Quote of the Day

I hope that I will see the Marbles back in Athens before I die; but if they come back later I shall be reborn.

Melina Mercouri, Former Hellenic Republic Minister of Culture

The reunification of the Elgin Marbles & other disputed artefacts

The Parthenon Sculptures (also called Parthenon Marbles or Elgin Marbles) are split between several museums. Despite numerous similar cases of contested ownership of cultural property, few loan or return requests are successful. Elginism aims to raise awareness by publicising the issue & cataloguing news on it, as well as working in conjunction with various campaigns including Marbles Reunited, & the IARPS.
To track the latest news updates, you can also follow Elginism on Twitter or Facebook.

March 23, 2015

The man who returned the Bird of Prophecy to Nigeria

Posted at 1:58 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Mark Walker inherited a bronze sculpture from Nigeria that had been taken from the country by his Grandfather during the Benin Punitive Expedition.

After coming into possession of one of the Benin Bronzes, he had to think what to do with it next. He thought ahead to what would happen to them when he died. His children did not want them, and he did not want them to be sold at auction. Instead, he got in touch with the Richard Lander Society, who facilitated the return for the sculptures to the descendants of the rulers of Benin.

It seems that in more and more stories, while individuals feel a need to do the right thing, by righting historic wrongs, museums and other institutions seem far less compelled to do so. This is despite the fact that as places of education, one would expect that they would be the ones to be taking a moral lead in such situations rather than dragging their heels.

Eight hundred items from the Benin Punitive Expedition are still held in the British Museum in London. Other institutions around the world house many more. In all cases, Nigeria also claims rightful ownership.

The "Bird of Prophecy" returned to Benin City by Mark Walker

The “Bird of Prophecy” returned to Benin City by Mark Walker

From:
BBC News

26 February 2015 Last updated at 00:09
The man who returned his grandfather’s looted art
By Ellen Otzen BBC World Service

At the end of the 19th Century British troops looted thousands of works of art from the Benin Empire – in modern-day Nigeria – and brought them home. One soldier’s grandson inherited two bronzes but recently returned them to their original home.

“It’s an image that’s deeply ingrained in my memory. The dead body seemed unreal. It’s not a picture you can easily forget,” says Mark Walker.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 22, 2015

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015 – Former Australian PM & Marbalista

Posted at 11:21 pm in Elgin Marbles

Former Australian Malcolm Fraser died on Friday morning aged 84. He was vociferously outspoken about his support for the return of the Parthenon Marbles for many years. Despite being political adversaries, he shared his support for the reunification of the Marbles with Gough Whitlam – another former Australian PM who died in October of last year.

You can read more about Malcolm Frasers support for philhellenism here and here.

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015, Former Australian Prime Minister

Malcolm Fraser 1930-2015, Former Australian Prime Minister

From:
Neos Kosmos

Malcolm Fraser remembered
20 Mar 2015
Sotiris Hatzimanolis

Hundreds have come forward to honour former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who died on Friday morning at the age of 84 years.

Malcolm Fraser served as prime minister of Australia from 1975 to 1983, leading the Liberals, and was among other things, a great humanist and philhellene.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 15, 2015

Geneva Summer Schools – International Cultural Heritage Law

Posted at 9:33 pm in Events, Similar cases

The Université de Genève is organising a summer school on International Cultural Heritage Law, from June 22nd – July 3rd.

Check the Geneva Summer Schools website for full details of the course programme.

From:
Geneva Summer Schools

International Cultural Heritage Law

June 22 – July 3, 2015

COURSE DESCRIPTION

The summer school aims to develop the students’ awareness and general understanding of the main substantive themes of international cultural heritage law, namely:

  • the trade in cultural objects;
  • the restitution of stolen or looted artworks;
  • the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict;
  • the protection of the built heritage from natural and human-induced disasters;
  • the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage and of the diversity of cultural expressions;
  • the relationship between cultural heritage law and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO);
  • the settlement of cultural heritage disputes.

Read the rest of this entry »

James Cuno, ISIS and cultural heritage preservation

Posted at 9:11 pm in Similar cases

James Cuno has in the past regularly staked his claim as one of the most hardline retentionists in the US museums world.

In his latest missive to the New York Times letters page, he tries to argue that many of the current problems with looting are actually the fault of UNESCO conventions on cultural property. His line of reasoning is that cultural property laws keep the artefacts in their country of origin – thereby making it easier for other factions within the country to seize / destroy them. There are too many flaws to this argument for me to list. Fortunately Kwame Opoku has taken the time to write a far more comprehensive dis-assembly of Cuno’s arguments than I would have managed.

Isis militants attack ancient artifacts with sledgehammers in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

Isis militants attack ancient artifacts with sledgehammers in the Ninevah Museum in Mosul, Iraq.

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

Does Dr Cuno really believe what he writes?

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

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

March 13, 2015

Culture & Crisis one day conference at V&A

Posted at 2:06 pm in Events, Similar cases

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is organising a one day conference on the effects of the recent destruction and loss of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq.

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

The ruins of Apamea in Syria in 2004, before the current conflict

From:
V&A

Culture in Crisis

What: Conferences & Symposia
When: Tue 14 April 2015 10:00 – 17:30
Where: The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre

CONFERENCE: The recent destruction and loss of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq is a cause for world-wide concern and condemnation. But what is the role of museums? Can we support people from these countries, whilst ensuring our own protection?
Read the rest of this entry »

March 12, 2015

Ilissos returns to British Museum, but not to Duveen Gallery

Posted at 9:40 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

The statue of Ilissos was sent to the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg last December, heralded with much fanfare from the British Museum and some news sources.

It has now returned to the British Museum, but will not be occupying its usual position in the Duveen Gallery just yet.

