“The restitution of those cultural objects which our museums and collections, directly or indirectly, possess thanks to the colonial system and are now being demanded, must also not be postponed with cheap arguments and tricks.”
Gert v. Paczensky and Herbert Ganslmayr, Nofretete will nach Hause
We must admit that the supporters of Western domination in the cultural area are very active and are never tired of inventing conceptions and slogans that will protect their illegal holding of looted / stolen cultural artefacts of others. Their capacity for inventing hegemonic constructs that may even impress some of the deprived peoples should not be underestimated.
Hardly is one theory destroyed, another one rises or an old one is revived or modified. The “universal museum”, at least as a mechanism for defending Western holding of looted artefacts, is now considered dead. But in its place appears a revived theory of “shared heritage” advanced to serve the same purpose as all previous inventions: justify the continued wrongful detention of the cultural artefacts of others.
read full text at: http://www.museum-security.org/Kwame_Opoku_SHARED_HERITAGE.doc
Tom Flynn – Let’s hear it for the British Museum — the greatest and most universal of all Universal Museums!August 18, 2015 – 06:48
I have just had a Damascus moment. The scales have fallen from my eyes. I have seen the light. The British Museum (left) is unquestionably the greatest cultural institution on earth. We all know this, but how many of us fully appreciate it until we cross the threshold and enter its beautiful, spacious and subtly illuminated galleries containing a multitude of numinous art and artefacts representing the zenith of human creativity.
Kwame Opoku – HAVE GERMANS FINALLY ACKNOWLEDGED THEIR EXTERMINATION WARS AGAINST THE HERERO, NAMA, SAN AND DAMARA AS GENOCIDE?August 2, 2015 – 18:03
For a long time, successive German governments have sought to avoid taking responsibility for the genocide of the Herero and Nama of South-West Africa, now Namibia, in 1904-1908. We have in previous articles examined the various untenable arguments that were advanced by German governments to reject this historic cruelty and responsibility.
The attempt to deny historical evidence of German genocide was bound to fail in so far as all the elements of German responsibility have been fully documented in German official papers and writings of German scholars. The extermination order of the German General in South West Africa, General von Lothar should have been sufficient evidence of the declared intention to exterminate Herero and Nama:
‘I, the great general of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero people. The Herero are no longer German subjects. They have murdered and stolen, they have cut off the ears and other parts of the bodies of wounded soldiers, and now out of cowardice they no longer wish to fight. I say to the people: anyone who hands over one of the chiefs to one of our stations as prisoner shall receive 1,000 marks and whoever delivers Samuel Maharero will receive 5,000 marks. The Herero people must however leave the land. If the people refuse to do so, I shall force them with the Great Rohr [cannon]. Any Herero found within the German borders, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be shot. I no longer receive women or children. I will drive them back to their people or order them to be shot. These are my words to the Herero people.
Vernichtungsbefehl (Extermination Order) by the German commander, General Lothar von Trotha.
Do read full text via:
Kwame Opoku – PRICE OF KOTA SOLD IN PARIS IS INTERESTING BUT WHAT ABOUT LOSS TO CREATORS AND ORIGINAL USERS?July 13, 2015 – 11:36
PRICE OF KOTA SOLD IN PARIS IS INTERESTING BUT WHAT ABOUT LOSS TO CREATORS AND ORIGINAL USERS?
The kota sold by Christies for Euro 5.5m in Paris on 23 June 2015
The Art Newspaper informs us that a kota has fetched a very high price in Paris:
“A 66cm-tall wooden sculpture has become the most expensive work of African art sold at Christie’s France, fetching €5.5m in Paris today, 23 June. This price tag makes it the third most valuable work of African art ever auctioned; the record stands at $12m for a rare Senufo female statue, which sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2014” (1)
We learnt also from The Art Newspaper that the kota figure comes from the collection of the late William Rubin, a former director at the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) There is also a reference to what the paper describes as “somewhat glamorous provenance”, the object having been previously possessed by cosmetics tycoon, Helen Rubinstein and a collector of modern art, David Lloyd.
I looked in vain in the newspaper for any reference to the people or the persons who made the artefact and from which country it originally came. There was not a word on how that object travelled from Africa to the U.S.A.
BRITISH MUSEUM “GUARDS” LOOTED SYRIAN OBJECT?
