Kwame Opoku – BRITISH MUSEUM “GUARDS” LOOTED SYRIAN OBJECT?

June 8, 2015 – 08:15

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:

  1. The name and exact description of the precious object it now wishes to guard.
  2. How the object or objects reached the British Museum.
  3. Why that museum was chosen to receive the object.
  4. Previous contacts and relationships with whoever brought the object or objects.
  5. The conditions attached to this “guardianship”.
  6. 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.

 

NOTES

 

  1. BBC London Live: Updates from London on Friday 5 June …

www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-london-32919321

British Museum ‘guarding’ Syria loot – WorldNews

article.wn.com/view/2015/06/05/British_Museum_guarding_Syria_loot/

www.csmonitor.com/…/BritishMuseumguarding-looted-Syrianartifact

British Museum ‘guarding’ object looted from Syria BBC News

British Museum guarding antiquity looted in Syria The Times

  1. http://www.elginism.com/similar-cases/british-government-warns-museums-not-to-acquire-looted-artefacts/20051105/265/#sthash.wsKwQsLs.dpuf
  2. Colin Renfrew, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, Duckworth, 2000.
  3. Kwame Opoku responds to Philippe de Montebello – Elginism

www.elginism.com/…/kwame-opoku…to-philippe-de-montebello

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Kwame Opoku – DEFENCE OF “UNIVERSAL MUSEUMS” THROUH OMISSIONS AND IRRELEVANCIES‘

May 31, 2015 – 18:55

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.

 

 

Fakes and forgeries – Art group introduces new lecture series

May 31, 2015 – 08:05

Art group introduces new lecture series

By Ryan Gibbs  – 2015-05-28 / News

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.

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Kwame Opoku – THEY ARE SELLING RECORDS OF AFRICAN HISTORY: WHO CARES?

May 24, 2015 – 06:57

museum-security.org/opoku_selling_african_records.htm

THEY ARE SELLING RECORDS OF AFRICAN HISTORY: WHO CARES?

The auction house Dorotheum in Vienna has issued a catalogue announcing a forthcoming auction of cultural artefacts from Africa, Asia and Oceania on 26 May 2015. (1) Among the many African items to be sold are pieces of Nok (Nigeria), Komaland (Ghana) and many other interesting pieces. The impressive array of African artefacts once again confirms the accepted fact that Europe has more valuable African artefacts, mostly looted, than Africa itself. Very few in Abidjan, Abuja, Accra, Cape Town, Lagos Luanda or Maputo could assemble such a collection.

read on:

http://museum-security.org/opoku_selling_african_records.htm

 

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Dan koop je toch lekker zelf een Rembrandt

April 24, 2015 – 11:32

Dan koop je toch lekker zelf een Rembrandt

 

24/04/2015 – 10:24

In Het Parool van 21 april 2015 komt Wim Pijbes aan het woord over drukte in de tentoonstelling Late Rembrandts in het Rijksmuseum. Blijkbaar zijn er veel klachten van bezoekers – ‘honderden’ – over de drukte in de tentoonstelling. “Voornamelijk Nederlanders” die klagen volgens Pijbes met het hem zo langzamerhand typerende autoritaire toontje. Het klinkt als: het zijn altijd Nederlanders die wat te zeuren hebben. Dat deze Nederlanders via de belastingen jaarlijks 38 miljoen euro ophoesten voor deze grootste museale subsidieslurper, is Pijbes blijkbaar vergeten.

“Drukte” is volgens Pijbes “een belevenis”. Dat kan wel zijn, maar voor velen een negatieve belevenis. Overigens: ik vraag mij af of de brandweer deze drukte ook slechts ziet als een belevenis. Natuurlijk is drukte niet alleen een belevenis, maar ook een feit. Een feit waar het museum, ten koste van de bezoekers, maar al te trots op is.

Pijbes verwijst naar enkele buitenlandse instituten waar ook sprake is van grote drukte en lange rijen wachtenden. Hij stelt vast dat het druk is, ‘Maar lang niet zo druk als in het Uffizi, in de Sixtijnse Kapel of voor de Mona Lisa.’ Kijk, daar gaat Pijbes de fout in. Voor wat betreft de Sixtijnse Kapel en de Mona Lisa heeft hij slechts zeer gedeeltelijk gelijk. In de Sixtijnse Kapel wordt de bezoekersstroom – ik geef toe, niet altijd even vriendelijk – snel geleid door de kapel om te voorkomen dat hij te vol stroomt. De zaal waarin de Mona Lisa hangt, staat altijd vol met bezoekers, echter: dat schilderij is feitelijk het enige schilderij waarom bezoekers die ruime zaal in gaan en het is bovendien centraal in de ruimte opgesteld. De drukte rondom de Mona Lisa hoort zo langzamerhand onlosmakelijk bij de museale folklore van het Louvre.

De vergelijking met de Uffizi gaat helemaal niet op. Daar staat altijd een lange rij wachtenden voor het gebouw juist om er voor te zorgen dat het binnen niet te vol stroomt en bezoekers waar voor hun geld krijgen. Er is meestal slechts 1 kassa geopend, en alleen als het minder druk is, opent men een tweede kassa. Dit lijkt vreemd, maar toont aan dat men zowel rekening houdt met de rij wachtenden voor de deur, als met de drukte binnen de tentoonstelling. Het primaat moet altijd liggen bij de drukte in de tentoonstelling. Doe je dat niet, dan verkoop je de bezoekers een kat in de zak: men hoeft niet heel lang buiten te wachten, bij het Rijksmuseum is dat vrijwel nooit langer dan een kwartier, maar eenmaal binnen loop je van opstopping naar opstopping. Bezoekers moeten zelf kunnen besluiten of ze bereid zijn buiten langdurig in de rij te staan, en mogen niet, zoals nu gebeurt, in de val gelokt worden opdat Pijbes aan het einde van het jaar borstkloppend de groei van het aantal bezoekers kan melden.

Pijbes kreeg een klacht waarin stond dat het voor de Rembrandts te druk was voor contemplatie. ‘Dat lees ik met aandacht. En denk: koop dan zelf een Rembrandt. Een museum is geen stiltezone.’

Koop dan zelf een Rembrandt? Hoevelen kunnen dat? Pijbes toont hier een storend elitair trekje. Hij kan de klacht dan wel met aandacht gelezen hebben, maar dacht hij lang na over zijn antwoord? Dit antwoord hoort thuis in de categorie borrelpraat.

Een museum is geen stiltezone, maar het culturele lunapark dat op publiekscijfers gerichte museumdirecteuren er nu van maken, is ook niet waar we heen willen.

Eerst wordt er een twijfelachtige hype veroorzaakt via een hersenspoeling aan STER reclames waarin directeur collecties Taco Dibbits beweert dat het een “Once in a lifetime, maybe even a once in eternity experience” is (spreek je moers taal denk ik dan), en als die hersenspoeling leidt tot aanzienlijke bezoekersaantallen die het Rijksmuseum logistiek niet verantwoord aan kan, worden klagende bezoekers geschoffeerd.

Overigens: het historisch besef van kusthistoricus Dibbits blijkt hiaten te vertonen. In 1990 presenteerde het Rijksmuseum onder Henk van Os een Rembrandt overzichtstentoonstelling met bruiklenen van over de hele wereld, veel ruimer van opzet dan de huidige tentoonstelling, waar ook van gezegd werd: dit maken we nooit meer mee.

Als ik het Rijksmuseum mag adviseren: bij grote drukte minder kassa’s open zodat de bezoekers buiten al kunnen bepalen of ze lang wachten over hebben voor deze tentoonstelling en om te voorkomen dat men zich opgelicht voelt en, volkomen terecht, het museum overspoelt met klachten. Mochten er toch klachten komen, dan is het beter die serieus te nemen en niet in de pers die klagende bezoekers te schofferen.

‘Honderden’ klachten kan je niet afdoen met sarcasme zoals Pijbes zich aanmatigde, mede omdat achter iedere klagende bezoeker er mogelijk tientallen anderen staan die dezelfde klacht hebben maar niet uiten.

Ton Cremers

 Museumbeveiliging, Ton Cremers » Blog Archive » Dan koop je toch lekker zelf een Rembrandt.

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VIENNA MUSEUM DIRECTOR CALLS FOR TIME LIMITATION ON NAZI LOOT CLAIMS

April 3, 2015 – 09:53

VIENNA MUSEUM DIRECTOR CALLS FOR TIME LIMITATION ON NAZI LOOT CLAIMS

VIENNA MUSEUM DIRECTOR CALLS FOR TIME LIMITATION ON NAZI LOOT CLAIMS

We are gradually beginning to think that there is something special about restitution which makes it very difficult for some, especially museum directors, to accept that there are crimes, including the looting of cultural objects that should never be barred by a statute of limitation.

 

Egon Schieles Portrait of Wally, 1912.

