As in other years, the New Acropolis Museum is going to have free admission & various special events to celebrate International Museums Day on May 18th.
Friday May 17, 2013
Celebrating International Museum Day around Greece
Museums around the country celebrate their past, present and future this weekend as a number of local cultural institutions take part in festivities marking this year’s International Museum Day.
The International Council of Museums (ICOM) established International Museum Day back in 1977 in an effort to raise public awareness with regard to the key role played by cultural organizations in societies. The annual celebration usually takes place around May 18.
According to an ICOM estimate, 32,000 museums in 129 countries took part in last year’s festivities. This year participating institutions will be exploring the theme of “Museums (Memory + Creativity) = Social Change,” tracing the evolution of institutions as they combine their rich heritage with innovation.
In Athens, the Acropolis Museum (www.theacropolismuseum.gr) celebrates International Museum Day on Saturday, May 18, with the museum’s doors opening at 8 a.m. until midnight and free admission for all. On the day, archaeologists will acquaint visitors with the fighting cock, the competitive ideal for athletes and fighters in ancient times and the motif behind the museum’s 2013 commemorative medal. During the tours conducted by the archaeologists, visitors will learn more about how as early as the beginning of the 5th century BC, “alektryonon agones” (cockfights) took place annually at the Theater of Dionysus. The 20-minute tours are limited to 25 visitors per session and will take place on a first-come, first-served basis. Those interested in participating are invited to visit the museum’s information desk. Talks are scheduled to take place in Greek at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. noon, 1 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. They will be in English at 10.30 a.m., 12.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. A French tour has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Festivities will conclude in the museum’s entance courtyard with the Orchestra of the Center of Arts and Culture of Dion performing Greek and foreign works starting at 9 p.m.
In the northern port of Thessaloniki, the city’s archaeological museum (www.amth.gr) is hosting an opera evening on Friday, May 17, followed by a series of guided tours of its temporary exhibition “Trafficking of Antiquities: Stop It,” on May 18 and 19. Events marking International Museum Day are also taking place at the city’s State Museum of Contemporary Art (www.greekstatemuseum.com) and the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (www.mmca.org.gr).
At the Benaki Museum (www.benaki.gr), International Museum Day will be celebrated from May 17 to May 19. On Friday, May 17, the museum pays tribute to the Crete University Press, as part of a series of events highlighting the efforts carried out by organizations promoting culture outside major urban centers. The event will feature talks by National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation president Dionysis Kapsalis and Benaki Museum director Angelos Delivorrias, among others.
Inspired by International Museum Day’s 2013 theme, the Benaki Museum celebrates 35 years of creativity at the institution’s shop and invites visitors on a behind-the-scenes journey tracing design from antiquity to the present on Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19. The tribute includes a series of workshops complemented by an exhibition which runs to July 28.
Lectures, guided tours, live music and free admission (until 11.30 p.m.) are on the agenda at the Archaeological Museum of Delphi on Saturday, May 18. The institution was selected by the Hellenic Committee of the International Council of Museums as this year’s honored museum. Museum-goers are also invited to join a guided tour of the area’s celebrated archaeological site on Sunday, May 19, starting at 9.30 a.m.
At the Byzantine & Christian Museum (www.byzantinemuseum.gr) archaeologists will conduct a series of guided tours of the cultural institution’s permanent collections on Saturday, May 18. The tours will explore various themes, including “Asia Minor: The Heart of Byzantium” and “Mosaics: From Excavation to the Museum,” among others. Guided tours take place from 6 to 7 p.m. and from 7.30 to 8.30 p.m. The museum is also organizing a series of educational activities on Sunday, May 19. Participation is free for children on Sunday. (Reservations can be made by calling 213.213.059 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.7 on Friday)
The National Archaeological Museum (www.namuseum.gr) is organizing a string of educational activities related to a contemporary mosaic exhibition featuring works by Dafni Angelidou, while the City of Athens Symphony Orchestra will perform on the museum’s premises on May 18.
At the B&M Theocharakis Foundation (www.thf.gr) doors will remain open to the public from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday, May 18. The evening’s cultural program includes two treasure hunts for children, at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., Buenos Aires tango tunes in the foundation’s outdoor space at 8.30 p.m., as well as a screening of Luis Garcia Berlanga’s 1953 comedy “Bienvenido Mr Marshall” at 8 p.m.
After his book Scorpia Rising, it was clear that author Anthony Horowitz had an interest in the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum.
Now, in a post on twitter he is more clear about his support for the return of the sculptures to Athens. That they should definitely return to Greece to be displayed in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Visited the superb Acropolis Museum in Athens and – I’m sorry – but I really do think the Elgin marbles should go back.
7:28 AM – 29 Mar 13
Keri Douglas has written a great article about Dr Gary Vikan, the outgoing director of the Walters Art Museum & why he thinks the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Athens.
His reason is simple – that it is all about the legitimacy of the monument. The sculptures belong to the monument & should be returned.
You can read the full article here.
Annmarie Fitzmaurice has written an essay on the New Acropolis Museum. She looks at how the building combines the past with the present, including the controversy that surrounded the construction of the building on such a sensitive site.
You can view the whole essay online here.
71 native American masks are being auctioned, despite protests from the tribes that they belonged to. There are laws in place in many countries now that cover return of human remains & there are also laws in the US relating to Native American artefacts. However, these items are not covered by any of these & as such the auction is legal. One has to ask the question though of whether it is Moral though? These items could not be taken now from native tribes in the same way as happened originally.
71 Hopi and Zuni Masks to be Auctioned in Paris
March 07, 2013
On April 12, a collection of 71 Hopi and Zuni masks will be auctioned by Neret-Minet at the Druout Richelieu gallery and auction house in Paris, France. The array of katsinam masks was amassed by a collector over the course of 30 years, and date to the late 19th and early 20th century, according to the description at Druout.com (a translated version can be found at ArtDaily.org).
“The idea that a people would dedicate so much time and energy to the rise of celestial bodies fascinated our collector,” reads the auction’s description. “In his collection, the CROW MOTHER mask, Angwusnasomtaqa in the Hopi language, held pride of place, and he had to wait over 20 years to attend the Powamu rituals in early February, the only time the mother of all the Katsinam appears in the village. By his own admission, you have to see the masks in dances to fully appreciate them.”
The text goes on to describe ten other masks being auctioned.
Not everyone is thrilled about the auction. In a post at Muddy Roads & Dusty Trails, a blogger describes the Hopi as “horrified.”
“Under American law [the masks] should be repatriated to the Hopi Nation,” the blogger writes. “The auction house knows this, from their good description of the pieces on can easily deduct that they know about the power of these friends but prefer the power of cash and carry. Katsinam should never be sold on the auction block. The sadness on Hopi is immeasurable. The art stolen under the Nazi regime is also in the process of being returned to their original owners families. Let the same rule be applied.”
I have written a number of times here about the issue of museum admission charges. Because of the nature of most of these articles, it can come across as being critical of any museum that does not charge. This is not the case at all though & I agree with much of the content of the article posted below.
So – lets get it straight. Free museums are great.
However, perhaps we need to accept that not all museums have to be free. We have free museums in Britain, because that is the way that we do things & how our government has chosen to spend our taxes (because, without this, very few of them would still be free). This means, that we should not therefore refer in a critical way to museums that charge, as though they are somehow less worthy.
This all gets back to the arguments over the Parthenon Marbles. The British Museum has often stated something along the lines of “the collection was legally acquired from Lord Elgin and is accessible, free of charge, to millions of visitors”.
I think it is critical to look at this statement carefully bit by bit – afterall, the number of times the British Museum has trotted it out, we assume that some thought must have gone into it.
So – we have part 1: “legally acquired from Lord Elgin”. Clearly this is true, because Elgin went through a process of selling them to the British Government (although, perhaps this ought to be described as transferring ownership in exchange for cancellation of debts, as this is closer to what happened). This statement is somewhat economical with the truth – it does not delve further back, into how the Marbles came into Elgin’s ownership & the legality / legitimacy of this procedure. Furthermore, if one accepts that Elgin did not acquire them entirely legitimately, then in effect, Britain was involved in the purchase of stolen goods.
Part 2: “Accessible, free of charge”. This argument is put forward as though it is clearly a positive point, but relatively little discussion has been made on why this should be the case. We must assume that this part of the statement refers to the fact that the Acropolis Museum, in common with most Greek archaeological sites & museums has an admission charge – although, we should also note that the charge for the museum is relatively minimal – few people would be put off visiting it purely by the admission charge. This admission charge helps to fund the building & the care of the collection within it. Bearing in mind the current economic situation in Greece, I don’t think anyone would suggest that they should be spending their public funds on removing their museum admission charges.
Part 3: “to millions of visitors”. Once again, an argument is put forward without clear reasoning why the point being made is beneficial. Surely if maximising the numbers who could see it were the most important factor, then relocating the marbles to Beijing or Mumbai should be considered? Furthermore, this does not stop to consider the fact that without admission charges, the British Museum no longer has a clear idea of visitor numbers. The give an approximate total count, but because anyone can wander in & out of a building with multiple entrances, we do not really know the nature of these visits. One thing I can guarantee, is that not all these people are there to see the Marbles – there are people using the route through as a shortcut on a rainy day, meeting someone at the cafe in the Great Court, visiting a temporary exhibition, or just looking at another specific part of the museums collection. On the other hand, we could assume that for the majority of visitors to the Acropolis Museum, seeing the sculptures from the Acropolis is the main focus of their visit. From this, we can only conclude that using visitor numbers as an argument is at best misleading, without more detail to back it up.
So – free admission is great, but is it really a justification for hanging onto the Parthenon Marbles? I don’t think so.
Monday 11 March 2013
Free museums – a fine example to set the world
Published on Saturday 9 March 2013 00:00
AS MUCH as it pains me to say it, the commitment to free entry to national museums, instigated by the last Labour government, is one policy that I not only support, but think was enlightened.
Back in 1997, Labour argued that in order to broaden the range of people visiting museums and galleries, there should be no charge to visit. Up until then, entrance fees could set you back between £5-10 a person, which adds up, especially if you want to take the whole family, or go more than once, which, given that most of the institutions are large and extensive, is likely.
The then culture secretary, Chris Smith, reflected that their policy was due to the fact that, “these were the great treasure houses of the nation, that they held our art, our history, our science”, and that they were places where we, “found out about our past, and treasured that past”. That is why they should be free, he argued, and he was right.