“We are holding an object we know was illegally removed from Syria and one day it will go back.” Neil MacGregor. BBC.
“Museums, libraries and archives must take precautions to ensure that they acquire, or borrow, only ethically acceptable items and reject items that might have been looted or illegally exported. To ensure they do this, they need to exercise due diligence.
Museums should acquire or borrow items only if they are certain they have not been illegally excavated or illegally exported since 1970.”
Combating Illicit Trade, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, October 2005.
We were, to put it very mildly, surprised to read in the mass media several articles stating that the British Museum was “guarding” a looted Syrian artefact until peace returns to that country. The Times wrote: “The British Museum is holding a precious object illegally removed from Syria in the hope of returning it when the country is stable, Neil MacGregor, the outgoing director has disclosed.”
The director also added that the British Museum has been trying to protect antiquities looted from conflict areas. He is also reported to have called on the British Government to explain why it has not signed the Hague Convention on protection of artefacts in cases of armed conflict. (1)
No one would deny that the venerable British Museum has vast experience in dealing with looted objects. After all, the museum has more looted objects than any other museum in the world. Among its reported 9 million objects are a considerable number of looted objects from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania.
Some might think therefore that the museum in Bloomsbury has “impeccable credentials” for dealing with such objects. We noted in the reports that nobody raised the question whether it is right that a museum that is under permanent criticism for holding looted objects of others or objects acquired under dubious circumstances now presents itself as “guardian” of looted artefacts.
The British Museum’s “guarding” of looted antiquity lends itself superbly to interesting analogies and comparisons in various sectors of life- farm life, hunting practice, banking experience, animal life and everyday life.
Most readers will be familiar with how this museum “guards” the Benin Bronzes: it refuses to return them but sells them.
The handling of the Parthenon Marbles which the British Museum always claims to be holding for the benefit of humanity needs no elaboration here but a recall of the disputed recent loan of the Ilissos statue to Russia and the refusal to have UNESCO mediation of its dispute with Greece throw light on the singular and arrogant character of this particular “guardian.”
From the reports on this peculiar guardianship of a looted Syrian artefact, it appears the museum is not willing to state the following:
- The name and exact description of the precious object it now wishes to guard.
- How the object or objects reached the British Museum.
- Why that museum was chosen to receive the object.
- Previous contacts and relationships with whoever brought the object or objects.
- The conditions attached to this “guardianship”.
- Who will determine whether peace has returned to the country and it is stable enough to return the object or objects.
How does the holding of the looted Syrian artefact by the British Museum comply with the guidelines issued by British Government in 2005, Combating Illicit Trade which the Chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Mark Wood, welcomed as follows?
“I very much welcome these guidelines? They mark a significant step in the steady progress museums, libraries and archives have been making to ensure that as collections develop and diversify, it is on the basis of the highest ethical standards. It is no longer acceptable for our public institutions to collect or borrow material which comes from an unethical source. This document gives the clear guidance which all institutions will welcome and want to implement.”(2)
If a museum or for that matter any person, knows that an object, whether artefact or not, has been looted or illegally exported, it would be my view that the matter should be reported to the police and in any case one should refuse to handle or deal with the object, however precious it may be.
That the object is precious or of an extreme importance to the history of a particular country should not be allowed to prevail. Lord Renfrew and all those who have studied the illegal traffic in antiquities have said that the trade is driven by the desire of the museums and other institution to acquire artefacts. If those dealing in illicit traffic thought there would be no market for the items they would be less inclined to go to all the trouble in looting or illegally exporting the objects. (3)
Laws and regulations must be respected, both in spirit and word. When some years ago, this author raised the issue whether legitimacy and legality were still viable concepts for western museum directors. not many were happy but they kept quiet. Philippe de Montebello however responded in his way by an attack. (4)
But the issue still remains whether museums should or should not abide by normal morality and legality. Recent acts of the British Museum and reports on the looted Syrian artefact show that many believe the institution does not have to abide by normal standards. None of the reports raises the issue whether the conduct of the museum is correct.
Is this new role of the museum to be confined to the British Museum or extended to others? Can other museums in the West replicate the latest exploit of the famous museum? If this becomes the practice of most museums, we can be sure that most of artefacts from conflict areas will soon be under “guardianship” of museums in the West and we can hardly distinguish between legitimate acquisition and illegal acquisition.