 

We thought we had dealt adequately with the grounds why such heinous crimes as the Nazis committed against individuals and their property, including artworks, should under no circumstances, be forgiven or forgotten and that restitution or adequate compensation accepted by the victims of such crimes or their successors appears to be the only solution. We thought we had dealt with this as Sir Norman Rosenthal made a suggestion to set a time limit to such claims. (1)

Similar ideas were also subsequently proposed by Jonathan Jones who in the meanwhile has seen the light of the day, recanted and is even calling for the restitution of all artworks looted in the British colonial period as well as the Parthenon Marbles(2)

Now we have the Director of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, calling for a time limit on all Nazi-loot restitution claims on art works in public collections. The Art Newspaper reported as follows:

The international community should decide on a sensible time frame of 20 or 30 years from now, says Klaus Albrecht Schrder. If we dont set a time limit of around 100 years after the end of the Second World War, then we should ask ourselves why claims regarding crimes committed during the First World War should not still be valid; why we don’t argue anymore about the consequences of the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war, and why we don’t claim restitution of works of art that have been stolen during previous wars? (3)

Schroeder believes that Nazi-looted art claims in public collections have been well treated by museums in countries such as Austria that signed the Washington Principles, adopted in December 1998.

According to the museum director, Austria has done well in returning some 50,000 artworks and objects looted by the Nazis and were held in public collectionsSchroeder thinks it is now necessary to set a time limit:

Until now we have done the right thing in Austria by disregarding statutes of limitations on art looted during the Second World War. Nevertheless, without ever forgetting the ferocious crimes of the war, I think we must come to the point in which history is accepted as history and it can be laid to rest.

I do not know what conception of history Schroeder has but the remark I think we must come to the point in which history is accepted as history and it can be laid to rest, frightens me a lotHow can anybody, aware of the recent history of Austria and other European countries make such a statement? Many of us believe that history in such matters as the Nazi loot is not to be laid to rest. On the contrary, given the ignorance and lack of interest by many persons in this decisive period of European history, efforts should be doubled to teach the youth and others about the horrible and evil acts of that period and lessons learnt about how to prevent re-occurrence. What did previous generations mean when they shouted Nie Wieder! (Never Again)?

According to Schroeder, prices paid by museums to keep works now recognized as Nazi looted are higher than could be realized on the free market. He gives as an example, the case of Egon Schieles 1912 Portrait of Wally, which the Leopold Museum in Vienna paid $19m to keep. With all due respect to the museum director, if prices of Nazi looted artworks have gone up that cannot be put at the door of victims of Nazi loot nor would that justify setting time limits to such claims. The museums could themselves take part of the blame for high prices in so as they are not obliged to pay prices they consider exorbitant. Moreover, the delay of decades in settling claims has undoubtedly contributed to higher prices but this is surely not the fault of claimants. In view of the circumstances surrounding Nazi loot and the costs to the victims – loss of life, exile and general deprivation of property and loss of jobs – do we dare to raise the issue of price?

The example of Schieles Portrait of Wally which Dr Schroeder gives is rather unfortunate for this case, in my opinion, clearly provides reasons why there should be no time limit. The delaying tactics that were employed to keep this painting in Austria were impressive. It required the intervention of American courts to oblige the museum to enter into negotiations with the claimant forsettlement by agreement.

It is commendable that Austria has taken necessary steps in returning many of the Nazi-looted artworks. But how many more of the looted artworks remain to be returned? And how long have the restitution cases taken? My reading of the materials available indicates that there is still a lot to be done and instead of talking about limitations of time, one should consider how the remaining cases can be speeded up. Perhaps more staff and funds could be provided for provenance research. Long after the end of the Nazi regime we are still dealing with such problems and some say it is time to stop. But have we finished the task of securing justice for the victims of Nazism and their successors?

So long as there are looted objects that have not been returned, so long should restitution claims continue.

Kwame Opoku, 31 March, 2015.

NOTES

1.

Should Nazi-looted art be returned? – Lootedart.com

www.lootedart.com/NFVA1Y581441 Kwame Opoku,

The Strange and Amazing Thoughts of Sir Norman Rosenthal on Ending Restitution of Nazi Looted Art

www.museum-security.org/…/kwameopoku-the-strange-and-amazing-th

 

2. Kwame Opoku,

Response to Jonathan Jones: Should All Looted Art be Returned?

www.lootedart.com/NFVA1Y581441_print;Y

Jonathan jones.,

The art world’s shame: why Britain must give its colonial booty back…

www.theguardian.com Arts Art & design Parthenon marbles

Britains museums need to face up to a reality. Cultural imperialism is dead. They cannot any longer coldly keep hold of artistic treasures that were acquired in dubious circumstances a long time ago, taken from the splendid West African city by a British punitive raid in 1897, are never going to rest easy in Bloomsbury. Meanwhile the international mood is shifting and will inevitably continue to shift towards a consensus that many wonders of the world are wrongfully hogged by western museums.

The Benin sculptures in the British Museum

In the end, the defence for hanging on to contested cultural goods boils down to the deeply offensive notion that Britain looks after the Parthenon marbles or Benin heads and plaques better than Greece or Nigeria ever could. How long can our museums keep up this arrogance? Not long.

The British Empire is dead. So is the age of cultural booty

 

3...

Vienna mu

seum director calls for time limit on Nazi-

loot…

www.theartnewspaper.com/art

icles/Vienna-museum-director…/37391

Curator calls for time limit on

 returning art looted by the Nazis

 The Independent

Zeitlimit fr Restitutionen: Albertina-Direktor pldiertfr…

der Standard.at

Albertina-Chef will Zeitlimit fr Ansprche auf Restitution

VIENNA MUSEUM DIRECTOR CALLS FOR TIME LIMITATION ON NAZI LOOT CLAIMS.

Beveiliging en “ja, maar…”

March 31, 2015 – 11:33

Na de zelfmoordduikvlucht door een Duitse copiloot werd gesuggereerd te verplichten dat altijd twee personen in de cockpit van een vliegtuig aanwezig zijn.

Dus, zodra een van de twee piloten voor toiletbezoek de cockpit verlaat, moet zijn plaats worden ingenomen door een van de cabinepersoneelsleden om te voorkomen dat de achterblijvende piloot de cockpitdeur blokkeert en terugkeer van zijn collega belemmert.

Is dat De oplossing om suïcidale piloten te weerhouden van een moordsuïcide? Nee, want DE oplossing bestaat niet bij beveiligingsproblemen.

Na de suggestie voortaan altijd met twee personen in de cockpit te zijn, haalden Duitse piloten dit alleszins redelijke voorstel onderuit met commentaar als: “Wanneer een piloot de fout in wil, kan dat altijd en kan hij het toestel zo snel laten dalen dat tijdelijk in de cockpit aanwezig cabinepersoneel tegen het plafond gedrukt wordt (De Volkskrant 30 maart 2015).

De piloten die het voorstel over de tijdelijke bezetting van de cockpit van tafel veegden, kwamen naar mijn weten niet met voorstellen hoe een herhaling van een zelfmoordvlucht zoals met de Airbus 320 te voorkomen.

Ondanks maatregelen ter verhoging van de beveiliging en veiligheid kan het altijd nog fout gaan. Het gaat er echter om of deze maatregelen, vaak een opeenstapeling van maatregelen, de kans dat het fout gaat verminderen.

Tijdens mijn ruim 30-jarige carrière als museumbeveiliger werd ik maar al te vaak geconfronteerd met dergelijke “ja, maar…” discussies. Het is verbijsterend hoe groot de creativiteit van dwarsliggers kan zijn wanneer je beveiligingsvoorstellen doet. Die creativiteit wordt vrijwel nooit gebruikt om proactief beveiligingsproblemen te benaderen en met voorstellen te komen.

Ik herinner mij nog helder de bizarre discussie waarin ik verzeild raakte tijdens een themabijeenkomst op de Reinwardt Academie (onderdeel van de Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de kunsten, waar onder andere toekomstige museumwerkers worden opgeleid) naar aanleiding van een interne diefstal in het Amsterdams Stadsarchief.

Binnen de museumwereld is interne diefstal een wezenlijk probleem. Statistieken over de Nederlandse situatie zijn mij niet bekend. In de USA blijkt bij circa 50% van alle diefstallen uit musea die opgelost worden sprake te zijn van interne betrokkenheid. Een statistiek om van te schrikken. Er is geen reden aan te nemen dat de Nederlandse situatie rooskleuriger is. Er deden zich de afgelopen decennia ernstige incidenten voor waar sprake was van interne betrokkenheid bij diefstal. Vandaar die themabijeenkomst in de Reinwardt Academie.

Mijn suggestie dat maatregelen mogelijk zijn om de kans op verduistering – de juridische term voor interne diefstal – tegen te gaan werd botweg weggehoond. Ik noemde onder andere steekproefsgewijze controle van medewerkers die het gebouw verlaten – in diverse Europese landen en de USA gebruikelijk – installatie van camera’s,  toegangscontrolesystemen voor de depots, verplicht gebruik van de dienstingang en screening van medewerkers.  Een naast mij gezeten discussiedeelnemer riep luidkeels uit: “Dan stop ik desnoods een archiefstuk in mijn schoen en loop ermee naar buiten”. Pijnlijk was dat deze kreet bijval kreeg van de toenmalige directrice van de Erfgoedinspectie, een afdeling van het Ministerie van OCW die onder andere tot taak heeft toe te zien op de beveiliging van rijkscollecties.