For once, a consensus. The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales agreed with the English politicians, and all began to fund free entry at the national museums which they support. From 2001, free entry was introduced across Britain.
Very quickly, visitor numbers rose dramatically. This is not the only reason for removing charging – far from it – but it is worthy of note. Attendance increased by more than 150 per cent, from 7.2 million in 2000-01, to nearly 18m in 2010-11. At the National Museums of Scotland alone, visitor numbers rose by 27 per cent. In 2000–2001; the final year of charging, they had 569,341. In 2001 – 2002; the first year of free admission, these soared to 724,732. Most recently, figures for 2011-2012 stand at 1,812,134. That’s an impressive rise. It now vies with Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow for the title as the most visited museum outwith of London.
Today, as austerity continues and shows no sign of abating, questions have been raised about the policy. Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, has forcefully argued that the income raised by charging would be very useful, especially to museums outside of London, and that, in particular, the funds could be used to contribute to the much depreciated curatorial budgets.
He is right, to a point. Charging would bring in money – welcome, as there are serious financial pressures to alleviate – with managers at both National Galleries of Scotland and National Museums Scotland saying they are struggling with frozen budgets. Times are hard.
But, by giving up on free entrance, we stand to lose more than we would gain. What is at stake is the idea of who owns these collections and who they are for. When they are free, it is clear that they are ours – that they belong to the people.
The history of free access has a fine pedigree. The British Museum was, from the beginning, an institution with the public in mind. Hans Sloane, the collector whose death triggered the foundation of the museum, specified as a condition of sale in his will that the objects should be held, “for the use of learned and studious men both native and foreign”.
In January 1759, the museum opened – for free – to “all persons desirous of seeing and viewing the [collections].” It was for, “satisfying the desires of the curious, as for the improvement, knowledge and information of all persons”. Any adult could visit, in theory, although they had to apply in writing and be given an appointment. It was an important first step to access for everyone, even if children were forbidden until 1837. When Kelvingrove opened at the turn of the twentieth century, initially named the Palace of Fine Arts, it was, from the very start, free, having been founded on donations from the city’s industrialists with the aim of improving and elevating the lives of ordinary people.
And today, it remains one of the most popular attractions in the country.
It was unusual in Europe, with the exception of Britain and France, for museums and galleries to be quite so open to common people. A German visitor, Karl Philip Moritz, went to the British Museum in 1782 and found the clientele remarkable, commenting that he came across, “the lowest classes of the people of both sexes”, explaining that this was because, “it is the property of the Nation, everyone has the same right to see it that another has.” That ideal is what we give up, if we give up on free access.
The journalist Dominic Lawson has complained that many of the millions of visitors are not British tax payers, that they are tourists. But this is not a problem. It is, instead, a positive example to the world of how to value the achievements of mankind. Many of the art and artefacts on display are from far and wide.
When you attend National Museums Scotland you will encounter Ancient Egypt, Tibetan tankhas, and objects from the early exploration of the Pacific, including pieces taken during Captain Cook’s voyages. There is a tremendous sound archive of native music from Africa, the Middle East, and India, recorded in the 20th century. The heritage of the world can be found here, and it is right that it is on show to everyone, regardless of where they are from. Charging has a recent and dubious history.
It was in the 1980s that the Conservative government pressured national museums to charge for admission, to make them less dependent on government funding. About half of the major national museums gave in, and began charging, with the consequence that during the following 15 years, their visitor numbers declined. When the Victoria and Albert Museum charged, their visitor numbers halved.
The arguments for free access need to be restated, the naysayers challenged. Reintroducing charging would cost us far too much.
While the strikers are striking for a reason, when one hears stories of people whose holidays have been ruined by them, one wonders about the effect that they have on tourism. As the second article points out, tourism is set to rise again – but everything must be done within Greece to promote this & show the tourists that they will have an enjoyable stay there.
One thing missed by many of these articles about strikes in Greece is that the New Acropolis Museum is run in a very different way to the majority of state owned archaeological sites in Greece – and as such, has never been closed due to strike action.
Strike Closes Greek Museums, Sites
By Andy Dabilis on March 8, 2013
Once again, and as Greece has picked up its campaign to lure tourists back after a disappointing last year, archaeological sites and museums were closed because of a workers’ strike against more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions being imposed by the government on the orders of international lenders.
A 24-hour strike on March 8 shut down the sites across the country. The workers said they were also protesting plans to cut back the Culture Ministry’s operations although it is essential to the tourism industry, the biggest revenue-producer for the country.
Tourists who showed up at the Acropolis found the gates locked as they have been a number of times before, and it was the same at museums and other attractions where people were turned away.
In a written statement, striking employees expressed their opposition to the planned reforms which, they said, would put jobs at risk and compromise the work of the Culture Ministry. Following talks with unionists representing the workers, Alternate Culture Minister Costas Tzavaras has said that his ministry could not intervene and that the cuts would go ahead despite any protests.
Last year, images of protests, strikes and riots, which led to the closing of airports, ports, the subway, public transportation and other sites scared off tourists who headed for other countries, particularly Turkey and the government is hoping to convince them this year that it will be different although workers said more strikes are forthcoming.
Greece Poised To Make A Tourism Comeback
Reuters | Posted: 03/08/2013 2:46 am EST | Updated: 03/08/2013 8:18 am EST
By Michelle Martin and Victoria Bryan
BERLIN, March 8 (Reuters) – Tourism in Greece is bouncing back this year in an otherwise flat European market, held back by the weak economic climate, travel industry executives said.
The desire for a beach holiday closer to home for cost-conscious consumers in Europe is helping to revive tourism demand in the country, battling recession and a debt crisis.
Doerte Nordbeck from market research group GfK showed in a presentation at the ITB travel fair this week that bookings to Greece from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands for this summer were up 10 percent.
Tourism income for Greece, its chief money spinner, fell by 4.6 percent to 9.89 billion euros from January-November in 2012 according to the country’s central bank.
Arrivals from Germany, Greece’s biggest tourism market, dropped by almost a fifth, partly on fears about a backlash on German tourists caused by Berlin’s tough austerity demands on Athens.
Alltours, Germany’s No. 4 tour operator, said bookings for holidays in Greece were up 30 percent on the year by March 5, boding well for the country where tourism accounts for around one fifth of output and one in five jobs.
“The tourism industry in Greece has overcome the crisis of the last two years and is now back on top form,” said Willi Verhuven, chief executive of German tour operator Alltours.
Verhuven said the company was in particular seeing a surge in bookings from repeat customers who had ditched Greece in favour of other resorts.
Europe’s largest tour operator TUI Travel is also seeing a comeback for Greece, with bookings at the group’s German unit up 4 percent. Bookings from the UK are performing strongly, a spokesman said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who opened the ITB fair this year, called on trade fair visitors to take holidays in ailing euro zone states like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy to help to create jobs.
“I also wish that European countries which are famous for tourism get good custom – I name Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy – all countries in which growth is really necessary at the moment and where we have to make an effort to finally get people back into work,” she said.
British Museum reunifies sculptued ancient marble panel pieces – perhaps the Parthenon Marbles next?
The British Museum is proud of its current exhibition off artefacts from the town of Herculaneum (and rightly so – from all the reviews I’ve seen, it is an amazing exhibition, including many items that have never been on public display before.
The interesting story though, is one of joining together pieces of a panel of carved marble – that have been separate since the time of the eruption of Vesuvius. Surely if they see the benefits in doing this with one panel, they can understand why the same should be done with far larger numbers of panels – from the Parthenon Frieze?
British Museum reunites Roman marble panels split for 2,000 years
Sunday 10 March 2013 19.27 GMT
Shimmering as if still lit by the Mediterranean sun, two spectacular Roman marble panels have been reunited at the British Museum for the first time in almost 2,000 years.
Both come from a seaside mansion in Herculaneum, the town overwhelmed by a torrent of boiling mud from Vesuvius, when the wind changed direction 12 hours after Pompeii had already choked to death. They will be seen in the most eagerly awaited archaeological exhibition in decades, on life and death in the Roman towns when it opens at the museum later this month.
The remains of the owner of the palatial villa may still lie on the ancient shoreline, now half a mile inland. In AD79 the sea was the beautiful view that his sumptuously decorated room looked out on, with its fourth wall open to the sea.
It used to be thought that unlike the thousands known to have perished at Pompeii, most of the population of Herculaneum had escaped. Then in the mid 20th century, after more than 200 years of excavation at the site, archaeologists found the shore littered with the bodies of those who left it too late. More must lie in the town’s main port, which is still buried under a layer of petrified ash up to 30m thick.
“The last person to see these pieces together like this was the master of the house, in AD79 – it’s an awesome and slightly eerie thought,” said Paul Roberts, curator of the exhibition.
The exhibition is already creating a buzz, with more than 34,000 tickets sold. Roberts compares it to the famous Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum in 1972, when as a teenager he queued for half a day before the era of online bookings and timed admission tickets.
Many of the objects have never been exhibited even in Italy, and some – such as one of the marble reliefs – were only excavated in the last few years. Others are among the treasures of the national archaeology museum in Naples, including a startlingly lifelike fresco portrait of a baker and his wife from Pompeii and a marble from Herculaneum, startling to modern eyes, of the god Pan having sex with a nannygoat.
Treasures are being unpacked in Bloomsbury every day. Last week an entire garden arrived, with fountains, statues, singing birds in flowering bushes, all painted on huge panels of plaster. The giant packing crates fitted through the museum doors with inches to spare. It was one of the most beautiful room interiors found in Pompeii, surely the setting for a happy life – except the exhibition will also display the pathetic casts of the bodies of its last owners, man, woman, tiny children, found huddled together under the stairs.
The first of the marble reliefs, an ecstatic and tipsy celebration of the god Bacchus, was found at Herculaneum in a controversial excavation 30 years ago. The excavation was launched to find more of the House of the Papyri, an extraordinary complex the size of a small village, most of which is still buried under the modern town. When it was discovered in the 18th century almost 2,000 papyrus scrolls, a princely library, were recovered along with wonderful sculptures some of which are coming to the exhibition.
The 20th-century excavations failed to find any more scrolls, but did uncover a previously unknown villa terraced down to the sea and one of the marble panels. The reliefs, in the classical Greek style – possibly carved by a Greek artist for a Roman master – were wildly fashionable among the wealthy of Herculaneum and the Roman elite. There are records of the philosopher and statesman Cicero seeking such panels to decorate his home.