Kwame Opoku, 7 June 2015.
- Colin Renfrew, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, Duckworth, 2000.
- Kwame Opoku responds to Philippe de Montebello – Elginism
DEFENCE OF “UNIVERSAL MUSEUMS” THROUH OMISSIONS AND IRRELEVANCIES‘
“In this era of resurgent nationalist violence, encyclopedic museums are more important than ever.”’Dr. James Cuno
There is a remarkable presentation in the Financial Times of 22 May, 2015 in the defence of the so-called “universal museum” or encyclopedic museum” by one of its main proponents, Dr. James Cuno. The article entitled “Time to celebrate our differences” accumulates a number of misleading impressions and insinuations that may impress the uninformed but I doubt if any of those who have followed the discussions on the “universal museum” will fail to notice the attempts by the writer to answer criticisms without stating clearly the objections of his opponents. Time to celebrate our differences – FT.com – Financial Times
To say that immigration has fuelled the growth of Brooklyn and Los Angeles and add that today the population of New York is nearly 32per cent African descent is to mislead the reader. Are the large majority of people of African descent in New York not African Americans whose ancestors were brought there not through immigration but slavery? African-Americans are Americans and not migrants from Africa.
The aim of Cuno’s article is to defend the concept of the universal museum but without referring even once to what the whole debate is about: acquisition of looted artefacts of others and artefacts of doubtful acquisition, both in the past and at present by the powerful museums in the West. A group of the world’s largest museums signed a Declaration on the Importance and Value of the Universal Museums (2002) defending their possession of ill-gotten artefacts and arguing that they hold these objects in the interest of mankind and that the large museums enable more people to see the artefacts they have unilaterally declared to be part of the heritage of mankind.
Cuno’s attack on the modern nation-State is aimed at accusing certain States of restricting the free acquisition of artefacts by the rich museums in the West and lamenting the olden days when Western States could more or less take whatever they wanted from countries like Egypt under the so-called partage system.
None of the States and peoples requesting the return of their looted or stolen artefacts has based its claim on identity of any kind. The claims have been largely based on the territorial principle that objects within a particular State can be controlled by that State. The identity issue brought in here by Cuno is irrelevant but allows attacks of certain States.
The self-styled universal museums such as the British Museum, the Louvre, the Berlin State- Museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts, New York and others are all in the West. Cuno now brings in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai to create the impression that the voracious museums are not all in the West. For most of those critical of the concept of universal museum, the main characteristics of these museums are that they have been enriched by looting from the colonial and imperialist periods, they claim to have those objects as of right of conquest by their States, so called war booty,(or by purchase after conquest), refuse to return them to their rightful owners, claim to have an almost God-given duty to preserve the artefacts for mankind and hold millions of objects from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania. We do not know whether the museum in Mumbai shares any of the main characteristics of the large museums. We read that it has only 50,000 artefacts as compared to the 9 million artefacts in the British Museum.
Throwing in quotations to criticize cultures that may not admit that they are also hybrid is fine. But this is a red-herring. None of those claiming the return of their looted artefacts like the Greeks, the Italians, the Egyptians and the Nigerians, has ever argued that their culture is pure and on that basis requests the return of the objects. Dr. Cuno keeps repeating this unfounded argument but has never provided a single example of such a claim. It is all too easy to attribute a ridiculous point of view to an opponent and then demolish it.
Cuno claims for the “universal museum” virtues it does not possess;
“This is why, in the era of resurgent nationalist and sectarian violence in which we live, encyclopedic museums are more important than ever. They enlarge people’s view of themselves and their identity as part of the larger world, of the long and textured history of human existence.”
Has the violence of our times really been “nationalist”? Contrary to the impression some readers may gain, none of those claiming the return of their looted artefacts can be in any way connected to “nationalist violence” in their attempts to retrieve the looted objects. It would be unfortunate in a period where some are violently destroying cultural artefacts, if those who have been requesting for decades the return of their looted or stolen artefacts were in anyway linked in the mind of others to such violence, directly or indirectly. If violence is at all relevant here, it is the violence used in looting artefacts from areas such as Benin, China, Ethiopia, Gold Coast (Ghana), Latin America, and elsewhere. Readers can imagine the damage done to artefacts in those invasions and lootings.