Mocht het zo zijn dat mijn voorstellen tot resultaat hebben dat het voor museum- en archiefmedewerkers alleen nog mogelijk is collectie te stelen in de schoenen, dan is veel bereikt.

Helaas is het zo dat de mogelijkheid die resteert om in je schoenen gestolen spullen mee te nemen er toe geleid heeft dat bij geen van de geslachtofferde organisaties personeel bij vertrek gecontroleerd wordt of de verplichting alleen gebruik te maken van dienstingangen gehandhaafd wordt.

Ik kan de reactie bij een volgende verduistering en beveiligingsvoorstellen voorspellen: “ja, maar…”

Ton Cremers

 

 

BRITISH PARLIAMENT AND BRITISH MUSEUM REJECT GREEK REQUEST FOR UNESCO MEDIATION ON THE PARTHENON MARBLES

March 31, 2015 – 07:54

BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND BRITISH MUSEUM REJECT GREEK REQUEST FOR UNESCO MEDIATION ON THE PARTHENON MARBLES.

Very few readers will be surprised by the negative response of the British Museum and the British Government to the Greek request for UNESCO mediation over the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.(1) The real surprise is that it took such  a long time, from 9 August 2913 to 26 March 2015 to send the British response. We used to think that a prompt reply or a response within a reasonable period was the hallmark of politeness.

The negative response consists of two separate letters to UNESCO, one from the British Government and the other from the British Museum. Though both letters conveyed a negative reply, it appears better, for clarity to discuss them separately. We will also see clearly the division of labour between the two British institutions that are united in the final objective but adopt different paths and style.

BRITISH MUSEUM ANSWER

The response of the British Museum bears all the hallmarks we have come to associate with this institution in the matter of the Parthenon Marbles: arrogance, defiance and provocation.

In a letter dated 26 March to the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum states in the opening paragraph:

After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request. We believe that the more constructive way forward, on which we have already embarked, is to collaborate directly with other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world”.

The request of Greece for mediation on the Parthenon Marbles in London is drowned in the area of collaboration with “other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world”. The specific question of the Greek sculptures, their ownership and location is not the object of attention and concentration.

The letter expresses admiration for the work of UNESCO in the area of “preservation and safeguarding the world’s endangered cultural heritage.”

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees immediately points out that the Parthenon Sculptures do not fall within this category. The method used here is fairly simple. You narrow the competence of UNESCO to the preservation and safeguarding the world’s endangered cultural heritage and declare UNESCO’s involvement in other areas as undesirable:

“the Trustees would want to develop existing good relations with colleagues and institutions in Greece, and to explore collaborative ventures, not on a government-to-government basis but directly between institutions. This is why we believe that UNESCO involvement is not the best way forward”

The Board of Trustees of the British Museum seem to have forgotten that UNESCO has a broad mandate that covers most areas of culture as well as disputes relating to cultural artefacts. Indeed the Organization has specifically, through its Intergovernmental Committee, (Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation) the duty to assist States in settling disputes such as those relating to the Parthenon Sculptures. This dispute has been before UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for a long time. The mediation procedure is one of several procedures available for dispute settlement. (2)

As we are now used to,, the British Museum’s letter contains the usual claim that the museum is there for the whole world and works on behalf of audiences from the whole world, forgetting that the majority of the world would have no visa to London and would also not be able to afford the costs involved in a visit to London.

The museum’s letter, as we could expect, is full of references to the alleged international role of the museum for the benefit of humanity:

“The British Museum, as you know, is not a government body, and the collections do not belong to the British Government. The Trustees of the British Museum hold them not only for the British people, but for the benefit of the world public, present and future. The Trustees have a legal and moral responsibility to preserve and maintain all the collections in their care, to treat them as inalienable and to make them accessible to world audiences”

“Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity.”

Most readers would be used to this standard propaganda of the British Museum in its role as self-appointed saviour of humanity’s cultural heritage. But what would come to many as a surprise is that the venerable museum advances its own wrong-doing as a demonstration of its commitment to humanity’s culture’

The letter of the museum refers to the notorious and controversial loan of Ilissos to Russia as an example of sharing the legacy of ancient Greece;

“In this same spirit, the Trustees recently lent one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and were pleased to learn that in only six weeks some 140,000 Russian visitors had the chance to see it there. This was a new audience for this extraordinary work of ancient Greek art, most of whom could not have visited either Athens or London.”

The loan of one of the contested Parthenon Marbles to Russia was condemned by many as wrong and was described by Peter Aspden, Financial Times critic  as “ill-conceived trip to Russia”(3)

It requires a great amount of arrogance, self-confidence and provocation to advance an action condemned by most people as evidence of international co-operation. (4)

The British Museum also refers to what it calls”the historic distribution of the surviving Parthenon Sculptures:

“Views on the historic distribution of the surviving Parthenon Sculptures naturally differ, though there is unanimous recognition that the original totality of the sculptural decoration cannot now be reassembled as so much has been lost, and that the surviving sculptures can never again take their place on the building.”

The use of the word “distribution” is in many ways misleading. It creates the impression that there had been a conscious and deliberate decision to divide the Parthenon Sculptures among the nations that hold them at present. This, as we all know, was never the case but it helps to divert attention from asking how the sculptures came to London. The statement that the sculptures cannot be all replaced in the ancient Acropolis is undoubtedly aimed, at the arguments for reunification of the sculptures in Athens. As far as I am aware, no one has ever suggested the Parthenon Sculptures could be put back at their old location. What has been suggested is that they should be reunited in the new Acropolis Museum where there is enough place for them.

LETTER FROM BRITISH GOVERNMENT

The British Minister of State for Culture and Digital Economy sent a letter dated 26 March 2015 to the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture in response to the UNESCO letter of 9 August 2013.

The Minister’s letter acknowledges the important role of UNESCO in the settlement of international disputes through the Intergovernmental Committee. The letter adds that officials of Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Museum have attended regularly meetings of the Committee even though Britain is not a member of the Committee.

Contrary to the British Museum letter which seems to be contesting the competence of UNESCO to be involved in such disputes, the Minister’s letter acknowledges UNESCO role in such disputes:

“We would first like to express how much we value the role that UNESCO plays in helping to safeguard cultural heritage and in providing a forum for the resolution of international disputes through the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP”.

Are these differences of approach accidental? We can be sure that officials of both the Government and the British Museum worked together on both letters and that if there are any differences of approach or nuances, these are not accidental but intentional. You say nice things about them and we tell them where to get off.

The letter from Government declares that the sculptures in the British Museum were acquired legally by Lord Elgin under the laws then prevailing. The request for mediation was to seek the transfer of the sculptures to Athens and deny the British Museum’s right of ownership. The positions of the British and the Greeks are clear and mediation would not carry the debate forward:

“Given our equally clear position, this leads us to conclude that mediation would not carry this debate substantially forward.”

The global nature of the collections in the British Museum as well as legal restrictions on de-accession are thrown in for good measure.

Readers will no doubt have noticed the not so subtle attempts to relegate the dispute on the Parthenon Marbles to a dispute between museums and not States. As dispute between States, the British Government is under pressure from other States in the United Nations and UNESCO to settle the matter. As dispute between institutions there will be less pressure and the Greek museum will not be able to exert much pressure on the British Museum In their letters of rejection, the British Museum tells UNESCO to stay away from this dispute and concern itself with preservation and destruction of culture and not with the Parthenon Marbles that are very well kept. The British Government also agrees that the matter should be left to the museums that have excellent relations

The British Museum continues in its attempt to take hold of the narrative of Greek culture and history, presenting itself as major player in the dissemination of Greek culture by bringing the Greek legacy to Russia and elsewhere. The current exhibition, Defining Beauty, the Body in Ancient Greek Art is given as an example of the museum’s approach. Is it by sheer coincidence that the exhibition opens on the same date as the rejection of the Greek proposal was sent?

It is remarkable that the British Museum and the British Government continue to advance the museum’s propaganda that it holds the Parthenon Marbles on behalf of humanity. Does this humanity include the British people who have in countless opinion polls overwhelmingly and consistently decided that the Parthenon Marbles be returned to Greece. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the majority of States through their representatives in the United Nations and UNESCO have in countless resolutions decided that the sculptures should be returned to Athens. So for which humanity is the British Museum working?

The British Government and the British Museum appear never to have seriously considered the possibility of resolving the Parthenon dispute. One can understand that when a party has no real chance of winning a fair game that it is not interested in entering the game. But is this attitude to be expected from States that are often telling others to follow the law and emphasize the need for democracy? Can there be democracy without a willingness to submit disputes with other States to the rule of Law and other peaceful methods of dispute settlement?

The double refusal by the British Government and the British Museum is surely not the last word on the question of the Parthenon Marbles which they both admit are Greek. Praising the grandeur and the legacy of Greek civilization but at the same time refusing to let the Greeks have their cultural artefacts so that they could also celebrate that legacy can surely not be right.