It was feared the excavation had destabilised the site, so three years ago the American-financed Herculaneum Conservation Project, which has been working in the town for the last decade, returned for consolidation work. On the last day of the work, mud caked on a broken wall fell away revealing the second panel, in pristine condition. It has never been exhibited before.
Roberts suspects there must have been a third panel, on a wall that was swept into the bay below in the eruption that ended the life of the town and ensured its place in history. “Like so much of the town and its people, the third panel must have been crushed to atoms – we’re so astonishingly lucky in what has been left to us to bear witness to what has been lost.”
The International Byron Conference for 2013 takes place in July at Kings College, London. Included on the Agenda is a session on Byron, Elgin & the Marbles, taking place in the Duveen Gallery at the British Museum.
Kings College London
International Byron Conference 2013
BYRON: the poetry of politics and the politics of poetry
The 39th International Byron Conference
1-6 July 2013
Unless otherwise indicated, all sessions are at King’s College London Strand Campus
All timings are provisional at this stage
Monday 1 July
14.30-15.30 Registration (tea and coffee provided)
15.30-16.15 Welcome and opening of the conference
16.15-17.00 Opening plenary
17.00-17.30 Introduction to the exhibition ‘Byron and Politics’: David McClay
18.15-20.30 Reception and opening of the Exhibition, Maughan Library, King’s College London
Tuesday 2 July
9.15- 11.15 Plenary 2. Politics of culture and language
11.15- 11.45 coffee/tea
13.15-14.00 sandwich lunch (provided)
16.45-17.30 Orthodox Vespers in King’s College Chapel
18.45-21.00 Byron, Elgin and the Marbles (viewing of the Parthenon Sculptures, reading and reception, British Museum)
Wednesday 3 July
9.15-10.35 Plenary 3. Politics of the ‘Other’
14.00-16.00 Byron, The Two Foscari: a dramatised reading, with excerpts from Verdi’s opera, I Due Foscari, performed by students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the Guildhall School, Silk Street, Barbican, London EC2
16.00-16.30 coffee/tea (at the Guildhall School)
16.30-18.00 Papers at the Guildhall School
[Wednesday afternoon timings subject to alteration]
Thursday 4 July
11.45-13.00 Debate on Byron and politics (Jack Wasserman and Dr Peter Cochran – plenary session)
13.00-14.00 sandwich lunch (provided)
18.30-21.00 Reception at John Murray’s [numbers limited]
Friday 5 July
11.15-13.15 Closing plenary
13.15-13.30 Closing of the conference and concluding remarks
13.30-14.30 sandwich lunch (provided)
14.30-16.30 IBS council meeting
19.00 Reception at the House of Lords and Conference Dinner (including wine) in the Peers’ Dining Room, preceded by an optional guided tour of the Palace of Westminster at 18.00
Saturday 6 July
Time TBC Visit to Harrow School, Byron’s place of learning from 1801-1805. The visit includes a tour of the historic schoolrooms and St Mary’s Church, coffee on arrival and lunch before departure.
Most would agree that in recent years, Turkey has had a rather lacklustre record when it comes to human rights (at least for some sectors of its country). The country has recently been undertaking a vigorous drive to recover looted artefacts, although this too has not been without criticism.
Now, it seems that Turkey is taking the unusual step of trying to use the European Court of Human Rights as a mechanism to attempt to secure the return of disputed artefacts in the British Museum. It remains to be seen how successful this approach is & I imagine many other countries will be watching with interest.
Turkey’s New Spin On Human Rights: They Can Be Used To Recover Art
By Ceylan Yeginsu | January 14 2013 2:01 PM
Turkey is one of the world’s richest countries when it comes to archeology. Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and with a history of human habitation that dates back to the dawn of civilization, it’s especially rich in ancient Greek ruins that were created when the land that is now Turkey was known as Asia Minor, or Anatolia.
But many of those priceless relics aren’t in Turkey; they’re in Western museums. Now Turkey is trying a bold new tactic to recover them: It plans to use human rights law to get them back.
The country, which is usually divided on the sensitive issue of human rights enforcement, has found common ground as lawyers, civil society and the government gear up to file a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in an attempt to repatriate artifacts that are being housed at the British Museum.
The court, located in Strasbourg, France, normally tackles, as its name suggests, freedom of expression violations and torture cases. But Turkey will most likely put a unique spin on Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, filing suit against the British Museum on the grounds that “Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions.”
This is yet another installment in Turkey’s campaign to restore its cultural heritage. Museums worldwide are being pressured by the country to return antiquities that once belonged to ancient Anatolia. The subjects of the most recent case are sculptures that once adorned the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, in the city that is now modern-day Bodrum.
“We are very grateful to the British Museum for housing these artifacts for all these years, but is it not natural for us to want them back? Is it not our right?” said lawyer Remzi Kazmaz, who joined forces with the Mugla Bar Association and the Turkish Ministry of Culture to bring the case to the attention of the ECHR.
“We may not have the best track record when it comes to preservation, but we now have the power to protect and facilitate these items,” Kazmaz added.
Kazmaz declined to comment on the measures that have been taken to carry the case to the ECHR, but he said that “all the appropriate steps have been taken and some 30 lawyers will act on behalf of the town of Bodrum in this case.” A petition with 118,000 signatures will also be presented to the court.
As Turkey prepares to file the case on Jan. 30, the British Museum says it has not been contacted directly regarding the lawsuit. “We have not heard anything directly about the legal case, other than via a media enquiry, so we can’t comment on it as we are not aware of the details,” said Olivia Rickman, press and PR manager of the museum.
According to Rickman, the sculptures from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in the Museum’s collection were acquired in 1846, 1857 and 1859. “These pieces were acquired during the course of two British initiatives, both with firmans [legal permits issued by the Ottoman authorities] that granted permission for the excavation of the site and removal of the material from the site (1857 and 1859) and Bodrum Castle (1846) to the British Museum,” Rickman said.
“The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world and these pieces have been displayed at the British Museum in the context of presenting world cultures to a global audience,” she added.
Turkey, however, contests that the objects are in Britain legally. “The British Museum says [it has] permission, but [it does] not. There is no valid documentation,” Kazmaz said.
Charlotte Woodhead, an expert in cultural heritage law at the University of Warwick in England, is not aware of human rights legislation ever being used before to reclaim such objects. “If a claim is brought before the European Court of Human Rights, it will be interesting to see on what basis it is argued and also to see what the outcome is,” she said.
Besides using human rights legislation, Turkey has also turned to an Ottoman-era law banning the export of artifacts to threaten museums such as the Louvre in Paris, the Getty in Los Angeles and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which have been displaying ancient Anatolian artifacts for years.
“We are showing respect to history. We are not just asking for Ottoman or Seljuk artifacts; I am also laying claim to pieces from the Roman period or the pagan period. Why? Because we are aware that safeguarding your history, archeology and your museums is an element of development,” Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay told the Hurriyet Daily News last year.
He explained that Western museums have been criticizing Turkey for not knowing the value of these artifacts in the past, but that Turkey is now aware of their importance.
“There was a lack of awareness in the past. But today, the world has reached a certain level of development and we have caught up with that level of development, and we are now establishing museums above world standards,” he said.
Turkey’s Ministry of Culture has opened 10 new museums in the past five years, with an additional 19 projects underway. Excavation projects are also fully underway, and the results will be safeguarded in new exhibits within Turkish museums, according to the Ministry.
The ministry has not yet commented on the ECHR case, but according to Kazmaz, it has played a significant role in preparing the lawsuit. “We aren’t expecting the British Museum to just hand everything back, but we want to open a dialogue so we can at least be active in preserving these artifacts, whether it means we can jointly house them for 10 years at a time or longer. We are open to negotiation,” he said.
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts recently acquired a number of disputed Benin Artefacts. These items all relate to the ransacking of Benin by the British in 1897 & the transfer of their ownership to the museum has caused much controversy.
Sun, Jan 6th, 2013
Will Boston Museum Of Fine Arts Return Looted Benin Bronzes?
By Ghana News -SpyGhana.com
“The public interest must surely be in upholding the rule of law, rather than promoting an international free-for-all through the unrestricted circulation of tainted works of art. Do we really wish to educate our children to have no respect for history, legality and ethical values by providing museums with the opportunity freely to exhibit stolen property? ”
Extract from a letter by several members of the British House of Lords. (1)
Readers may recall that when the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA, recently acquired by donation a number of looted Benin artefacts, there was a large public outcry against this acquisition of blood antiquities by a leading and respected American museum. (2) The Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments demanded the immediate return of the looted objects. (3) Other writers also urged the return of these precious artefacts that the British had looted in a violent invasion of the flourishing Benin Kingdom in 1897. (4) Ligali, a Pan-Africanist activist group, wrote to the Boston museum requesting the return of the objects to their rightful owners. In his response to Ligali, the director of the Boston museum mentioned that his institution had informed the Oba of Benin of the acquisition. (5) An impression was thus created that the Benin Royal Family had acquiesced in the acquisition, and in any case, had not protested against it.
The Benin Royal Palace was surprised to hear that the museum was claiming the acquisition met all legal standards and that no claim had been made against it. The Oba has always made it very clear that the looted Benin artefacts belong to the people of Benin and the Oba. The statement by the Boston museum did not reflect the truth. The Oba of Benin is against any form of donation, auction or exhibition of stolen Benin spiritual, traditional, cultural and decorative art works in Europe and in America. The stolen Benin artefacts should be returned to the original owners. Attempts should not be made to throw doubts on the position of the Oba of Benin as regards the looted Benin objects. The Oba and the people of Benin demand their return. (6)
Similarly, the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments(NCMM), the organ charged with preservation of Nigeria’s culture and cultural objects, has also made its position clear in a statement issued by Yusuf Abdallah Usman,Director General of NCMM:
“For the avoidance of doubt we hereby place it on record that we demand, as we have always done, the return of these looted works and all stolen, removed or looted artefacts from Nigeria under whatever guise.