Presenting the “universal museum” as a factor for peace is of course not credible and the insinuation that the creation of more of the voracious museums is somehow desirable for peace and understanding has not been established:
“They enlarge people’s view of themselves and their identity as part of the larger world, of the long and textured history of human existence. If only for this reason, large metropolises, not only Brooklyn and Los Angeles but also Jakarta, Shanghai, Mexico City, São Paulo, Tokyo and others, should encourage the development of such museums with all financial and political means possible”.
The existence of “universal museums” in the Western world has not enlarged “people’s view of themselves and their identity as part of the larger world, of the long and textured history of human existence.
Cuno and his supporters would have to explain why the existence of “universal museums” in Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States of America for decades has not prevented those countries from going to wars and fighting each other. France and Germany fought for several years despite the existence of the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris. Peoples in those countries have not considered themselves and their identity as part of the larger world otherwise they would not have proceeded on the destructive path of war and aggression which unfortunately has characterized our world in the last centuries.
Using the methods of the supporters of the “universal museum,” one could even prove the contrary since the existence of these rapacious museums could increase or stimulate the necessity or interest in invading other States for other resources and artefacts. The British Museum was established in 1753 but this did not prevent the invasion of Benin in 1897 after the possibility of securing precious artefacts had been discussed in the Foreign Office. Whether the existence of the British Museum and the various British invasions of other States-Benin, Gold Coast (Ghana), Ethiopia, China- are related has not been clearly established. It is known though that in most invasions the venerable museum sent specialists as part of the army to advise the invading troops about what artefacts to collect.
The European Enlightenment philosophy which is said to be at the base of the concept of “universal museum” has been in many ways, through its racist ideology, partly responsible for European aggression in the rest of the world.
Cuno’s attempts to attribute to the so-called universal museum certain virtues clearly fail to convince since this would imply activities that do not normally fall within the purview of museums. Dr. Cuno’s statements remain what they are: mere affirmations without an iota of evidence in support. Is this a service to the museums insofar as they are being connected to activities over which they have no influence at all? Affirmation and declarations…
The so-called “universal museums” such as the British Museum, Cuno’s favourite model, have come to symbolize for many in Africa, Asia and Latin America oppression and denial of the rights of others. They symbolize the total defeat of our countries and their political systems. The continued feelings of defeat are kept alive by the lack of understanding of our need to recover our looted artefacts.
Instead of spending energy and resources to remind us constantly of our past defeats, Cuno and his supporters could try reconciliation by returning some of the looted artefacts and by adopting a more reconciliatory tone. Insisting on replicating or imitating institutions that represent our defeat will in the end only create hate.
At a time when there are groups that are destroying physically precious ancient cultural artefacts, should one not be more concerned with them than rather continuing to deny the rights of those who simply want their looted objects back? The United Nations and UNESCO have been calling on Member States to prevent the damage. It would seem to me that this is clearly not the time to revive the pretentious claims of the so-called universal museums.
We should not be put into a situation where we have only a choice between an outmoded model of museum or no museum at all because of the hatred generated by the claims of the large museums. Cuno could plead for museums generally and not for the model of museum that represents oppression of others and the denial of their right to their own artefacts. At a time when some museums have been attacked and their artefacts destroyed, it does not seem right to plead only for that model of museum that revises bad memories of imperialism in the world. Cuno and his supporters should abandon the “universal museum” and embrace simply the museum so that we can all concentrate our efforts and thoughts in saving precious records of human history.
At a time when Western States have increased their immigration restrictions and indeed have decided to use military force to prevent migrants from Africa and the Middle-East from entering their territories, we found strange this statement from Cuno:
“Then all those young people who cannot, or do not wish to, move to Los Angeles or Brooklyn can experience the truth about national identity as being limited only by access to new and different things. And, by broadening access to difference, nations can lay the foundation of greater understanding of both difference and similarity. That can only be good for all of us, regardless of where we live”.
