General news items

Who owns culture - debate at the Battle of Ideas

Geoff White from the Marbles Reunited campaign is speaking at the Battle of Ideas - a series of debates in London organised by the Institute of Ideas. The discussion he is participating in is on the subject of "Who owns culture".

Losing our marbles? Who owns culture?

Sunday 31 October, 12.30pm until 1.30pm, Courtyard Gallery Battle for the Past

The ownership of the Parthenon Marbles has been disputed since their removal from Athens in the early 19th century, by Lord Elgin. Some argue the sculptures belong in Greece, where they were carved almost two and a half thousand years go. Advocates of repatriation insist that the marbles are part of the heritage of Greece, and should never have been taken in the first place. Others feel that the marbles are now part of the history of the British Museum, and point out that in their current Bloomsbury home they can be seen in relation to other cultures, as part of world history. But with the opening of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, a state-of-the-art centre, claims for their return are growing stronger.

The marbles are not the only cultural artefact under dispute. Egypt’s chief archaeologist Zahi Hawass has demanded the return of the Nefertiti bust from the Neues Museum in Berlin, and secured the return of fresco fragments from the Louvre. Supporters of repatriation claims point to the dubious manner in which Western museums acquired their collections, often through colonial looting. Critics counter that for ancient artefacts there can be no such thing as a ‘rightful’ owner: the modern Greek and Egyptian states, for example, are vastly different from those that ruled when the artefacts were excavated, let alone the empires of Ancient Greece or Egypt. Moreover, it is suggested that the insistence of seeing artefacts in their original context undermines the very idea of a museum, which involves a necessary separation from context in the service of a universalist view based on knowledge and imagination. But those in favour of repatration argue the idea that Western museums are ‘universal’ is clearly self-serving, and suggest instead that returning such ill-gotten gains would be a progressive step to healing the wounds of the past.

What effects do repatriation claims have on modern archaeology and scholarship? Can political grievances be overcome through the diplomatic use of cultural artefacts? Does the universal museum exist, even as an ideal, or should we respect local and national identities? Where do the Parthenon Marbles rightfully belong and, more importantly, who owns culture?


Dr Tiffany Jenkins

arts and society director, Institute of Ideas; sociologist; cultural commentator; author, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: the crisis of cultural authority

Dr Paul Thompson

rector and vice-provost, Royal College of Art

Karl-Erik Norrman

founder and secretary-general, European Cultural Parliament; former Swedish ambassador; author, The Meaning of Life? Football’s role in the world and The Crisis of Democracy

Geoffrey White

retired barrister; founder member, Marbles Reunited


Pauline Hadaway

director, Belfast Exposed, gallery of contemporary photography and photography resource; convenor, Belfast Salon

Produced by

Dr Tiffany Jenkins arts and society director, Institute of Ideas; sociologist; cultural commentator; author, Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: the crisis of cultural authority

Recommended readings

Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: The Crisis of Cultural Authority

Since the late 1970s human remains in museum collections have been subject to claims and controversies, such as demands for repatriation by indigenous groups who suffered under colonization. These requests have been strongly contested by scientists who research the material and consider it unique evidence.

Tiffany Jenkins, Routledge, 23 October 2010

A banana republic police HQ maybe, but not a home for the Elgin marbles

I am a restitutionist – but the new museum fails to clinch the case. It is not so much an argument as a punch in the face.

Simon Jenkins, Guardian Comment is free, 22 October 2009

Roman art thieves

Was art in ancient times always plundered art?

Mary Beard, Times Literary Supplement, 30 September 2009

A Home for the Marbles

How long can the British authorities cling jealously to the loot of their former ambassador to a long-vanished Turkish empire?

Christopher Hitchens, New York Times, 19 June 2009

Right the wrongs of ill-gotten gains

The Chinese person seeking to retrieve plundered treasures by bidding for them in an auction was making an important point

Leo Hickman, Guardian Comment is free, 4 March 2009

Is it time to start talking about the Parthenon marbles again?

For the first time two prominent staff members of the British Museum have participated in a major cultural event in Greece

Helena Smith, Guardian Art & Design blog, 21 March 2008

Enlightenment museums: universal or merely global?

[Although] a universal museum could be invaluable in a world full of conflict and misunderstanding, the credibility of the idea is undermined by its being deployed chiefly as a defense against repatriation claims.

Mark O’Neill, museum and society, November 2004

Read the original article here.

Student protest outside the British Msueum

Matthew Taylor, Treasurer of the International Association and a member of the Marbles Reuited Campaign, attennded a student organised protest in London on behalf of the International Association.

You can also watch a video of the protest here.



The slogan “Bring them Back” echoed all over the British Museum!