Kwame Opoku, 30 March 2015

 

NOTES

  1. Elginism, http://www.elginism.com/elgin-marbles/uk-government-rejects-parthenon-marbles-unesco-mediation/20150327/7859/

www.newsingreece.com/…/british-museum-rejects-request-for-unesco-m

www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03…/greecebritishmediation…/6356390

  1. UNESCO Mediation and conciliation www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/…/mediation-and-conciliation
  2. Financial Times 28/29 March 2015, p.16.
  3. Kwame Opoku, Arrogance, Duplicity and Defiance with no End: British Museum Loans Parthenon Marble to Russia£.

http://www.museum-security.org/2014/12/arrogance-duplicity-and-defiance-with-no-end-british-museum-loans-parthenon-marble-to-russia/

THE MAN OF CONSCIENCE WHO RETURNED HIS GRANDFATHER’S LOOTED BENIN BRONZES

March 29, 2015 – 08:09

THE MAN OF CONSCIENCE WHO RETURNED HIS GRANDFATHER’S LOOTED BENIN BRONZES

 MAN WITH CONSCIENCE RETURNED HIS GRANDFATHER’S LOOTED BENIN BRONZES

 “These objects are part of the cultural heritage of another people… to the people of Benin City, these objects are priceless

.”

Dr. Mark Walker.

Mark Walker.

Bird of Prophecy, looted by the British in 1897 and returned by Dr.Mark Walker in 2014.

BBC NEWS has published an article under the title of “The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art”, recounting the recent return of two Benin Bronzes by Dr. Mark Walker, a medical surgeon and a descendant of one of the British soldiers who invaded Benin City in 1897 and plundered the precious artefacts from the palace of the Oba of Benin. (1).

No doubt many readers would have already heard-about Mark Walker but the story by Ellen Otzen is worth reading for there are not many persons in the Western world who, plagued by their conscience for holding looted art of other peoples, are in a hurry to return the objects to the legitimate owners. Since Walker returned two Benin Bronzes last year, there has not been a similar gesture in the whole of the Western world. This is a sad commentary on the prevailing morality. But this should not come as a surprise since in this 21st Century we have powerful institutions and leading academics that seriously argue that artefacts that have been wrenched from former colonies with violence and other illegitimate methods should be kept by the holders in the West. This position provides evidence and confirmation that not everyone has rejected colonialism and its effects despite the various United Nations resolutions. Many Western scholars seem to have banned morality from discussions on restitution.

Walker who inherited two Benin Bronzes from his grandfather felt it would be the right thing to return the objects to the descendants of Oba Ovonramwen from whose palace the objects were looted. He felt the people of Benin needed those objects more than the people at home in Britain. When Walker arrived with the two objects in Benin City, he was overwhelmed by the warm and enthusiastic reception he received from the 92 years old Oba, a great grandson of Oba Ovonramwen and from the people of Benin:

“It was very humbling to be greeted with such enthusiasm and gratitude, for nothing really. I was just returning some art objects to a place where I feel they will be properly looked after.”

As we have always maintained, African artefacts mean more to the African peoples than to the Westerners who hold these objects mostly for aesthetic contemplation and economic gain. (2)

Mark Walker

Ancestors Bell. Looted by the British in 1897 and returned by Dr, Mark Walker in 2014.

 

Prince Edun Akenzua, great-grandson of Oba Owonramwen with Dr. Mark Walker in Benin City, 2014.

The BBC News report contains certain statements which we must comment on for the better understanding of the invasion of Benin and its aftermath.

“But in January 1897, seven British officials who were on their way to see the Oba of Benin – the king – were killed in an ambush”.

The history of this unwelcome visit which proved fatal should be clarified. Captain Philips had requested a visit to the Oba who replied he could not receive him because he would be involved in sacred ceremonies during which time no foreigners were permitted to see the Oba. Philips and his group were equally warned by chiefs who were well disposed to the British to refrain from the journey. Despite all warnings, Philip and his group proceeded with the visit as planned Philips and his group with some 120-200 personnel disguised as carriers but having arms in their boxes, had as undeclared objective: to depose Oba Ovonramvem who was considered by the Acting Consul- General Philips as the main obstacle to Britain gaining control over trade in that part of Nigeria. Instead of the surprise attack the British group intended to launch, they were themselves surprised by an ambush on their way. Readers must ask themselves since when can one visit another person who says clearly that the tine proposed is inconvenient? Since when does one vist a monarch who states he is not prepared to receive such a visit?

The attack on Philips and his group provided a welcome pretext for invasion which the British had been weighing for a long time, including discussing the possible sale of Benin artworks to defray the costs of the intended campaign. British troops were sent to Benin on what they called Punitive Expedition. (3). Benin City was captured and burnt. The Oba sent into exile in Calabar, in Nigeria. The destruction in Benin must have been awful. R.

H. Bacon,

Intelligence Officer to the expedition wrote in his book, Benin: the City of Blood:  “There was a dim grandeur about it all, and also these seemed to a fate. Here was this head centre of iniquity, spared by us from its suitable end of burning for the sake of holding the new seat of justice where barbarism had held away, given into our hands with the brand of Blood soaked into every corner and …….. fire only could purge it, and here on our lassa day we were to see its legitimate fate overtake it.” (4)

“After the killing came the looting – the British seized more than 2,000 artworks and religious artefacts, most of them hundreds of years old, which were sent back to England.”

The figure of 2000 mentioned as the number of the looted artefacts seems to us an underestimate. Prof. Felix von Luschan who was instrumental in procuring a large number of the Benin artefacts for the Ethnologische Museum, Berlin, puts the figure at 2400. We prefer to use the figure of 3000 used by Edun Akenzua, the brother of the Oba in his plea to the British Parliament. But there is no officially agreed figure. The Oba did not keep a list of his artefacts nor are the Western museums willing to give us exact figures of the number of Benin artefacts they are holding. The Germans have officially stated 507 as the number they have. Field Museum, Chicago once indicated holding 404 Benin artefacts but nobody now knows where those artefacts are. The British Museum does not give any official information at all on its number of Benin artefacts some of which the venerable museum has in the meanwhile sold for cash. (5)

The BBC News report contains a classic response from the British Museum on why it is not willing to return any of the many looted Benin Bronzes it is holding

The British Museum says it has not recently received any new official requests for the return of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. 

“As a museum of the world for the world the British Museum presents the Benin Bronzes in a global context alongside the stories of other cultures and makes these objects as available as possible to a global audience,” it says in a statement.

As usual, the British Museum presents first a denial that there has been a request and then advances a reason why it is justified in holding looted artefacts. We should note that the museum has made a modification to the usual denial of the existence of a request. For a long time, the museum simply denied that there had ever been a request at all for the Benin Bronzes even though the evidence for the demand was overwhelming. The Oba of Benin and the Nigerian Government and Parliament have for decades requested the return of the looted artefacts.

Various groups within and outside Nigeria have also made such request. The United Nations and UNESCO have since 1972 annually passed a resolution entitled “Return Cultural Property to country of Origin urging holding countries to return the objects.(6)The International Council of Museums has requested holding museums to take initiative in returning cultural objects. Several writers have also made such a request. The Oba of Benin sent his brother in 2000 to make an appeal to the British Parliament which is on the records of the British Parliament, known as Appendix 21. Still the British Museum denied there had been any request. (7)

The reported defence of the Bloomsbury museum is that “it has not recently received any new official requests for the return of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.” We are dealing here with objects looted in 1897. How recent must the request for return be? Is the request in 2000 before the British Parliament not recent enough? Must the Oba of Benin and his people renew the request every year or month? What about the requests made by the Oba at the opening of the various Benin exhibitions, 

Benin

-Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria

? The exhibition was in Vienna from 9thMay to 3rd September, 2007, in Paris from 2nd October to 6th January 2008, in Berlin from 7th February to 25th May, 2008 and in Chicago from 27th June to 21st September 2008.Do the annual United Nations/UNESCO resolutions then not matter at all? (8) We should note however the progress made by the museum from a blatant denial of the existence of a demand for return to absence of recent demand.

The claim that the British Museum is “a museum of the world for the world” is simply not true and people at Bloomsbury know this very well. The museum has not been created by any world authority with participation by other States such as those in the United Nations and other international organizations. The British Museum is a British museum created by the British Parliament through an Act of the British Parliament,

British Museum Act 1753 as subsequently modified by

British Museum Act 1963.

 The Board of Trustees of the museum are appointed by the British Monarch and the British Government. No doubt the museum has high or world standards but that does not make it a world museum. There are several museums in the world with such standards but none will make such claims.(9) The big difference between the museum in Bloomsbury and other important museums is that the British Museum has looted/stolen artefacts from several parts of the world. In that sense, one may consider it a museum of the world but could one claim such a distinction on the basis of illegality?

Even if the British Museum were a “museum of the world for the world”, it would not be entitled, by this fact, to hold onto artefacts of other peoples, obtained through violence and the use of force who now request their return. The acquisition of” world status” cannot be advanced to deny the basic human right to cultural development.