We wish to call on the management of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, USA, to as a matter of self-respect, return the 32 works Nigeria, the rightful owners forthwith”. (7)
What will the venerable Museum of Fine Arts, Boston do? Will it act as most people have urged it to do? Would it follow the advice of a Western blogger who stated in an article titled “The MFA’s new acquisition of Benin artifacts proving to be a tricky bitch already“ :
“If the MFA was at all interested in joining the rest of us here in the 21stcentury, it might begin by repatriating the objects to Nigeria and hammering out a deal for exchanges between our countries. Then it might consider taking the initiative and acknowledging fishy or limited provenance in the history of all its objects, not just the ones on trial, and make a whole-hearted effort to discover their true origins. Then it might acknowledge that many of the objects in their collection may still hold significance for living cultures and be less stingy when those cultures come forward and ask for repatriations. Then it might do a much better job of educating its public about art crime, the modern commercial exploitation of archaeological sites, and the past and present war time looting that scatters artifacts and attempts to destroy cultures and ideologies. But instead, it will continue to drag its feet and deny a formerly occupied country the right it has to its stolen heritage.
Don’t be that guy, MFA. Be brave”. (8)
But will the museum management have the courage and strength of character to make a new beginning in its history of restitution unless some pressure is put on it as the Italians did and secured the return of their looted objects? (9) The Nigerians must consider what measures they could take to achieve the objective of return of the artefacts. Nigeria must learn from the experience of States such as Egypt, Italy and Turkey that have been successful in securing the return of their looted artefacts (10). These States have followed their demands with concrete measures that obliged holding museums to consider seriously their demands for restitution. The domination of the West over Nigeria as well as the persistence of neo-colonial ideology seem to weaken Nigeria’s attempts at restitution. Radical changes in the culture establishment and the prevailing mentality seem urgent if Nigeria is to become really independent in its cultural policies. Queen-Mother Idia, Oba Akenzua I, Oba Ewuakpe and the other icons that have been in forced Western detention for decades are highly unlikely to return if the current age-old quite diplomacy policy, suffering and smiling line, prevails.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, cannot deny to Nigerians what it has admitted, albeit reluctantly, to Italians, the right of owners to claim their looted cultural objects. The museum must finally admit that the Age of Restitution has arrived and attempts to put obstacles in way of claimants or to offer bogus arguments would, in the long run, not stop the movement of humanity towards more justice and equity. The museum could also follow the example of the Dallas Museum of Art which recently returned voluntarily to Turkey the Orpheus Mosaic that it acquired in 1999 after evidence was provided that the object had been looted from Turkey. (11)
An innocent African might be forgiven for thinking that a museum in a city that played a very prominent role in the American Revolution, a museum in a
country that always speaks loudly about human rights, would easily understand the need of Africans for their looted cultural artefacts. But Western museums are said to be offspring of the European Enlightenment. When the Enlightenment philosophers talked of human beings they did not include us Africans. It seems some museums have inherited the European philosophers’ racist attitude that Africans are not really part of humanity and that the Europeans and Americans have a right, indeed a duty, to determine the location and utilization of our human, natural and cultural resources. How otherwise can we explain that Westerners whose religions and morality condemn roundly the stealing of other people’s property can still in our days defend the indefensible keeping of looted artefacts? They do so without any shame and advance completely baseless arguments.
The people of Boston and indeed the whole Western world now know that Boston is keeping looted Nigerian artefacts in its Museum of Fine Arts and that the owners have been demanding their return without success. Will the venerable museum pay any attention to the recent unanimous resolution of the United Nations, A/Res/67/80 which was sponsored by a large number of Member States including the United States? (12) Will Bostonians and indeed US Americans be proud of such an institution that acts in violation of United Nations resolutions and UNESCO principles? Would they not demand from the museum management an explanation and possible correction of such a shameful situation?
Do the museum officials and their trustees believe in freedom to develop and practice freely one’s religion and culture? Are they not worried as a rich city, to be seen as robbing the poor of their cultural property? Those unwilling or unable to condemn the evil imperialist aggression and looting of the past are not very likely to condemn looting of the present. These are some of the issues that need to be discussed. If the museum retains the looted Benin artefacts, it will be acting against the will of the Benin people, the Oba and against the request of the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments, the organ charged with the preservation and conservation of Nigerian cultural objects.
Should the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, decide not to return the looted Benin artefacts and go on to organize its Benin exhibition without the people of Benin, without the Nigerians and against the will of Oba Erediauwa, the gread-grandson of Oba Ovonramwen from whose palace the British looted the artefacts, this will constitute a great insult to Nigerians and by implication, to all Africans. The damage done would be considerable. Future co-operation with the museum would be difficult for all African governments and museums. The African Council of Museums (AFRICOM) will no doubt have to take a stand on this matter as Nigeria is a member of the council. The Boston museum must ask itself what the purpose of the Benin exhibition will be. The African people will note how much or little respect American and Western institutions have for our freedoms of religion and culture. We would also know how to assess loud statements and claims about human rights.
R.H. Bacon, the Punitive Expedition’s Intelligence Officer wrote on the burning of the Benin Royal Palace:
“There was a dim grandeur about it all, and also
these seemed to a fate. Here was this head center
of iniqiuty, 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.” (13):
K. Opoku, 1 January, 2013.
1. Extract from a letter by several members of the British House of Lords (1) http://www.timesonline.co.uk
2. K. Opoku, “Blood Antiquities in Respectable Havens: Looted Benin Artefacts
Donated to American Museum”, http://www.modernghana.com
3. Statement of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, reproduced in K.Opoku, ”Nigeria Reacts to Donation of Looted Benin Artefacts to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston”,http://www.modernghana.com
4. Tajudeen Sowole, “After Sotheby’s controversial sales, great-grandson of another beneficiary discloses over thirty of 1897 looted Benin art pieces,” http://africanartswithtaj.blogspot.co.at/
5. Ligali, “Boston Museum opens dialogue over looted Benin artefacts. “www.ligali.org
6. Akenzua, Edun (2000). “The Case of Benin”. Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix 21, House of Commons, The United Kingdom Parliament, March2000http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmcumeds/371/371ap27.htm
7. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, Statement of the Director General, titled, “Controversial Donation of Looted Benin Art”, reproduced in K. Opoku, Nigeria Reacts to Donation of Looted Benin Artefacts to Museum of Fine Arts,Boston”, http://www.modernghana.com
8. http://www.thingsyoucanttakeback.com/2012/07/the-mfas-new-acquisition of-benin.html
9 “MFA agrees to return disputed art to Italy”, www.boston.com
10. Chasing the Aphrodite, http://chasingaphrodite.com/2013/01/04/chasing-aphrodite-2012-the-year-in-review/
11. Dallas Museum of Art returns to Turkey artefacts, ir acquired in 1999, Orpheus Mosaic, after evidence was provided that object was apparently looted from Turkey.
http://lootingmatters.blogspotMuseum returns stolen artefactshttp://www.iol.co.za/scitech/science/discovery/museum-returns-stolen-artefacts-1.1436435
12. See the latest General Assembly resolution, A/RES/67/80, titled “Return or restitution of cultural property to the country of origin, which was adopted unanimously on 12 December, 2012. The resolution had been co-sponsored by 98 Member States including Canada, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain, and the United States of America.
13. R. H. Bacon, Benin: City of Blood (pp. 107-108) cited by the great Ekpo Eyo, “Benin; The Sack that was”, http://www.edo-nation.net/eyo.htm
Metal detecting is a continual source of concern amongst archaeologists. While many famous discoveries have been made in this way, at the other end of the spectrum are reckless criminals who covertly ransack ancient sites with the sole intention of selling whatever they can find for personal gain.
Thieves who looted coins from ancient Roman site handed Britain’s first ASBO banning them from METAL DETECTING
Peter Cox and Darren West handed suspended sentences for theft
Caught digging up land on English Heritage site in Northamptonshire
By Hugo Gye
PUBLISHED: 15:41, 3 January 2013 | UPDATED: 07:37, 4 January 2013
Two thieves have become the first people in Britain to be handed ASBOs banning them from metal detecting.
Peter Cox and Darren West were given the unique punishment after they looted ancient coins from a Roman site belonging to English Heritage.
The pair were caught by police who raided their homes and found a haul of coins from the Iron Age, Roman and mediaeval periods worth hundred of pounds.
Officers also discovered pottery, metal antiquities and maps of Chester Farm, the Roman settlement near Irchester in Northamptonshire which the thieves ransacked.
Cox, 69, and 51-year-old West were arrested in the summer when they were seen illegally digging trenches on the land.
When police searched their homes in towns near the historic site, they were able to match the tools they recovered to plaster casts of marks left in the soil.
Experts from the British Museum helped to analyse and date the recovered items, which have not been officially valued, and link them to the site.
Cox and West pleaded guilty to two counts of theft from a scheduled monument on December 19.
They were each given 52-week suspended sentences and were ordered to pay £750 costs and £750 compensation.
The thieves were also issued with ASBOs preventing them from using metal detecting equipment.
The coins they discovered at the site are similar to the massive haul of 50,000 Iron Age items found in Jersey last year, the largest hoard of Celtic coins ever unearthed.
Chester Farm is best known as a Roman town, showing evidence of houses, a cemetery and even a temple to the local Romano-Celtic gods.
It also contains remains of an earlier Iron Age settlement, and was later the site of a mediaeval village.
The area has frequently been the target of thieves in the past, and a 16th-century farmhouse on the site was attack by arsonists in 2010.
After the hearing, Mike Harlow, governance and legal director of English Heritage, said: ‘The sentence sets an important watershed in the combat against illegal metal detecting and acknowledges its true impact on society.
‘These are not people enjoying a hobby or professionals carrying out a careful study. They are thieves using metal detectors like a burglar uses a jemmy.
‘The material they are stealing belongs to the landowner and the history they are stealing belongs to all of us.
‘Once the artefacts are removed from the ground and sold, the valuable knowledge they contain is lost for ever.’
CPS East Midlands senior prosecutor Mark Holmes said: ‘This case is the largest scale operation we have prosecuted for this type of crime.
‘It should serve as a warning to anyone else involved in this activity that it is a crime and if you are caught you face prosecution and a criminal record.’
This article gives quite a convenient summary of what the Parthenon Marbles are & some of the key issues surrounding the case.
Elgin Marbles & the Parthenon
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 14 January 2013 Time: 04:33 PM ET
The Elgin Marbles, sometimes referred to as the Parthenon sculptures, are a collection of marble sculptures that originally adorned the top of the exterior of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, and are now in London, England.
They are currently exhibited, free to the public, in the Duveen Gallery in the British Museum. Although today the sculptures appear white, originally they were painted in vivid colors, something that new research is revealing.
