults are not very likely to contribute to a peaceful settlement of disputes about artefacts. Cuno and his supporters would also have to make some effort to understand the causes leading to mistrust of the West in this area.
There need not be any great disputes about cultural artefacts if those holding them would be a little respectful of the feelings and the needs of the owners when they demand their return. When western museum directors and others describe demands for repatriation as “frivolous,”it is a sure sign that they are not seriously interested in any amicable solution. Cuno does not give examples of “frivolous” demands. Would anybody characterize the demand by the Oba of Benin for the return of some of the looted Benin Bronzes as “frivolous”?
In the final analysis, refusal to return cultural property to the peoples from whom it was wrongfully taken is a denial of the human right of those peoples to a free and independent cultural development. States and museums that preach human rights should surely not be seen as denying the human rights of others. But do the so-called universal museums care about human rights? How come that the British Museum and the British Government do not follow the wishes of the British people who have in numerous opinion polls expressed the view that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Greece? Is that how democracy works?
The views expressed in Cuno’s essay are not likely to encourage the respect of the rights of other peoples and States. It will prolong the unethical spectacle of the rich stealing from the poor and refusing to return their loot.
Kwame Opoku, 30 October, 2014.
“Culture War: The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts”
Cuno’s essay reminds one of a similar article in the New York Times by Hugh Eakin entitled ’The Great Giveback” which lamented that the American museums were making restitutions without much fight.
K. Opoku, ”Declaration of the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project”