But who requested the British Museum to present “the Benin Bronzes in a global context alongside the stories of other cultures”and “make these objects as available as possible to a global audience” whilst denying to the people of Benin access to their own artefacts?

We can see from the argument of the British Museum the urgent need to tell the story of Dr, Mark Walker as often as possible so that all may finally understand that every people creates its artefacts for its own use and should not through violence and other oppressive means be deprived of the basic human right to cultural development and self-determination of the location of cultural artefacts.

By his noble gesture, Mark Walker has restored our confidence in the ability of humankind to distinguish between right and wrong, justice and injustice; he has positioned himself beyond petty economics and the parochial nationalism that presents itself in the disguise of universalism, using arrogance and mendacity as its favourite tools.

 

Queen-Mother Idea, Benin, Nigeria, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom. Can MacGregor tell her story better than the Oba of Benin?

Culture is the soul of a nation. The illicit removal or destruction of cultural property deprives peoples of their history and tradition. Restitution is the only means that can restore damage and reinstate a sense of dignity”.

Anastassis Mitsialis,

Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations on the Presentation of

 the Resolution titled, Return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin GA/RES/67/80, 12 Dec. 2012.

Kwame Opoku, 27 March, 2015.

 

NOTES

1. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine See also K. Opoku, “Return of Two Looted Benin Bronzes by a Briton: History in the Making”,

 

http://www.modernghana.com/news/552043/1/return-of-two-looted-benin-bronzes-by-a-briton-his.html

 

Peju Layiwola, “Walker and the Restitution of Two Benin Bronzes”,

 

www.modernghana.com/…/walker-and-the-restitution-of-two-benin-bro

 

2. K. Opoku,” Africans need their cultural objects more than Europeans and Americans” …www.afrikanet.info/…/africans-need-african-cultural-objects-more-than-e.

 

3.

Benin Expedition of 1897 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoils of war: the art of Benin | Culture | The Guardian

www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/sep/11/2

 Benin1897.com : art and the restitution question by Peju Layiwola.

 

4.

pp.107-108 cited by the great Ekpo Eyo in “,Benin:the Sack that was”

 www.dawodu.net/eyo.htm

5. Anja Laukötter, in her excellent book, Von der ‘Kultur’ zur ‘Rasse’ – vom Objekt zum Körper : Völkerkundemuseen und ihre Wissenschaft zu Beginn des 20.Jahhunderts (Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2007, P160), cites Luschan as follows:

‘Im ganzen sind rund 2400 Benin Stűcke zu meiner Kenntnis gelangt: davon sind 580 in Berlin, 280 im Brit.Museum, 227 in Rushmore (die von Pitt Rivers hinterlassene Sammlung), 196 in Hamburg,182 in Dresden, 167 in Wien, 98 in Leiden, 87 in Leipzig, 80 in Stuttgart, 76 in Cőln und 51 in Frankfurt a .M

Barbara Plankensteiner, a leading authority on Benin and Deputy Director, Volkerkunde Museum, Vienna, now World Museum, states as follows in her excellent book, Benin, 2010,Five Continents, p. 7;

“The quantity of historic works is impressive, estimated at between 2,400 and 4000 objects, including 900 relief plaques nearly 300 bronze heads, beads and roughly 130 elephant tusks covered with relief carvings.”

 

6.

Germans Debate Legitimacy And Legality Of Looted …

 

https://www.modernghana.com/…/germansdebate-legitimacy-and-legalit

UN General Assembly,

www.un.org/en/ga/67/resolutions.shtml

A/RES/67/80 Return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origins, adopted by the General Assembly on 12 December,2012 

www.un.org/en/ga/67/resolutions.shtml

7Appendis 21. The Case of Benin. Memorandum submitted by Prince Edun Akenzua www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ …/371ap27.htm‎. March 2000

8.

K. Opoku, ‘Is the Absence of a Formal Demand for Restitution a Ground for Non-Restitution?

 

www.modernghana.com/…/is-the-

 absence-of-a-formaldemand-for-restit

 

9. See K. Opoku,”When Will Everybody Finally Accept that the British Museum is a British Institution? Comments on a Lecture by Neil MacGregor.

www.modernghana.com/news/203507/1/when-will-everybody-finally

 

ANNEX I

Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX 21

The Case of Benin

Memorandum submitted by Prince Edun Akenzua

 I am Edun Akenzua Enogie (Duke) of Obazuwa-Iko, brother of His Majesty, Omo, n’Oba n’Edo, Oba (King) Erediauwa of Benin, great grandson of His Majesty Omo n’Oba n’Edo, Oba Ovonramwen, in whose reign the cultural property was removed in 1897. I am also the Chairman of the Benin Centenary Committee established in 1996 to commemorate 100 years of Britain’s invasion of Benin, the action which led to the removal of the cultural property.

 

HISTORY

  “On 26 March 1892 the Deputy Commissioner and Vice-Consul, Benin District of the Oil River Protectorate, Captain H L Gallwey, manoeuvred Oba Ovonramwen and his chiefs into agreeing to terms of a treaty with the British Government. That treaty, in all its implications, marked the beginning of the end of the independence of Benin not only on account of its theoretical claims, which bordered on the fictitious, but also in providing the British with the pretext, if not the legal basis, for subsequently holding the Oba accountable for his future actions.”

The text quoted above was taken from the paper presented at the Benin Centenary Lectures by Professor P A Igbafe of the Department of History, University of Benin on 17 February 1997.

Four years later in 1896 the British Acting Consul in the Niger-Delta, Captain James R Philip wrote a letter to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury, requesting approval for his proposal to invade Benin and depose its King. As a post-script to the letter, Captain Philip wrote: “I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory would be found in the King’s house to pay the expenses incurred in removing the King from his stool.”

These two extracts sum up succinctly the intention of the British, or, at least, of Captain Philip, to take over Benin and its natural and cultural wealth for the British.

British troops invaded Benin on 10 February1897. After a fierce battle, they captured the city, on February 18. Three days later, on 21 February precisely, they torched the city and burnt down practically every house. Pitching their tent on the Palace grounds, the soldiers gathered all the bronzes, ivory-works, carved tusks and oak chests that escaped the fire. Thus, some 3,000 pieces of cultural artwork were taken away from Benin. The bulk of it was taken from the burnt down Palace.

 

NUMBER OF ITEMS REMOVED

  It is not possible for us to say exactly how many items were removed. They were not catalogued at inception. We are informed that the soldiers who looted the palace did the cataloguing. It is from their accounts and those of some European and American sources that we have come to know that the British carried away more than 3,000 pieces of Benin cultural property. They are now scattered in museums and galleries all over the world, especially in London, Scotland, Europe and the United States. A good number of them are in private hands.

 

WHAT THE WORKS MEAN TO THE PEOPLE OF BENIN

  The works have been referred to as primitive art, or simply, artifacts of African origin. But Benin did not produce their works only for aesthetics or for galleries and museums. At the time Europeans were keeping their records in long-hand and in hieroglyphics, the people of Benin cast theirs in bronze, carved on ivory or wood. The Obas commissioned them when an important event took place which they wished to record. Some of them of course, were ornamental to adorn altars and places of worship. But many of them were actually reference points, the library or the archive. To illustrate this, one may cite an event which took place during the coronation of Oba Erediauwa in 1979. There was an argument as to where to place an item of the coronation paraphernalia. Fortunately a bronze-cast of a past Oba wearing the same regalia had escaped the eyes of the soldiers and so it is still with us. Reference was made to it and the matter was resolved. Taking away those items is taking away our records, or our Soul.

 

RELIEF SOUGHT

  In view of the fore-going, the following reliefs are sought on behalf of the Oba and people of Benin who have been impoverished, materially and psychologically, by the wanton looting of their historically and cultural property.

 

(i)  The official record of the property removed from the Palace of Benin in 1897 be made available to the owner, the Oba of Benin.

 

(ii)  All the cultural property belonging to the Oba of Benin illegally taken away by the British in 1897, should be returned to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.

 

(iii)  As an alternative, to (ii) above, the British should pay monetary compensation, based on the current market value, to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.

 

(iv)  Britain, being the principal looters of the Benin Palace, should take full responsibility for retrieving the cultural property or the monetary compensation from all those to whom the British sold them.

 

March 2000

 

ANNEX II

 LIST OF HOLDERS OF THE BENIN BRONZES

Almost every Western museum has some Benin objects. Here is a short list of museums where some of the Benin Bronzes are to be found and their numbers. Various catalogues of exhibitions on Benin art or African art also list the private collections of the Benin Bronzes. The museums refuse to inform the public about the number of Benin artefacts they have and do not display permanently the Benin artefacts in their possession since they do not have enough space. A museum such as Völkerkunde Museum, Vienna (Now World Museum) has closed since 12 years and is not likely to re-open soon. The looted Benin artefacts are in the African Section.

German authorities still have to explain the disparity between 507 objects they now admit and the figure of 580 given by Prof. Felix van Luschan who was instrumental in procuring the Benin for the Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin. Has the German museum, like the British Museum also sold some of the Benin artefacts? See K, Opoku, Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria’s Demand for Return of Looted Artefacts? http://www.modernghana.com

See also, Felix von Luschan, Die Altertümer von Benin, hrsg. mit Untertstützung des Reichs-Kolonialministeriums, der Rudolf Virchow- und der Arthur Baessler-Stiftung, 1919.