The marbles in London were removed from the Parthenon in the first decade of the 19th century under the auspices of Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin, and were first exhibited in London in 1807. Their removal is deeply controversial and the Greek government has requested that they be repatriated, a debate that has garnered extensive media attention. Not all the sculptures from the Parthenon are in the British Museum; another large portion is still in Athens, while a few other sculptures are in different museums throughout the world.
A temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, the Parthenon is located on the Acropolis of ancient Athens. It is about 228 feet (69.5 meters) long by 101 feet (30.9 meters) wide and roughly 65 feet (20 meters) high. Construction of the temple started in 447 B.C., with work on its decorations continuing up to about 432 B.C., around the time war broke out with Sparta. At the time the Parthenon was created, Athens was at its height, the city’s vast navy helping it control an empire in the Aegean Sea.
There are three main types of sculptures on the exterior of the Parthenon that are now part of the Elgin Marbles.
Pediments are large triangular shaped niches, which contained impressive sculptures, located high up on top of the Parthenon. One pediment is located on the east side of the building and another on the west. The sculptures on the east pediment tell the tale of the birth of the goddess Athena, while those on the west depict a battle between Athena and the god Poseidon to determine who would be the patron deity of Athens. The size of the sculptures varied depending on how close they were to the apex (the highest point) of the triangle.
The most impressive pediment sculptures that are part of the Elgin Marbles come from the east side and illustrate reactions to the birth of Athena.
According to myth, Athena was the daughter of Zeus and the goddess Metis. Zeus was afraid that Athena would become more powerful than him so he swallowed Metis whole while she was pregnant. This did not stop the pregnancy and Athena became so big that Zeus’ head was split open with an axe by the Greek blacksmith god Hephaestus, and the goddess was born.
Unfortunately, the sculptures depicting the head-blowing birth have not survived but the sculptures that are part of the Elgin Marbles do show the reactions of Greek deities to the birth. British Museum curator Ian Jenkins notes in his book “The Parthenon Sculptures” (Harvard University Press, 2007) that Athena was born “at daybreak” and sculptures show “the sun-god Helios and the heads of two of his four horses,” emerging from the floor of the pediment, rising “as if from the sea.”
Also observing the event is a nude image of Dionysus, god of wine and revelry, who is shown reclining and apparently enjoying a cup of wine, as if toasting the birth. To the right are two seated goddesses who, Jenkins says, are probably Demeter and her daughter Persephone, while further to the right is a heavily draped Greek girl, apparently a mortal human, who has taken flight after viewing the event.
Three goddess sculptures taken by Elgin would have been positioned to the right of the lost birth scene, Jenkins says. One of them, possibly Aphrodite, is lying down, rather sensually, on the lap of another goddess, “stretching long in her body revealing drapery, which moulds itself like wet tissue to her ample form,” Jenkins writes. Further to the right is the head of a horse that belongs to the lunar goddess Selene, the beast is clearly exhausted from helping pull the chariot of the deity through the night sky.
The contrast between the gods in this pediment, who appear to be taking the birth of Athena in stride, and that of the mortal Greek girl, who appears to be fleeing, is striking.
Jenkins notes that above the columns of the Parthenon there are panels carved in “high relief” each roughly four feet (1.3 meters) in width and height. They depict scenes from Greek mythology and numbered 92 in antiquity (15 are now part of the Elgin Marbles).
The examples in London come from the south of the Parthenon. They depict a battle between centaurs, creatures that are half-human and half-horse, and a legendary people known as the “Lapith.”
According to legend, the battle depicted in the Metopes broke out during a wedding feast held by the Lapith king Pirithous. The centaurs who were invited got drunk and tried to rape the Lapith women and boys. The fight was then on, “in one extraordinary slab a triumphant centaur rises up on its hind legs, exulting over the crumpled body of the Greek it has defeated,” writes Boston University professor Fred Kleiner in “Gardner’s Art through the Ages” (13th edition, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010).
Wrapping around the top exterior of the Parthenon is a frieze carved in low relief. Originally covering about 524 feet (160 meters), about half of it is now part of the Elgin Marbles in London. It depicts a mythical procession of sorts set during the Panathenaic Festival in celebration of Athena.
The procession includes chariot races, people riding on horses, cows about to be sacrificed, girls and young women carrying ritual items, marshals supervising the procession and, of course, gods. Jenkins notes that Hermes, the son of Zeus and “runner of divine errands” is shown with a “sunhat” resting on his knee while Dionysus, god of wine, puts his “drunken arm” on Hermes shoulder. Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, has her chin on her head. She looks sad because her daughter, Persephone, has been “carried off to be bride of Hades in the underworld,” Jenkins writes. “All powerful Zeus, meanwhile, leans his arm imperiously over the back of his throne.”
There is a longstanding debate over whether the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece. When Lord Elgin removed the sculptures, Athens was under the control of the Ottoman Empire and had been for more than 300 years. In 1832, after a war of independence, and nearly two decades after the sculptures were removed, Greece gained its independence.
The British Museum’s position is that at the time Lord Elgin removed the sculptures, in the first decade of the 19th century, he got proper permission from the Ottoman authorities.
“In 1801 he was granted a firman (licence and letter of instruction) as a diplomatic gesture in gratitude for Britain’s defeat of French forces in Egypt, then a dominion of the Ottoman Empire. The firman required the Turkish authorities in Athens not to hinder Elgin’s employees in their drawing, modelling, erection of scaffolding and also allowed them to ‘take away any pieces of stone with inscriptions or figures’,” says the British Museum in a statement.
“A final firman, secured by Sir Robert Adair (Ambassador in Istanbul) in February 1810 from the same authority as the earlier firman, instructed the authorities in Athens to allow the embarkation of all the remaining antiquities collected by Lord Elgin.”
The museum also argues that time had not been kind to the sculptures and Elgin had good reason to be concerned for their safety. In 1687, the Parthenon had been used by the Ottomans for gunpowder storage and the structure was badly damaged in an explosion when a Venetian force attacked the city.
The Greek government has a different view on Elgin’s actions.
“Concurrently, by showering Turks in Constantinople and Athens with gifts and money and by using methods of bribery and fraud Elgin persuaded the Turkish dignitaries in Athens to turn a blind eye while his craftsmen removed those parts of the Parthenon they particularly liked. Elgin never acquired the permission to remove the sculptural and architectural decoration of the monument by the authority of the Sultan himself, who alone could have issued such a permit,” writes the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in a statement.
“He simply made use of a friendly letter from the Kaimakam, a Turkish officer, who at the time was replacing the Grand Vizier in Constantinople. This letter, handed out unofficially as a favour, could only urge the Turkish authorities in Athens to allow Elgin’s men to make drawings, take casts and conduct excavations around the foundations of the Parthenon, where some part of an inscription or relief might be buried, with the inevitable proviso that no harm be caused to the monuments.” They also argue that in removing the monuments Elgin’s team caused “considerable damage” to the sculptures and Parthenon itself.
So far the British Museum has given no indication that it intends to repatriate the sculptures but the Greek government is determined to pursue the case.
“The case of Parthenon is absolutely distinctive. The reunion of the Marbles is our debt of honor towards history,” said Georgios Voulgarakis, then minister of culture, in a 2006 speech. “The museums ought to meet their moral obligations towards the cultural and spiritual coherence of the United Europe.”
— Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
I have to say that I completely disagree with the general approach that this article advocates – which could be summarised, as something like: Wealthy Museums of the West (along with the countries in which they are based) can now use their disputed artefacts as bargaining chips, to secure political / cultural changes in the countries of the original owners.
If somebody robs your house, should that then give them the upper hand in securing some form of change in your lifestyle, before agreeing to return the items that they took?
Quite what gives these museums the right to enforce change on countries in this way is unclear, other than being down to the fact that they were fortunate enough to know people dis-reputable enough to have managed to acquire the artefacts in the first place – hardly a great endorsement for their policies, or for taking the moral high ground.
Looted art – hostage or weapon against terror?
Exclusive: Marisa Martin suggests U.S. start using its diplomacy tool
Published: 12/12/2012 at 8:58 PM
Vikings stormed Britain, while Mongols left Bagdad a culture-free zone. Warlords came, saw and trashed all the books and statues while they were at it. Even now someone is whacking away at the ankles of a limestone Buddha in India or Bangladesh.
Have times changed for the better?
Napoleon revitalized looting trends by demanding art from conquered Italians and churches. Since then, the Captains of Genocide have handled the art of their victims differently, particularly the Nazis. Probably the most prolific war thieves ever, they discarded entire races whiles secreting their art in stashes all over the globe. Art Loss Register, an international database, lists 300,000 missing and stolen artworks with approximately 85 percent occurring before 1945, not coincidentally with the demise of the Nazis.
Legal snares from decades of restoration attempts leave museums and collectors in a tortuous knot of complications.
But this trap springs both ways.
Recently Turkey demanded that several prestigious U.S. museums return art they claim is legitimately theirs. If Harvard and the Getty, Metropolitan and Cleveland Museums only huddle to debate their options, they’re missing a massive opportunity handed to them on a marble muse (circa 200 B.C.).
Art and artifacts of ancient cultures only increase in value with time. A nation’s pride can be wrapped in these tangibles – in statues, religious works, paintings, furnishings and manuscripts. The United Nations and other political bodies recognize this and at times call up security-intelligence services to protect cultural properties and religious sites if armed conflict seems imminent.
Not to sound Machiavellian here, but the fact remains that possession of art and artifacts that belong to someone else forces them to negotiate with you. You have the upper hand. When the petitioning nation is run by a group of genocidal lunatics, this could be a good thing if used for a righteous cause. My opinion is, of course, terribly politically incorrect.
I can think of several scenarios concerning the demands from Turkey. Assuming the Metropolitan, et al, agree the disputed items should not stay in the U.S., we could set up a “cultural exchange.” Turkey admits to planning, abetting and covering up the first real genocide of the 20th century. Everyone knows they did it, and it’s about time they admitted it. The Turks get their property back, and Armenians may feel a little less grieved over the slaughter of all their grandparents. People may even want to visit Turkey again – it could happen.
For those who see a crass misuse of art, quite the contrary, this validates the actual, tangible and cultural value of art. Why should the U.S. hand over something to satisfy the demands of an uncivilized government (i.e. who could murder a million people and lie for 105 years about it)?
Art can be used as a bargaining chip, leverage toward peace and a cultural “weapon” for good behavior. Passively obeying every dictate of the world courts without considering ethical concerns only lines the pockets of lawyers with gold and makes a lot of our avowed enemies happy.