London, 25 October 2010

The afternoon of Saturday October 23rd outside the British Museum, was strikingly different to any other. The flashes of the visitors were immortalising not any of the Museums’ stolen exhibits, but rather, the demonstrators standing in the front yard of the Museum, who wearing black t-shirts, holding banners and placards, were conveying the demand of the Hellenes anywhere in the world: “Bring Them Back”.

The demonstration for the return and restoration of the Parthenon Sculptures, organised by the ‘METOPO Cypriot Student Movement UK’ and the non-governmental organisation ‘Artclick’, under the campaign “Bring Them Back”, was an ultimate absolute success, as the people embraced it and dynamically became part of it.

The visitors of the Museum, informed as they were by the students of METOPO who were distributing leaflets regarding the Parthenon sculptures and the “Bring Them Back” campaign outside the Museum, were now facing, along with the demonstrators, reality: the Hellenic civilisation is the Hellenic Pride and the protests of the Hellenes for their stolen dignity are completely just.

The President of METOPO, Marios Nicolaou, delivered a resolution to the competent authorities of the Museum, demanding the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Greece, as well as analyzing and crushing their cheap and untrue arguments regarding the so-called protection of the marbles. Of course, the sculptures were not returned. However, we are under no circumstance willing to stop here. The demonstration that took place last Saturday was only the beginning. We understand that our struggle for the reinstatement of the Parthenon Sculptures will be long and difficult, but we feel that it is our duty to be part of this campaign, for as long as these Hellenic cultural treasures is held unlawfully in the country where our movement is based.

From now on, the restoration and return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece has become an aim and purpose to us. We reserve and promise, that each and every time, the British authorities will hear an even louder “Bring Them Back”, from the autonomous students of METOPO. This campaign will be over and we will complacent, only when we are able to flaunt the sculptures, reunited after almost 200 years, inside the new Acropolis Museum.

Press Office

METOPO Cypriot Student Movement UK

Read the original article here.

New Acropolis Museum restaurant will stay open during strikes

Despite some reports to the contrary, the New Acropolis Museum's restaurant is not expected to close during planned strike actions.

Restaurant at museum open

Friday October 1, 2010 – Archive

The restaurant and gift shops at the Acropolis Museum will continue to operate as usual, its director Dimitris Pandermalis insisted yesterday, as he rejected reports that shutting down the Organization for the Promotion of Greek Culture (OPEP) would lead to their closure.

OPEP, whose employees’ contracts expired yesterday and are not being renewed due to public spending cutbacks, had been responsible for running the two gift shops and second-floor restaurant at the museum, which opened last summer. The museum has launched a tender for the management of the restaurant but Pandermalis said that its operation would not be affected in the meantime.

“The restaurant does not belong to OPEP,” he said in a letter to Kathimerini. “It is an area that is absolutely associated with the museum. The museum respects its visitors and aims to provide high-quality service that is free of the traditional hang-ups and failed stereotypes of the past.”

Read the original article here.

UNESCO cultural property committee meets to discuss the Parthenon Sculptures

UNESCO's committee which deals with the restitution of cultural property is meeting in Paris and the Parthenon Sculptures are one of the items on the agenda for the meeting.

UN committee on return of cultural property meets in Paris

20 September 2010

The Parthenon Marbles will be among the cultural treasures under discussion this week as a United Nations committee promoting the return of cultural property to their countries of origin meets for three days in Paris.

Specifically, the Committee will consider the ongoing negotiations between Greece and the United Kingdom concerning the Parthenon Marbles, between Turkey and Germany on the Sphinx of Bogusköy, and the recent return of the Makonde Mask by a private Swiss museum to Tanzania.

The committee will also continue the study it launched last year on alternative means of conflict resolution concerning cultural property, and discuss the creation of a database of successful restitution cases. The future database is intended to demonstrate the diverse types of restitution claims and arrangements possible, as well as the wide range of cultural objects and States involved.

Its members will also work on the elaboration of model rules aimed at helping States define their ownership of cultural property – particularly undiscovered archaeological objects – and will discuss a set of consolidated draft rules of procedure on mediation and conciliation.

The committee is known formally as the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation, and it was set up within the context of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

As part of its work during this session, the Committee’s secretariat has invited key representatives of the global art market – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, SNA, CINOA and SYMEV – to present their role in ensuring ethical and legal practices.

In addition, UNESCO’s partner institutions – the International Council of Museums, INTERPOL, World Customs Organization, UNIDROIT, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Carabinieri (Italy) and l’Office Central de lutte contre le trafic des Biens Culturels (France) – will report on their most recent activities in the protection of cultural heritage.

Established in 1978, the Intergovernmental Committee is responsible for facilitating bilateral negotiations for the restitution or return of cultural property to its countries of origin – and promoting such restitution.

Read the original article here.

The American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures on Facebook

The American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures now has a Facebook page where you can become a fan of their organisation.

You can view their Facebook page here.

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