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.
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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”
According to the Journal du Cameroun, an Italian Maritime Museum has declared its willingness and readiness to assist in repatriating looted Cameroonian cultural artefacts that are at present in Europe. (1) This offer of assistance was made by the president of the Maritime Museum in Genoa, Italy, Professor Maria Paola Profumo, during a visit to Yaoundé and Doula. The professor also suggested that her museum could act as mediator between Cameroon and European museums that are holding Cameroonian archaeological and historical artefacts. (2)
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