Apparently the U.S. military generally makes efforts to avoid destruction of culturally significant areas in an effort to gain goodwill.
Unfortunately they didn’t post guards to the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, and televisions kept us well informed of the subsequent looting and destruction. Proving the attachment people have to their history for good or evil, Iraq is now requesting Westerners who hold pieces of Saddam Hussein’s dismembered statue to please return the body parts, thank you.
If you thought the Taliban was only comprised of boy-raping, girl-shooting, opiated bigots with guns, you’d be entirely correct. But they also own art and connections in the U.N. to protect their assets.
Erik Nemeth, writing a fascinating piece for the Rand Corporation, reveals that in the late 1990s the Taliban and Afghanistan Northern Alliance established a “secure location” for their “artifacts” through UNESCO. The “Afghanistan Museum-in-Exile” in Budendorf, Switzerland, used the world’s fees for these kindly deeds. Good to know they did such careful estate planning before flying jets into our buildings.
Feeling much more stable by 2006, they’ve since hauled their goodies back to Afghanistan for safe-keeping. The Taliban wasn’t terrifically concerned over their national heritage during the entire 1978–92 war with the Soviets and apparently planned quite the carnage in advance of 9/11. Tellingly, the most valued item reported from more than 1,400 returned is a “ceremonial glass phallus” believed to have been personally handled by Alexander the Great.
Last summer the EU banned export of art to Syria, which is also on the list of sanctioned nations for the U.S. This follows escalation of strategies against President Bashar Al-Assad and his regime by the West, and he is also one of President Obama’s personal targets.
Assad’s British-born wife, Asma, particularly incensed gallery owners and museums with a blitz of ostentatious spending on art, jewelry and haute couture in the middle of a bloody civil war. I admit I find her 100-megawatt, permasmile rather nauseating and inappropriate myself. Unless a shortage of shopping quickly drives Asma to suicide and her husband to madness, this won’t bring down the Assad regime, but it does serve a symbolic purpose.
There haven’t been many complaints against this prohibition on art and luxury goods, among other sanctions enjoined by world leaders. An exception is Marc Mouarkech, the director of a Beirut gallery.
Riah Pryor quotes Mouarkech in The Art Newspaper: “A ban on art between two countries is always a shame. [It puts] barriers between cultural exchange.”
This is actually the purpose, a barrier, an expression of moral outrage and contempt whether deserved or not. Israel has certainly been on the receiving end for years, particularly her academics, who have been boycotted en masse by the left. Apparently they think it works.
PBS published an October essay by Gerardo Contino, where an astute conservative could easily fill in the blanks verbatim before they ever read it. Full of expected cautionary woes, it lists dangers of the “deep toll from cultural heritage and the arts” if the U.S. continues its negative “economic pressures” on Iran.
While sounding plausible, Contino’s missing the Queen Mary for the flotsam of liberal thinking. If Ahmadinejad keeps hanging dissenters and dementedly promoting WWIII, there will be no Iranian culture to preserve. I truly pity any Christian, artist, free thinker or decent human being trapped in Iran at the moment.
North Korea suffers various sanctions by sundry groups and deservedly so. Some question if the lack of modern art, Gucci handbags and Jim Beam holds any real sting for the ruling class in Pyongyang. But if they have a tougher time digging up something impressive to lord over their enslaved population, it’s working just fine.
The Neferti bust is one of the most high profile artefacts that Egypt is requesting the return of. Germany’s latest actions only draw attention to this case though, by organising a special exhibition to commemorate the fact that it is 100 years since they acquired the artefact.
The Bust of Nefertiti: Remembering Ancient Egypt’s Famous Queen
By Ishaan Tharoor
Dec. 06, 2012
On a sunny afternoon on Dec. 6, 1912, an Egyptian worker at a dig along the banks of the Nile came across what may be the most striking find in the history of Egyptology. Ludwig Borchardt, the German archaeologist in charge of the excavation, scribbled excitedly in his diary a century ago: “The tools were put aside, and the hands were now used … It took a considerable amount of time until the whole piece was completely freed from all the dirt and rubble.” What emerged was a 3,300-year-old limestone bust of an ancient queen, colored with a gypsum lacquer. A flat-topped crown perched above a finely defined brow. Her cheekbones were high, nose distinguished. A thin, elegant neck — some now describe it “swanlike” — rose from the bust’s base. “We held the most lively piece of Egyptian art in our hands,” wrote Borchardt.
The bust is of Nefertiti, queen of Egypt and wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who reigned in the 14th century B.C. A hundred years after Nefertiti’s bust was lifted out of the ground at Amarna, some 480 km south of Cairo, it remains one of the most iconic figures of Egyptian antiquity, far smaller than the pyramids or the Sphinx, but no less globally resonant. The bust adorns souvenir schlock throughout Egypt and history schoolbooks worldwide. When it went on display at a museum in Berlin in the 1920s, it was almost immediately held up as a symbol of universal, timeless beauty. That’s not surprising. Nefertiti’s name means “the beautiful one has come.”
But she’s much more than a pretty face. The queen and the bust that made her famous in our time are both fascinating stories — with endings that are still shrouded in uncertainty. Little is known of Nefertiti’s origins save that she was born outside the royal family, the daughter of the pharaoh’s vizier. She married Amenhotep IV, who inherited a vast, rich empire from his father Amenhotep III that stretched from the Nubian wastes to the river lands of Syria. Theirs was a moment of relative stability, with trade, not conquest, filling Egypt’s coffers.
Yet Nefertiti and her husband were for centuries virtually wiped off the historical record; it’s only once archaeologists in the early 20th century started excavations of their capital complex at Amarna that they loomed out of the dark of the past. The reason, it seems, was a move taken by Nefertiti’s husband to abandon the cults of certain gods — and the bloated, powerful priesthoods that surrounded them — in favor of worship of just one abstracted figure: Aten, a god represented as a sun disk. Amenhotep IV assumed the name Akhenaten, or “one devoted to Aten,” and he and Nefertiti arguably became the world’s first monotheists. There are other moments in history when a royal takes such a daring ideological turn — Byzantine Emperor Julian forsook Christianity for Greek polytheism and philosophy; Mogul Emperor Akbar embraced the din-e-ilahi, a cosmological religion that melded Hinduism and Islam — but Akhenaten stands out for seeming so uncharacteristically modern in such an ancient moment. That modernity is reinforced by the outsize role played by Nefertiti. Friezes, steles and inscriptions all make clear that she was firmly at Akhenaten’s side, and sometimes even standing before him. In one image found on blocks at the site of Hermopolis, Nefertiti is cast in the classic role of a male conqueror, grabbing her enemies and captives by the hair while smiting them with a mace.
Historians and archaeologists now puzzle over whether she ruled on in the wake of her husband’s death. But evidence is spotty. Much of the artwork and symbolism of their rule was erased by reactionary successors who restored polytheistic worship to the court. Unlike many ancient Egyptian royals, archaeologists have yet to identify their mummies, though speculation has been rife in recent years.
Nefertiti’s bust, then, remains the most vivid artifact from their reign. It was found by Borchardt’s excavation in the studio of the court sculptor Thutmose and, it seems, whisked out of the country to Germany swiftly thereafter. That appropriation was in theory legal — the Europeans who dominated Egypt at the time as a colonial protectorate also ran the administration of its antiquities. When Egyptian authorities realized what sort of treasure had been taken from them, they petitioned Berlin for its return. Hitler’s Nazi government, which came to power in 1933, planned to return it to Egypt’s King Fuad until Hitler had a change of heart. “Do you know what I’m going to do one day? I’m going to build a new Egyptian museum in Berlin,” Hitler wrote in a letter to the Egyptians. “I dream of it. Inside I will build a chamber, crowned by a large dome. In the middle, this wonder, Nefertiti will be enthroned. I will never relinquish the head of the queen.”
This particular architectural fancy of Hitler didn’t come to pass, and Nefertiti’s bust found itself hidden in a salt mine for much of World War II. It’s now on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin. But for years, it hasn’t rest easy. Like the Elgin Marbles, the bust has become one of the totemic objects of a global conversation on culture and who owns it. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s outspoken, controversial antiquarian in chief, campaigned in recent years for the object’s return to Egypt and was repeatedly turned aside by the Germans, who insist that the bust is both legally in their possession and in too fragile a state to be moved. His last demand was issued on Jan. 24, 2011: “I am doing something that I believe in and that should have been done a hundred years ago,” Hawass told reporters. A day later, Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution kicked off, and Hawass’s boss, President Hosni Mubarak, was soon toppled. Hawass himself has since lost his government perch, and the momentum for Nefertiti’s return has faded in the wake of Egypt’s other, far more immediate upheavals.
Nefertiti’s bust sits alone in Berlin, the centerpiece of an exhibition now commemorating its discovery. Defenders of global museums insist that no one nation has an exclusive right over the legacy of the past. “There are artworks that belong to our collective consciousness — Nefertiti is such a work,” said German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann, at the exhibit’s opening. Looking at Nefertiti’s serene face — Borchardt claimed it was “the epitome of tranquility and harmony” — one wonders what she would have thought.
The Local (Germany)
Row continues: Nefertiti 100 yrs in German hands
Published: 6 Dec 12 06:56 CET
Berlin opens a major new exhibition on Thursday celebrating the centenary of the discovery of the 3,400-year-old fabled bust of Egypt’s Queen Nefertiti, while a feud with Cairo over who owns it rages on.
The show at the city’s New Museum showcases its most famous treasure – often said to be the most priceless depiction of the female visage after the Mona Lisa – and other booty carted home by German archaeologists after the December 6, 1912 find.
These include never-before-seen jewels of the Amarna period unearthed at the time by Ludwig Borchardt, and loans from institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris and London’s British Museum.
“There are artworks that belong to our collective consciousness – Nefertiti is such a work,” German Culture Minister Bernd Neumann told reporters at a preview of the show entitled “In the Light of Amarna”.
Nefertiti, renowned as one of history’s great beauties, was the powerful wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton, remembered for having converted his kingdom to monotheism with the worship of one sun god, Aton.
The sculpture, so fragile and valuable it is barred from being lent out, is the biggest draw at the museum, which was reopened in 2009 after a major restoration by British star architect David Chipperfield and now draws about a million visitors a year.
The limestone and plaster bust, dramatically displayed at the end of a long corridor under a dim spotlight, is stunning for its almond-shaped eyes – the right of which is missing the iris, aquiline nose, high cheekbones, sensuous lips and lofty blue crown with a band of red, grey and gold.