Berlin – Ethnologisches Museum 507.
Boston, – Museum of Fine Arts 28.
Chicago – Art Institute of Chicago 20, Field Museum 400

Cologne – Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum 73.

Glasgow _ Kelvingrove and St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life 22

Hamburg – Museum für Völkerkunde, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe 196.

Dresden – Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 182.

Leipzig – Museum für Völkerkunde 87.
Leiden – Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde 98.

London – British Museum 900.
New York – Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art 163.
Oxford – Pitt-Rivers Museum/ Pitt-Rivers country residence, Rushmore in Farnham/Dorset 327.

 Stuttgart – Linden Museum-Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde 80.

Vienna – Museum für Völkerkunde (World Museum) 167.

 THE MAN OF CONSCIENCE WHO RETURNED HIS GRANDFATHER’S LOOTED BENIN BRONZES.

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DOES DR.CUNO REALLY BELIEVE WHAT HE WRITES ?

March 14, 2015 – 15:35

DOES DR.CUNO REALLY BELIEVE WHAT HE WRITES ?

 

After my last article, I swore not to comment anymore on Dr.Cuno’s statements in order to avoid any impression that I was unduly concentrating on the opinions of one scholar. (1) However, it seems the U.S. American scholar is never tired of presenting views that most critics would consider patently wrong. Could we just keep quiet when a most influential scholar expresses an opinion that is obviously wrong? In his latest letter to the editor of the New York Times, 11 March,2015,James Cuno, President and Chief Executive of the J. Paul Getty trust, Los Angeles declares

The recent attacks on the ancient cities of Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq underscore a tragic reality. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization encourages — and provides an institutional instrument for — the retention of antiquities within the borders of the modern state that claims them. That state, very sadly, also has the authority to sell them on the illegal market, damage them or destroy them.

Until Unesco changes its basic position on this issue, antiquities will remain at risk. The world can only be grateful for the earlier regime of “partage,” which allowed for the sharing of Assyrian antiquities with museums worldwide that could preserve them. This unconscionable destruction is an argument for why portable works of art should be distributed throughout the world and not concentrated in one place. ISIS will destroy everything in its path.” (2)

What an astonishing declaration. UNESCO is here made to be responsible, at least partially or indirectly, for massive destruction of cultural artefacts. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 (3) or UNESCO, directly or indirectly encourages the destruction of cultural property. UNESCO is charged with the preservation of culture and cultural artefacts. If anyone has credible evidence that the organization, its organs or officials are involved in destruction or encouraging others in this direction, it would be their duty to bring this evidence to the attention of UNESCO and its organs for appropriate action.

Most readers would have read the statements from the UNESCO. Director- General and other senior officials on recent events concerning the destruction of cultural artefacts. (4)

We do not know how Dr. Cuno reads the UNESCO Convention. There is not a single word in the Convention to support the view that the Convention vests States with a proprietary right or authority to destroy artefacts. The duty to protect artefacts does not include the right to destroy them. Think of the various cultural artefacts that belong to various communities within some States. No one ever suggested that the State could sell those artefacts or destroy them by virtue of the provisions of the Convention. The State is not necessarily the owner of the artefacts it protects or should protect. Think for instance about the Benin Bronzes  or the Nok sculptures in the State of Nigeria. No one has suggested that the Convention as such vests proprietary rights in the famous artefacts in the State of Nigeria so that the Nigerian Government could simply destroy them…

As for the suggestion that the world should be grateful for the partage system which existed previously, this is what Dr. Cuno himself has written about the system which he wishes to revive, a system that allowed imperialist powers to take as much materials as they wanted from non-Western countries.

. “For many decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, archaeological finds were shared between the excavating party and the local, host country through partage. This is how the great Ghandaran collection got to the Musée Guimet in Paris (shared with Afghanistan), the Assyrian collection got to the British Museum in London (shared with Iraq, before the formation of the modern, independent government of Iraq), the Lydian materials from Sardis got to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (shared with the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey), the Egyptian collection got to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a number of collections got to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and of course how the great collections were formed at the university archaeological museums, like the Peabody Museums at Harvard and Yale, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. But this principle is no longer in practice. With the surge in nationalism in the middle decades of the twentieth century, it has become almost impossible to share archaeological finds. All such finds belong to the host nation and are its property. Only the state can authorize the removal of an archaeological artifact to another country, and it almost never does. Even when one lends antiquities abroad, it is for severely restricted periods of time. Antiquities are cultural property, and cultural property is defined and controlled by the state for the benefit of the state.” (5)

After reading the extract above and others from Cuno’s book, one wonders how he can suggest a return to a clearly unfair system. (6) The partage system allowed the rich countries which financed many of the exploration and excavation of archaeological sites to regard the countries of these sites, so called “source countries” as some sort of archaeological supermarket The partage system left us disputes such as the one between Egypt and Germany concerning Nefertiti’s bust.The partage system, in conjunction with looting and stealing,, enabled stronger and aggressive countries to build up the so-called “universal museums”.

Where does Cuno derive the notion that the State may legally participate in the illegal market? By definition, the State cannot participate in the illegal market unless we abandon all distinctions between “legality” and “illegality”. The State as source of legality cannot participate in illegality and continue to proclaim laws, issue regulations and provide penalties.

The statement by Cuno that recent destructions offer a further argument for “why portable works of art should be distributed throughout the world and not concentrated in one place”, is surely more appropriately addressed to the “universal museums” than to “source countries”. Nowhere do we find a massive accumulation of artefacts as in the so-called universal museums in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Madrid and elsewhere in the Western world. These museums have “collected” uncountable objects from non-western countries and are refusing to return any. The British Museum alone has some 9 million objects. Could Cuno’s advice de directed to the venerable museum in Bloomsbury?

There are aspects of the 1970 UNESCO Convention that may be criticised but the suggestion that the Convention and the UNESCO are somehow responsible or have contributed to destruction of cultural artefacts is, with all due respect, clearly not based on any tenable evidence and is a dangerous suggestion

Verily, this is not the time to launch attacks on the United Nations body for culture; support for this body could be expected of all those interested in the preservation of cultures and cultural artefacts whether they are in favour of more freedom of action for the so-called “universal museums” or not.

 

Kwame Opoku, 14 March, 2015.

 

NOTES

 

  1. Kwame Opoku,”Dr. Cuno Again Reviving Discredited Arguments to Prevent Future Repatriation of Museum Artefact”,

http://www.modernghana.com/news/578495/1/dr-cuno-again-reviving-discredited-arguments-to-pr.html

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/11/opinion/deploring-isis-destroyer-of-a-civilizations-art.html?smid=fb-share&_r=1

See Paul Barford, James Cuno, President and Chief Executive of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles, writes to the Editor of the NYT (Deploring ISIS, Destroyer of a Civilization’s Art

  1. Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970

www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/illicit…of…/1970convention/

  1. “Destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the cultural cleansing underway in iraq” say heads of UNESCO and ISESCO Saturday, March 7, 2015

UNESCO calls for mobilization to stop “cultural cleansing” in Iraq Friday, February 27, 2015

UNESCO Director-General welcomes UN Security Council Resolution to step up protection of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq Thursday, February 12, 2015

“UNESCO Director General condemns destruction of Nimrud in Iraq”, 6 February 2015. http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1244

UNESCO Conference calls for protected cultural zones to be established Syria and Iraq Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Emergency plan to safeguard Iraq’s cultural heritage Thursday, November 6, 2014

Emergency Response Action Plan to safeguard Iraqi heritage Thursday, July 17, 2014

  1. James Cuno, Who owns Antiquity?’ Princeton University Press, 2008, p.14.

6 .Cuno, ibid, pp.55 and 154.

 “Under the British Mandate, from 1921 to 1932, archaeology in Iraq was dominated by British teams – including the British Museum working with the University of Pennsylvania at Ur, the fabled home not only of Sumerian kings but also the Biblical Abraham – regulated by British authorities. The Oxford-educated, English woman Gertrude Bell, who had worked for the British Intelligence in the Arab Bureau in Cairo, was appointed honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq by the British-installed King Faysal in 1922. A most able administrator, having served as the Oriental secretary to the High Commission in Iraq after the war, Bell was responsible for approving applications for archaeologists, and thus for determining where in Iraq excavators would work. She was also a major force behind the wording and passage of the 1924 law regulating excavations in Iraq, a result of which was the founding of the Iraq Museum and the legitimization of partage:”p. 55

“Archaeologists should question their support of nationalist retentionist cultural property laws, especially those who benefit today from working among the finds in the collections of their host university museums, collections which could not now be formed, ever since the implementation of foreign cultural property laws. And they should join museums in pressing for the return to partage, the principle and practice by which so many local and encyclopedic museum collections were built in the past.”p.154

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Kwame Opoku – WHO NEEDS AGAIN ANOTHER POLL ON THE PARTHENON MARBLES?