Does Dr.Cuno want to encourage our youth to move to Los Angeles or Brooklyn knowing fully well the difficulties youth of African or Asian descent face in those great cities? Does Cuno really believe that “the truth about national identity as being limited only by access to new and different things? Does the American scholar believe that the difference between an African national identity and an American national identity is that the first have limited access to new and different things whereas the other has unlimited access to all the modern gadgets? He should honestly discuss this issue with some of his colleagues in the social sciences.
The young people for whom Dr. Cuno seems to care a lot would like to live in peace in the world and would wish the African American youth could be sure of their lives when they go out onto the streets of those great American cities. American immigration laws would prevent most of the youth from moving to Los Angeles or Brooklyn even if they wanted to move. However, they would like to see in their own countries artefacts that were produced by their ancestors and are now in museums in America and Europe.
“Whether the Enlightenment model of the universal museum currently being promoted by some museum professionals is sufficiently flexible to accommodate the competing semantic claims made on today’s museums by diverse communities and interest groups remains a matter of conjecture. What seems certain is that the increasingly combative postures adopted by a number of European and North American museum directors can only exacerbate the problem, although this is how things are currently developing.”
Tom Flynn, The Universal Museum A valid model for the 21st century? (Lulu Press, Inc.)
Kwame Opoku. 31 May 2015.
Art group introduces new lecture series
Alleged Matt hias Grunewald Painting of St. Catherine
A new lecture series will kick off next week with a presentation on fakes and forgeries from a local art historian.Rick Meli will present his lecture on Thursday, June 4, at 6 p.m. at the library. It’s the first in the “Art Speaks” series, a free sixpart program presented by the Conanicut Island Art Association. A demonstration will reinforce each lecture. According to Elaine Porter, the demo portion was added because of the public’s interest in the artistic process.
“It’s always magical to watch an artist work and watch a picture develop right in front of your eyes,” said Porter, who is president of the association. “It’s an educational series, so the demonstration aspect of it is very important.”
Meli’s lecture will tell the story of Christian Goller, a German art restorer whose reported forgery of a Matthias Grunewald painting of St. Catherine was sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art for $1 million. Meli will explain how Goller created the painting, and how he was able to “get away” with selling it to a prestigious museum.
“He’s an art restorer who paints in the style of the masters,” said Meli. “I’ll explain how he put it together and the story behind it.”
According to Meli, Goller is being investigated for at least 40 different art forgeries. Also, he says, it’s not that rare of an occurrence: Forgery is prevalent in the art world.
“Museums, collections and galleries are constantly bringing in experts,” said Meli. Following careful inspections, the authenticity of some expensive paintings are called into question. “(The museums are) finding out that they’re actually reproductions, fakes or copies.”
Despite the deception, Goller’s alleged forgery continues to hang in the museum’s gallery. However, it has been labeled as an imitation.
Meli said another artist has made a living by selling copies that he labels as imitations. “If you’d like to have a Picasso or a Van Gogh in your house, this person will paint them. I guess people want to own what looks like an original as opposed to something that’s been silkscreened onto a canvas.”
Meli, who lives in Narragansett, studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before earning his bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Rhode Island. He then received a master’s degree in the same field from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He is a pastel artist, and spent time as an adjunct instructor at Springfield College and URI. He recently won second honorable mention at the “Different Strokes” art exhibition at Town Hall.
The lecture will be accompanied by copies of famous paintings created by local artists, including Meli and Porter. The work was painted for an exhibit at the Spring Bull Gallery in Newport earlier this year. Meli will also explain the difference between their paintings, which are labeled as copies, and forgeries.
The funding for “Art Speaks” came from a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation. Porter said it was the first time the association had requested money. Since the foundation doesn’t normally accept an organization’s first grant request, Porter says, she was pleasantly surprised by the news.
Porter hopes the series will appeal to members of the town’s vibrant artistic community.
“We have a highly educated population here,” she said. “I’m sure they’re going to find the subject matter that we’re presenting very interesting and stimulating.”
As for Meli, he says the subject of forgeries is intriguing.
“I think people are interested in the process of how one goes about creating something that can be mistaken for an original from the Renaissance,” he said.
According to Meli, he’s already heard from people who plan to attend his lecture. “It’s going to be a fun time,” he said.
The second lecture will feature Bristol artist Kendra Ferrera, a colored-pencil artist who juried the most recent Town Hall show. As for the other four lectures, it’s still up in the air. Porter says the association has several different speakers in mine.