Its chipped ears are, remarkably, the only significant sign of damage exacted over the centuries.
The sculpture is at the top of a “wish list” of five major artifacts exhibited abroad that Egypt wants returned.
The campaign to get it back, which was spearheaded by former antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, has waned since the Arab Spring as Egypt grapples with more existential issues.
But officials in Berlin suggested that the dispute was rumbling on behind the scenes, despite what it said were documents proving the bust was bought legally by the former Prussian state.
“To head off any questions, let me say there is no doubt that Nefertiti rightfully belongs to the Berlin state cultural heritage foundation,” Neumann said.
He said endlessly competing ownership claims would only lead to “chaos” and insisted that Berlin took seriously its responsibility to preserve the bust for eternity.
“The real question of to whom Nefertiti belongs is easily answered – to us all,” he said.
The director of Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, housed in the New Museum, Friederike Seyfried, said the Arab Spring’s upheaval had prevented scholarly cooperation with Egypt on the show and said she wished this could resume soon.
“I hope the political situation stabilises there and doesn’t go in a direction we would regret,” she said.
Amarna refers to the ruins of an ancient city founded by Akhenaton, where Borchardt and his team excavated more than 7,000 archaeological objects, about 5,500 of which made their way to Berlin.
The Berlin show will run until April 13 and features more than 1,000 of these objects including jewellery, ceramics and floor tiles from the royal palace featuring elaborate floral garlands.
A bust of Akhenaton which was restored especially for the exhibition is another keenly awaited highlight.
The show covers the art of the era, including discoveries from the sculpture workshop of Thutmose who is believed to have crafted Nefertiti, as well as the daily life of Amarna’s citizens.
And it sheds new light on the work of James Simon, Borchardt’s Jewish benefactor, whose contributions were largely eliminated from the historical record under the Nazis.
Yet again, Turkey is in the news with a resolved restitution case. This time, it involves the Dallas Museum of Art. Interestingly though, the museum was the one that contacted Turkey after discovery that the artefact might have been looted – although whether this was as a pre-emptive move, knowing that they would be contacted by Turkey about it is unclear.
DALLAS MUSEUM RETURNS LOOTED MOSAIC TO TURKEY
By Culturekiosque Staff
DALLAS, TEXAS, 3 DECEMBER 2012 — The Dallas Museum of Art today signed a memorandum of understanding with the Turkish Director General for Cultural Heritage and Museums O. Murat Süslü, marking the first initiative in the Dallas Museum of Art’s new DMX international exchange program. DMX (Dallas Museum Exchange) is designed to establish international collaborations for the loan of works of art and sharing of expertise in conservation, exhibitions, education, and new media.
The DMA contacted Turkish officials earlier this year when the Museum discovered evidence that a work in the collection — the Orpheus Mosaic — might have been stolen from an archaeological site in Turkey. With the Museum’s planning for the DMX program already underway, the DMA’s engagement with Turkey regarding the mosaic opened the lines of communication that led to Turkey becoming the Museum’s first partner in the DMX program. As part of today’s ceremony for the signing of the MOU, the DMA returned the Orpheus Mosaic to the Turkish officials. The Republic of Turkey considers the voluntary return of the mosaic a sign of good faith, and both parties will undertake to continue their collaboration with museological education, conservation, symposia, and important loan exhibitions.
Under the leadership of Maxwell L. Anderson, who joined the Dallas Museum of Art as The Eugene McDermott Director in January 2012, the DMA has launched a number of initiatives in addition to the DMX program: the new Friends & Partners membership program; a program in paintings conservation; a new staff appointment in the field of Islamic art; and a Laboratory for Museum Innovation with seed capital to develop collaborative pilot projects in the areas of collection access, visitor engagement, and digital publishing. The Museum is also at work to link the Dallas Arts District — the nation’s largest — with other cultural districts worldwide. The initiatives grow out of Anderson’s vision to deepen relationships with audiences at home and abroad, a belief in promoting cross-cultural exchange, and a commitment to developing new models for international collaboration that extends back to his first museum directorship in 1987, when he headed the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta.
“As arts organizations in the United States and around the world address questions regarding cultural heritage, I have long believed there is a crucial opportunity to shift the terms of these discussions from an adversarial to a collaborative approach,” said Anderson. “We initiated the conversation with Turkish officials in this spirit, and the agreement with Turkey to become the Museum’s first partner in the DMX program speaks to the possibilities inherent in this approach to international cultural exchange. We are honored and excited to enter into this agreement with our Turkish colleagues and look forward to our ongoing partnership.”
“We are proud to be the first partner in the Dallas Museum of Art’s new Dallas Museum Exchange program, and to share the rich cultural heritage and artistic achievements of the Turkish people with the people of Texas and the United States,” said O. Murat Süslü, Director General for Cultural Heritage and Museums. “We also want to express our appreciation to the Museum for its ethical perspective during negotiations regarding the Orpheus Mosaic. With actual photos of the looting in progress that we were able to present, it could not be clearer that this ancient work was stolen from its archaeological site. We are very pleased the mosaic will return to Turkey, and equally pleased to enter this ongoing relationship with the Dallas Museum of Art. ”
The Orpheus Mosaic originally decorated the floor of a Roman building near Edessa, in what is modern-day Turkey. The work dates from A.D. 194 and measures 64 3/4 inches by 60 inches. It depicts the mythic poet Orpheus playing his lyre as he sits on a rock surrounded by wild animals, which are tamed by the magic power of his music. According to myth, Orpheus used his lyre to gain entry to the underworld, where he went in search of his dead wife, Eurydice.
The mosaic was purchased by the DMA in 1999 at public auction. Funds for the purchase were the gift of David T. Owsley via the Alconda-Owsley Foundation, and two anonymous donors, in honor of Nancy B. Hamon.
This year the Museum uncovered information indicating that the work might have been stolen from its archaeological site. The DMA alerted Turkish officials that the work was in the Museum’s collection and requested information on whether the object had been illegally removed from that country. Additional conclusive photographic evidence provided by Turkey documented the looting of the mosaic, proving the work had been stolen, and the DMA offered to restitute the work. The work was returned at a ceremony marking the signing of an agreement between the DMA and Turkey for ongoing collaboration as the first partnership in the Museum’s new DMX program.
In October the DMA announced the appointment of Sabiha Al Khemir as the Museum’s first Senior Advisor of Islamic Art. Dr. Al Khemir, the founding director of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, will support Anderson and senior staff in building the Museum’s DMX partnerships. Dr. Al Khemir will also travel worldwide to further the Museum’s connections with the great collections of Islamic art across the world. The arts of Indonesia and the Philippines will be a particular focus, to complement and enhance the DMA’s collection strength in this area.
While many disagree with the concept of the Universal Museum, without an international legal framework in place, few challenges relating to pre-1970 acquisitions by such museums have yet been successful. The odd exceptions to this involve items such as Nazi loot, which are covered by different national laws in many countries.
Now, Turkey is putting pressure on the Met – not on recently acquired artefacts, but on items which left Turkey long before the 1970 cut off date. It will be interesting to see how much success they have with this – threats to withdraw cooperation have been criticised by the museums as blackmail – but it still represents a clear obstacle to the museums that must be negotiated around.
Turkey’s restitution dispute with the Met challenges the ‘universal museum’
Turkey is flexing its cultural, as well as its economic and military muscles. But objects of art outlive the ambitions of nation states
Sunday 7 October 2012 14.00 BST
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, like most institutions of its size in the US and Europe, has seen its fair share of lawsuits and controversies surrounding its collection. It returned nearly two dozen antiquities to Italy in 2006, as well as work acquired via Nazi looting.
But now the Met is facing a very different kind of restitution battle. The Turkish government is insisting it is the rightful owner of 18 objects from the collection of Norbert Schimmel, a Met trustee and one of the last century’s most astute collectors of Mediterranean antiquities.
Unlike the Italian claim, and unlike in the cases of Holocaust victims’ families, the proof here is scant to nonexistent. What’s more, both the US and Turkey are signatories to a Unesco convention stating that if a cultural object left the country in which it was produced before the year 1970, then it’s free to circulate. That cutoff date puts almost all the Met’s antiquities in the clear.
But Turkey doesn’t care, it now seems: it’s citing its own law, more than a century old, to insist that the artifacts belong to it.
You might be tempted to dismiss these claims as antique, gold-hilted saber-rattling. But the Turkish culture ministry can apply formidable pressure. It’s nearly impossible these days for a museum like the Met to mount an ambitious exhibition without the permission, and sometimes the aid, of national governments; and Turkey is now blocking loans to museums it says have what’s rightfully its.
This year’s Met mega-exhibition of Byzantine art had to make do without Turkish loans (though the Met’s curators coyly say they never wanted any). So did the British Museum’s spring show about the Hajj: while Turkish museums agreed to lend 35 objects to the BM, the culture ministry shut the lending down. Ankara is also playing hardball with the Louvre, the V&A, the Pergamon and pretty much every other encyclopedic museum in the west.
Museum officials are calling this blackmail. They may have a point but it’s one inflected with a deep irony. Rich people take poor people’s stuff – such is the arc of history. But guess who’s got the money now?
The Turkish economy has come down from the vertiginous heights of 2010 and 2011, when annual growth exceeded 8%, but the country remains one of the only economic winners of the past few years – Turkey is ready to play in the big time. It’s already at the top table of geopolitics (the G20) and defense (Nato). Its failure to get into the EU now looks like a blessing in disguise. Its retaliation against Syria this past week marks not only its military might, but also US and EU dependence on Turkey in a region changing too fast for western diplomats to handle. And now, naturally, Turkey wants to make their mark in the cultural sphere as well.
“Artifacts have souls and historical memories,” according to Ertugrul Gunay, Turkey’s pugnacious culture minister. “When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.”
That nationalistic statement puts Turkey in the vanguard of a troubling tendency, one seen everywhere from Israel to China: that the nation state has an infinite claim to a cultural heritage that may date back thousands of years before the state’s foundation. Gunay’s appeal to the “balance of nature” is telling. He conceives of the nation state as something organic, an unchanging territorial bond, rather than a relatively recent phenomenon in world history.
It’s worth recalling that the Turks, or at least their historical ancestors, were involved in the hottest cultural property dispute of them all. The tussle over the Elgin Marbles, in the British Museum, is usually seen as an Anglo-Greek affair. But of course, it was the Ottoman Empire that took Elgin’s money, and it’s Ottoman documents that, so say the Brits, prove the legality of Elgin’s “purchase” (more like bribe).