March 2, 2015 – 15:24

WHO NEEDS AGAIN ANOTHER POLL ON THE PARTHENON MARBLES?

Anyone who has been following discussions on the Parthenon Marbles would be surprised to read about a new opinion poll on the same subject. She would ask herself if we have not had enough polls on the perennial question whether these Greek sculptures, torn away from their original location in Akropolis, should be returned to Athens or remain in London, in the British Museum.

As is well known, all such public opinion polls in the United Kingdom have consistently and overwhelmingly been in support of returning the famous sculptures to Athens.

So who is now interested in another opinion poll? We can only surmise and speculate since whoever commissioned this new poll has not found it necessary to have their identity revealed. We have here indeed a very curious situation. Whoever it is must have an interest in securing an opinion poll different from all those in the last fifteen years or so. To secure this, you do not go again to the British people for their answer will be the same as what they have consistently said: send the Marbles back. So what do you do?

You create a group that is fairly diverse including persons in the UK and some from outside the British Isles and present them as representing the art industry:

Of the 70 respondents, 50 (74%) were UK based, while the rest 20 (26%) were equally split between the Middle East and Asia. What respondents told us can be found on the following pages.

For the purposes of this survey we have classified respondents into five groups: Galleries and museums (18/26%) Advisors (17/24%) • Including fine art dealers, valuers, restorers, archivists, wealth managers, insurers, legal experts, sponsorship brokers and event organisers Arts media (14/20%) Other (14/20%) • Including auction houses, collectors, artists, performing arts, art schools and universities Political (7/10%) • Including those in the political world who advise on the arts or who have specific interests in art” – See more at: http://www.elginism.com/elgin-marbles/questioned-bell-pottinger-parthenon-marbles-poll/20150219/7774/#more-7774

With this imprecise classification, with respondents from London, Asia and the Middle East, you extract an agreeable opinion. Which Asia are we dealing with here? Does this include China, Cambodia and India? How come London is put on the same level as a continent like Asia?

We should not bother too much with such polls. But what purpose could such a poll serve? It could serve as a factor of confusion and uncertainty and thereby fulfil the function of diversionary tactic.

After the large outcry against the controversial loan of the Ilissios Parthenon sculpture to Russia, those unable or unwilling to hear the voice of the British people realized that there is a need to have people talk about something else than the recent condemned loan. Instead of reporting on what the terms of the loan were and whether these were scrupulously fulfilled, we are given a poll that could confuse people through its vagueness and indirect pretention to represent the opinion of part of the British public.

The British public and the lovers of art deserve better than this.

Kwame Opoku. 2 March, 2015.

 

 

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Kwame opoku – Can Modern Technology Help Resolve Disputes On Restitution Of Cultural Artefacts?

February 22, 2015 – 09:06

Undo

Can Modern Technology Help Resolve Disputes On Restitution Of Cultural Artefacts?

There is no doubt that modern technology can contribute a great deal to arts and education generally in spreading knowledge about the cultures of the world. For example, a child in Nigeria can learn a lot about Africa if she has access to Internet, IPhone or IPad. She can learn about African History, the drinking habits of the English, German family relations, Ghanaian Music and Dance. She could also learn about Yoruba cosmology, costumes and sculpture. But it still remains to be established whether modern technology could help resolve thorny problems of restitution of cultural artefacts.

Paul Mason has in an article in the Guardian, ”Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum” has suggested that technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing could make the physical location of ancient artefacts less important:

“However, the rise of digital technology should allow us to imagine a new kind of museum altogether. The interactive audio guides and digital reconstructions found in some museums should be just the beginning. It is now possible to extend the museum into virtual space so that exhibits become alive, with their own context and complexity. Hard as it is when you are managing a business based on chunks of stone and gold, we should challenge museum curators to think of their primary material as information.”

Once we change our conceptions about what we can expect from museums and regard them as sources of information rather than as places where objects are physically present, a whole new way is opened to modern technology. We do not need to see physically the Parthenon Marbles but will see a virtual presentation of the sculptures:

With virtual-reality headsets and digital recreations, you could have it all. You could walk through the Parthenon as it was in 400BC, and as the mosque it became under the Turks, and as the ruin Elgin found. If we rethink the museum as “information plus things”, then the location of the things becomes negotiable and not so emotive.

http://www.elginism.com/elgin-marbles/virtual-reality-route-ending-parthenon-marbles-dispute/20150216/7765/ 
www.theguardian.com › Arts › Art & design › Parthenon marbles

Suggestions have been made from time to time that modern technology could help us to dispense with the need to return physical objects that have been stolen or transferred mainly, from non-Western countries to the West. There are also many examples of contested transfer of artefacts within the Western world such the Parthenon Marbles that were taken from Greece to Great Britain. But it seems to me that such ideas, however useful, do not take into account, the real nature and significance of the restitution issues we have been discussing over the years.

Demands for the return of cultural artefacts are not only demands for the physical return of the objects but also requests for recognition and acknowledgement of grave wrongs inflicted on peoples for refusing to accept imperialism. Restitution of artefacts could be the beginning of a healing process which is necessary for the wounds inflicted on peoples and their way of life. Many Westerners do not seem to understand the need for such healing. The hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism and racism do not seem to matter for them. However, these are factors that have shaped the history of the relations of the West with Africa, Asia, Australia, America and Oceania. To ignore these factors means only a partial history can be presented.

Some of the artefacts taken away have been desecrated by the very fact of being handled by persons outside the community that produced them. The tabots of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are desecrated by being viewed by persons other than the clergy of the Church and cannot be substituted by any modern inventions.

http://www.modernghana.com/news/182461/50/when-will-western-nations-return-eth.html
http://www.elginism.com/similar-cases/the-ethiopian-tabots-hidden-in-the-british-museum/20041020/67/

Some objects, like masks are required for cultural and religious performances. No amount of imagery could replace such objects. How do you dance with a virtual sword or mask in street processions in Nigeria? Some of the looted artefacts, such as the Nok sculptures, are evidence of our history and cannot be replaced by virtual images or replicas. ICOM has declared that such objects should never leave their countries of origin. Red Lists Database – ICOM

The Ethiopian manuscripts which the venerable universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford and other British and Western institutions are holding are clearly evidence of Ethiopian history and are not replaceable. Edinburgh University refuses to return Ethiopian artefacts


Gold mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg.of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumasi, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.

By virtue of the material used, certain objects cannot be replaced by any virtual images. The golden and silver crosses of the Ethiopian Church looted by the British in the notorious invasion of Magdala in 1868 cannot be replaced by anything else. Would anyone dare to suggest to the Asante, Ghana, that the solid gold head mask, golden swords and other valuables stolen by the British from King Karkari in 1874 can be replaced by virtual images?Could anyone propose to the Egyptians to accept a virtual image of Nefertiti whilst the original bust of the African queen remains in the Neue Museum, Berlin, Germany? Would the Chinese be satisfied with virtual images of the precious treasures looted by the French and the British troops from the Summer Palace in Beijing?

The moral aspects of restitution must also be considered even though many Westerners have banned morality from discussions on restitution and seem to be only interested in the requirements of law, bearing in mind that most of the rules and regulations here have been, directly or indirectly, imposed by the West.

It has to be admitted finally that to deprive peoples of their cultural artefacts by dubious means or by the use of force cannot be accepted as a moral standard. But why do Westerners have difficulty in accepting that the commandment “Thou shall not steal” also applies to cultural objects?

Other aspects of restitution that cannot possibly be covered by virtual images are the financial aspects. Some may act as if they were unaware of the enormous transfer of wealth involved in the transfer of cultural artefacts to the West and the consequential losses to the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. When we think of the Kohinoor Diamond from India that now forms an integral part of the English Crown jewels, we realize that we are dealing with huge amounts. The solid golden Asante mask must be worth some millions due to its gold material in addition to its historical value. The Ethiopian gold and silver crosses and other artefacts will also have a significant monetary value. The 3500 Benin Bronzes the British stole and sold also represent great monetary value. Virtual versions of these objects will not release the looters from the obligation to make some monetary compensation. The benefits accruing to the holders of the artefacts over hundred years could be worked out by specialists.

Given the present attitude of many museum officials and Western intellectuals, mostly following false prophets from London and Chicago, it is not very likely that significant progress will be made soon in restitution disputes. These intellectuals who are occupied with the Western past, do not seem to understand that Africans are also occupied with their past. They seem to share the view of Hugh Trevor- Roper that we did not have any significant historical development in Africa before slavery and colonialism and that these two evils, according to many, were not as bad as Africans present them. There is no African history | The Toynbee convector

These intellectuals spend considerable efforts in defending violent acts such as the notorious invasion of Benin by the British in 1897 but are not concerned with healing the inflicted historical wounds. Occasionally, individual Westerners, such as Dr. Mark Walker have understood the need for reconciliation and have made the correct symbolic act of returning artefacts to the owners. http://www.modernghana.com/news/552043/1/return-of-two-looted-benin-bronzes-by-a-briton-his.html But museums such as the British Museum, Ethnology Museum, Berlin and World Museum, Vienna, refuse to make even a symbolic act or consider any gesture of reconciliation.