But that case only highlights that when it comes to cultural restitution, national boundaries are not very helpful guides. Cultures are not ahistorical and immutable. They change all the time. And they certainly don’t line up easily with the borders on our maps, to say nothing of the governments that delimit them.
I’m hardly against restitution when the case is clear. The Met and the Turks have actually been here before, under different circumstances, though America’s few remaining arts desks have failed to mention it. Back in 1993, the museum settled out of court with the Turkish government to return a collection of over 300 gold and silver objects, which the Turks convincingly demonstrated had been stolen. The artifacts, known collectively as the Lydian Hoard, are now exhibited in the western Turkish city of Usak. Their return to Turkey angered some of the die-hard defenders of the universal museum, and their case was bolstered by the revelation that fewer than a thousand people visited the treasures over five whole years.
The universal museum, a legacy of western imperialism, is always going to be disputed. In the case of the Lydian Hoard, though, the situation was plain: no appeal to Enlightenment values and educational imperatives could justify the purchase of clearly stolen objects. The Schimmel collection is a wholly different case. What’s at issue is not justice and fairness, but nationalism and power.
The small crimes of theft and looting, when they can be demonstrated, should be put right. But there’s no way to dismantle the whole museum, just as there’s no way to turn back the clock on imperialism and war.
Turkey should know this, of course. Tellingly, while the Turkish cultural authorities are keen to get their hands on the Met’s antiquities, they’re much less forthcoming about the collections in their own museums – good fractions of which come from Lebanon, Greece, the former Yugoslavia and other regions once controlled by the Ottoman Empire. If they’re not careful, the next collections in dispute might be their own.
The return of the Mausoleum of Halicarnasus from the British Museum has been one of Turkey’s longest running restitution claims, but so far with no signs of success.
Hurriyet Daily News
Bodrum seeks return of mausoleum pieces
MUĞLA – Anatolia News Agency
Some pieces from Bodrum’s famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus are on display at the British Museum, and work continues to bring them back to Turkey. Lawyer Remzi Kazmaz recently spoke about the mausoleum at a press conference
Work continues to get parts of Bodrum’s Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, which are currently kept at the British Museum in London, returned to Turkey.
Two of the seven wonders of the ancient world were located in Anatolia; one of which was the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and the other the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in what is now Bodrum, in the Aegean province of Muğla, lawyer and film producer Remzi Kazmaz said. Kazmaz spoke at a press conference held in Bodrum last week to launch his film, “Aşkın Mabedi Mausoleum” (Mausoleum: the Temple of Love), which is based on Kazmaz’s book of the same title.
Some pieces of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum were sent to the British Museum in Ottoman times, Kazmaz said. “These pieces belong to us. They belong to Anatolian history and culture, but they are at the British Museum. The people of Bodrum want these pieces back.”
Non-governmental organizations have collected 118,000 signatures on a petition requesting that those artifacts smuggled abroad be returned to the country legally, and have presented them to the Culture Ministry, Kazmaz said. “These artifacts do not have any meaning when they are abroad, away from their original location. They can only be restored and have value here.”
There are two methods that could be used to bring the artwork back to Turkey, Chamber of Shipping (DTO) Bodrum branch member Arif Yılmaz said, speaking at the press conference. “First of all, we will ask to have the artwork in order to display it. In this way, the world will see where the pieces look more beautiful. The second method would be — if [the British Museum] claims [Turkey] gave these artifacts to them as a gift — we will file a suit against the sultan who gifted the artifacts, because he did not have right to give government property as a gift. They defend themselves by saying, ‘These were given to us as a gift; we did not steal or smuggle them. That is why we cannot return them.’ We will work to get the artifacts displayed in Bodrum.”
Osman Demirci, an actor who appears in the film “Aşkın Mabedi Mausoleum,” said he had visited Britain some time ago and saw the pieces from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in the back rooms of the museum. “These pieces of art are not being displayed in a frequently visited section of the museum.”
Turkey has had many recent successes in retrieving disputed artefacts from abroad. This has not been without controversy though – there are many who feel that Turkey is applying different rules, depending on how it suits them, and highlight the problems such as the misappropriation of Armenian art by Turkey as an example of this.
Looters or Landlords?
Posted GMT 10-4-2012 0:11:55
Since Fatih Sultan Mohammed occupied Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman rulers have been destroying and desecrating churches, castles, architectural monuments of Hittites, Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other nationalities who had been the indigenous people of Asia Minor, occupied and ruled through blood and sword.
Now, all of a sudden, the destroyers of all these cultures presume to be landlords, claiming treasures originated in Asia Minor to be returned to the present government of Turkey. Those artifacts and treasures which have been preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the Louvre and Pergamon Museum have been saved from the Turks themselves, becoming part of the legacy of human civilization. Had they been left in the hands of the Turks, they would have been doomed to suffer the same fate as the 2,000 Armenian churches, monasteries and architectural monuments which were systematically destroyed and rendered into ashes. After 200,000 Armenians escaped from Van in 1915, the Turkish Army burned tens of thousands of illuminated manuscripts and Bibles on the island monastery of Leem in Lake Akhtamar.
All that barbarism was tolerated and permitted by the Western powers because of political expediency, fueling the arrogance of the Turks, in turn, to get back at the West, which had saved antiquities from Turkish-Ottoman plundering hands in the first place.
The latest example was the destruction of thousands of khachkars in Jugha, Nakhichevan, now an exclave ruled by Azerbaijan, by the Azeri Turks in broad daylight; not one finger was raised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) or other agencies or governments despite protests by Armenia’s government.
Also, in a cynical condescension towards small nations, the British Museum and other museums stubbornly keep mislabeling Kutahya tiles or the head of Diana (Anahid, “The Satala Aphrodite,”) as Seljuk art or any other label in the name of academic propriety, rather than ascribing it to the Armenian talents and skills which are the true creators of those treasures.
As late as this year, UNESCO refused to label Armenian architectural monuments in Europe their true name during an exhibition, giving in to Turkish threats. That policy today has opened up the major museums in the West to Turkish threats and lawsuits.
In a front-page article on October 1, the New York Times covers Turkish arrogance under the title “Turkey Demands Return of Art, Alarming World’s Museums.” Museum curators consider Turkey’s newfound aggressiveness “cultural blackmail.”
At issue are many art treasures originating in the countries occupied by Ottoman rulers. Mr. Murat Suslu, director-general of cultural heritage and museums, says, “we only want back what is rightfully ours.”
“The Turks are engaging in polemics and nasty politics,” answers Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage
Foundation, which oversees the Pergamon in Berlin. “They should be careful about making moral claims when their museums are full of looted treasures.”
One example of such looted treasures is a sarcophagus named after Alexander the Great, which was discovered in Sidon, Lebanon, in 1887, and is now in Istanbul’s Archeological Museum. According to Mr. Suslu the sarcophagus was legally Turkey’s because it had been excavated on territory that belonged to Turkey at the time.
With the same warped logic, Turkey can claim all the Armenian churches and art treasures in Jerusalem, because at one time Jerusalem was under Ottoman rule.
There are no firm international laws that govern the ownership of art treasures originating from different parts of the world which are now preserved in museums in the West. There is a UNESCO convention that allows museums to acquire objects that were outside their countries of origin before 1970.
Turkey wants its cake and to eat it. Although it has ratified the convention in 1981, it still cites a 1906 Ottoman law to claim any object removed after that date as its own.
Since Turkey selectively wishes to use its Ottoman heritage, than it has to recognize the Ottoman Genocide against the Armenians, which not only destroyed millions of human lives but also the cultural heritage of that subject nation.
Turkey, using its double standard, has been successfully suing Western museums and retrieving major pieces of art for its own museums.
For example, in 2011, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston returned the top half of an 1,800-year-old statute, “Weary Herakles,” which is an example of Greek cultural heritage.
Throughout history, the Turks have not been known as creators in the fields of art and culture; they are rather known as destroyers of culture, valuing militarism and brute force. But since they have realized belatedly that art and culture have some monetary value in the form of tourism in their country, they are aggressively going after treasures originating in the land they presently occupy.
This is a dangerous precedent. If it is not stopped in its track, the Turks may go after all Armenian treasures around the world, claiming by the same logic and citing the Ottoman law that those works had originated in territories under Ottoman rule.
Especially in Turkey’s case, UNESCO and the UN have to declare the universal ownership of treasures created by Armenians and other nationalities but occupied or looted by the Turks. Turkey must be held accountable for the destruction of Armenian cultural monuments on its occupied soil which to this day are kept in ruins. Those ancient churches and monuments that belong to the Armenians must be declared part of human civilization and thus warrant some protection from further damage.
Otherwise, looters and plunderers will present themselves as owners of a cultural heritage, which does not belong to them and which has been abused by them for centuries.
The irony is that the looters have become landlords under the tolerant gaze of the civilized world which is delinquent in its duty of preserving universal treasures of humanity.
By Edmond Y. Azadian
Like a lot of the recent posts I’ve made, this was meant to be posted ages ago, but wasn’t.
Anyway – its interesting, as it indicates that the current Greek government wants to deal seriously with the issue of the Parthenon Marbles. However, it shoudl be noted that this is not an independent committee such as Marbles Reunited or the Australian Committee or many others around the world. This committee is instead more of a steering group – of special advisors to the Minister of culture.
I still believe that there is a need for a Greek Committee – that can get involved with raising the profile of the issue as people, rather than politicians – although I understand that the Greek Government want dealing with the issue within Greece to be seen as an issue entirely handled by the government.
Athens News Agency
>New committee established to press for return of Parthenon Marbles
Last Updated Thursday, 20 September 2012
The culture ministry on Wednesday announced that it will re-establish a special advisory committee to coordinate actions aimed at securing the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles.
The president of the Melina Mercouri Foundation, Christoforos Argyropoulos, archaeologist Eleni Korka, attorney Irini Stamatoudi, who heads the Intellectual Property Organisation, and foreign ministry representative Panos Kalogeropoulos were listed as members of the committee, announced by Alternate Culture Minister Costas Tzavaras.
“Greece’s moral right is above every objection that is based on arguments aired as mere delay tactics, and aiming to brush aside the basic principle that is universally applied, namely, the necessity of cultural monuments to be repatriated, meaning a return to the place of their origin,” Tzavaras said.
SOURCE: ATHENS NEWS AGENCY