Modern technology can undoubtedly help us in the area of arts and culture but the difficult questions of restitution of cultural artefacts, with the historical, religious, moral and spiritual significance attached to them, do not lend themselves easily to any substitution by modern technology, apart from the fact that most museums are not up to date with modern technology.

http://www.modernghana.com/news/432652/1/virtual-visits-to-museums-holding-looted-benin-obj.html

Lasting solutions must start with acknowledgement and condemnation of the violence used in acquiring many artefacts from Africa, Asia and Latin America. One can condemn present looting, plundering and destruction of cultural artefacts but this will not sound convincing when one is at the same time reluctant even to admit that such acts in the past are equally wrong. This is especially so when in the past as in the present the benefits of such acts end in the West. No amount of technological advancement will help to resolve the basic contradictions here.

Any illusions that technological development could enable us to dispense with the physical transfer of cherished national cultural treasures must surely be dispelled by the following declaration by the unforgettable former Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, at the Oxford Union:

“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.”-

www.invgr.com/melina_mercouri

Kwame Opoku. 20 February 2015

 

Can Modern Technology Help Resolve Disputes On Restitution Of Cultural Artefacts?.

Kwame Opoku – CAN MODERN TECHNOLOGY HELP RESOLVE DISPUTES ON RESTITUTION OF CULTURAL ARTEFACTS?

February 22, 2015 – 08:58

CAN MODERN TECHNOLOGY HELP RESOLVE DISPUTES ON RESTITUTION OF CULTURAL ARTEFACTS?


The Parthenon Sculpture of the river god Ilissios that the British Museum sent on a controversial loan to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

There is no doubt that modern technology can contribute a great deal to arts and education generally in spreading knowledge about the cultures of the world. For example, a child in Nigeria can learn a lot about Africa if she has access to Internet, IPhone or IPad. She can learn about African History, the drinking habits of the English, German family relations, Ghanaian Music and Dance. She could also learn about Yoruba cosmology, costumes and sculpture. But it still remains to be established whether modern technology could help resolve thorny problems of restitution of cultural artefacts.

 Paul Mason has in an article in the Guardian, Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum has suggested that technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing could make the physical location of ancient artefacts less important:

However, the rise of digital technology should allow us to imagine a new kind of museum altogether. The interactive audio guides and digital reconstructions found in some museums should be just the beginning. It is now possible to extend the museum into virtual space so that exhibits become alive, with their own context and complexity. Hard as it is when you are managing a business based on chunks of stone and gold, we should challenge museum curators to think of their primary material as information.

Once we change our conceptions about what we can expect from museums and regard them as sources of information rather than as places where objects are physically present, a whole new way is opened to modern technology. We do not need to see physically the Parthenon Marbles but will see a virtual presentation of the sculptures:

 With virtual-reality headsets and digital recreations, you could have it all. You could walk through the Parthenon as it was in 400BC, and as the mosque it became under the Turks, and as the ruin Elgin found. If we rethink the museum as information plus things, then the location of the things becomes negotiable and not so emotive.

http://www.elginism.com/elgin-marbles/virtual-reality-route-ending-parthenon-marbles-dispute/20150216/7765/

  Suggestions have been made from time to time that modern technology could help us to dispense with the need to return physical objects that have been stolen or transferred mainly, from non-Western countries to the West. There are also many examples of contested transfer of artefacts within the Western world such the Parthenon Marbles that were taken from Greece to Great Britain. But it seems to me that such ideas, however useful, do not take into account, the real nature and significance of the restitution issues we have been discussing over the years.

Demands for the return of cultural artefacts are not only demands for the physical return of the objects but also requests for recognition and acknowledgement of grave wrongs inflicted on peoples for refusing to accept imperialism. Restitution of artefacts could be the beginning of a healing process which is necessary for the wounds inflicted on peoples and their way of life. Many Westerners do not seem to understand the need for such healing. The hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism and racism do not seem to matter for them. However, these are factors that have shaped the history of the relations of the West with Africa, Asia, Australia, America and Oceania. To ignore these factors means only a partial history can be presented.

Some of the artefacts taken away have been desecrated by the very fact of being handled by persons outside the community that produced them. The tabots of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are desecrated by being viewed by persons other than the clergy of the Church and cannot be substituted by any modern inventions.

www.modernghana.com/news/…/when-willwestern-nations-return-eth.ht

http://www.elginism.com/similar-cases/the-ethiopian-tabots-hidden-in-the-british-museum/20041020/67/

 Some objects, like masks are required for cultural and religious performances. No amount of imagery could replace such objects. How do you dance with a virtual sword or mask in street processions in Nigeria? Some of the looted artefacts, such as the Nok sculptures, are evidence of our history and cannot be replaced by virtual images or replicas.  ICOM has declared that such objects should never leave their countries of origin.

Red Lists Database – ICOM

The Ethiopian manuscripts which the venerable universities of

 Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford

and other British and Western institutions are holding are clearly evidence of Ethiopian history and are not replaceable.

Edinburgh University refuses to return Ethiopian artefacts

Gold mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg.of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumasi, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.

By virtue of the material used, certain objects cannot be replaced by any virtual images. The golden and silver crosses of the Ethiopian Church looted by the British in the notorious invasion of Magdala in 1868 cannot be replaced by anything else. Would anyone dare to suggest to the Asante, Ghana, that the solid gold head mask, golden swords and other valuables stolen by the British from King Karkari in 1874 can be replaced by virtual images?

 

Could anyone propose to the Egyptians to accept a virtual image of Nefertiti whilst the original bust of the African queen remains in the Neue Museum, Berlin, Germany? Would the Chinese be satisfied with virtual images of the precious treasures looted by the French and the British troops from the Summer Palace in Beijing?

 

The moral aspects of restitution must also be considered even though many Westerners have banned morality from discussions on restitution and seem to be only interested in the requirements of law, bearing in mind that most of the rules and regulations here have been, directly or indirectly, imposed by the West.

 

It has to be admitted finally that to deprive peoples of their cultural artefacts by dubious means or by the use of force cannot be accepted as a moral standard. But why do Westerners have difficulty in accepting that the commandment Thou shall not steal also applies to cultural objects?

 

Other aspects of restitution that cannot possibly be covered by virtual images are the financial aspects. Some may act as if they were unaware of the enormous transfer of wealth involved in the transfer of cultural artefacts to the West and the consequential losses to the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. When we think of the Kohinoor Diamond from India that now forms an integral part of the English Crown jewels, we realize that we are dealing with huge amounts. The solid golden Asante mask must be worth some millions due to its gold material in addition to its historical value. The Ethiopian gold and silver crosses and other artefacts will also have a significant monetary value. The 3500 Benin Bronzes the British stole and sold also represent great monetary value. Virtual versions of these objects will not release the looters from the obligation to make some monetary compensation. The benefits accruing to the holders of the artefacts over hundred years could be worked out by specialists.

 

Given the present attitude of many museum officials and Western intellectuals, mostly following false prophets from London and Chicago, it is not very likely that significant progress will be made soon in restitution disputes. These intellectuals who are occupied with the Western past, do not seem to understand that Africans are also occupied with their past. They seem to share the view of Hugh Trevor- Roper that we did not have any significant historical development in Africa before slavery and colonialism and that these two evils, according to many, were not as bad as Africans present them.

 

There is no African history | The Toynbee convector

 

These intellectuals spend considerable efforts in defending violent acts such as the notorious invasion of Benin by the British in 1897 but are not concerned with healing the inflicted historical wounds. Occasionally, individual Westerners, such as Dr. Mark Walker have understood the need for reconciliation and have made the correct symbolic act of returning artefacts to the owners

http://www.modernghana.com/news/552043/1/return-of-two-looted-benin-bronzes-by-a-briton-his.html

  But museums such as the British Museum, Ethnology Museum, Berlin  and World Museum, Vienna, refuse to make even a symbolic act or consider any gesture of reconciliation.

 

Modern technology can undoubtedly help us in the area of arts and culture but the difficult questions of restitution of cultural artefacts, with the historical, religious, moral and spiritual significance attached to them, do not lend themselves easily to any substitution by modern technology, apart from the fact that most museums are not up to date with modern technology.

 

http://www.modernghana.com/news/432652/1/virtual-visits-to-museums-holding-looted-benin-obj.html

 

Lasting solutions must start with acknowledgement and condemnation of the violence used in acquiring many artefacts from Africa, Asia and Latin America. One can condemn present looting, plundering and destruction of cultural artefacts but this will not sound convincing when one is at the same time reluctant even to admit that such acts in the past are equally wrong. This is especially so when in the past as in the present the benefits of such acts end in the West. No amount of technological advancement will help to resolve the basic contradictions here.

 

Any illusions that technological development could enable us to dispense with the physical transfer of cherished national cultural treasures must surely be dispelled by the following declaration by the unforgettable former Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, at the Oxford Union:

 

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.-

www.invgr.com/melina_mercouri

 

 

 

Kwame Opoku. 20 February 2015

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