Instead, it is gong to be appearing in a new exhibition – Defining Beauty: The Body In Ancient Greek Art which starts on 26th March. Curator Ian Jenkins says that visitors will get “a different story” by seeing one sculpture away from the rest of them. This seems to be once again missing the point that the sculptures are part of a greater whole. Then again, the British Museum would want to see things in this way, as their intention is to erode the argument that they are part of a set as far as possible, in an effort to weaken Greece’s claim.

Stating that separating them tells a different story makes no sense as a justification. The fact that they can tell a different story is definitely the case, but I struggle to see that the different story has any real relevance or could possibly be seen as an improvement. To follow this argument to a ridiculous extreme, one could say that the Taliban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas allows them to tell a different story. Would anyone other than the Taliban argue that this “different story” had much merit to it? Probably not.

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

Part of the Parthenon Marbles, the river god Ilissos in the Duveen Gallery

From:
Belfast Telegraph

Marbles back at British Museum
27 February 2015

A section of the Elgin Marbles loaned to Russia last year has returned to the British Museum to take centre stage in a new exhibition.

The sculpture of the river god, Ilissos, will go on show away from the other marbles.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 9, 2015

The Parthenon Marbles, a film by Nafsika Guerry-Karamaounas

Posted at 10:06 pm in Elgin Marbles

Film director Nafsika Guerry-Karamaounas is making a film about the Parthenon Sculptures, with the assistance of the Swiss Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

The film is a short documentary, which aims to increase awareness of the issue and to persuade political decision makers of the importance that the sculptures are returned.

At present, the film is in the funding phase, and collecting donations. You are encouraged to visit the we make it site, to help support the project.

From:
wemakeit

The Parthenon Marbles

Our aim
Our main objective is the reunification of a mutiliated, unique work of art, the major symbol of Europe’s common cultural heritage. To this end, our Swiss Committee for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles was founded in 2008. We are an active member of the IARPS (International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures).

Our Project
Our flagship project is a short documentary film to widely influence public opinion and persuade political decision-makers of the necessity of the reunification of the Marbles in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Many people are either misinformed or undecided on the subject of the Marbles. Our film, directed by the young and talented Nafsika Guerry-Karamaounas who made her mark at Cannes and with James Cameron, will allow you to have an informed opinion.

Why should the British Museum return the marbles to Athens?
Now that Greece with the help of Europe has built one of the most beautiful museums in the world at the foot of the Acropolis, the moment has come to return the Marbles to Athens.
Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew George MP to table Parthenon Marbles EDM

Posted at 1:57 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

As outlined in yesterday’s post, Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George is due to table an Early Day Motion later today, urging the government to return the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. Andrew George is also the chair of the Marbles Reunited campaign, based in the UK.

I’m disappointed to see that the BBC has chosen to unquestioningly print the assertions of the British Museum, that Elgin rescued the sculptures so that the world could enjoy them. All evidence available in the form of letters from Elgin to his wife & others, indicated that he wanted them to adorn his new house which was being built at Broomhall. It was only much later on, when bankrupt & trying to justify his ownership of them to the government, that he came up with the notion that he had been acting first and foremost as a preservationist.

MacGregor says that these items should be shared with as many people as possible, but as has been said many times before, if this is the case, then surely Beijing would be a better location for the sculptures than London?

A metope from the Parthenon Sculptures, currently in the British Museum

A metope from the Parthenon Sculptures, currently in the British Museum

From:
BBC News

9 March 2015 Last updated at 08:06
Elgin Marbles: Commons motion urges return to Greece

A parliamentary move to expedite the return of the Elgin Marbles from the UK to Greece will be made later.

In an early day motion, Lib Dem MP Andrew George will urge the government to make moves towards “reuniting” them with those in the Acropolis Museum.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 8, 2015

The Cyrus Cylinder, the FCO, human rights and irony

Posted at 11:49 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The Cyrus Cylinder is often proclaimed by many as the world’s first charter of human rights. Various false translations circulate online, adding further credibility to these assertions. Even Neil MacGregor, the British Museum’s Director described it as “The cylinder, often referred to as the first bill of human rights”. According to the British Museum’s own website, The reality is that although it does describe some human rights, it is not unique, but it in fact reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC, kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms. The fact that this might be the first such declaration that survives does not make it the first declaration.

Whether or not it is a declaration of human rights could be a never-ending debate, but the fact is that many perceive it as such and as a result, ascribe all sorts of proclamations to it that are not present in any of the official translations. It should be noted that this is by no means unique to the Cyrus Cylinder – the Magna Carta has long suffered a similar fate. These documents may or may not be the foundations of later declarations, but some of what they are claimed to contain is patently untrue.

Notwithstanding the above, the area of Human Rights is an ever shifting canvas. To my mind, one important right should be that of a people to have access to their own cultural heritage. It is afterall what gives them and their nation its identity, as well as being something that they can be proud of. It could be seen as a the provenance of a culture.

The Cyrus Cylinder, though acquired legitimately, was like the Parthenon Marbles, taken with authorisation from the Ottoman Empire, from a location within Modern Iraq, but has a clear association with Cyrus The Great, a ruler associated with The area known today as Iran. Currently it is housed in the British Museum, but Iran has at various times disputed its ownership, although when it has been loaned to them, no attempts have ever been made to break the terms of the loan agreement. Many, particularly within Iran, would continue to argue that it is a part of their heritage and such they have a right of easier access to this key element of their past.

To me, all the above makes the following statement on the Foreign and Commonwealth’s office particularly muddled.

Essentially, they are using the Cyrus Cylinder (under its premise as an early declaration of human rights), as an introduction to criticising the current human rights record of a variety of countries. We are annoyed that these countries do not play by our rules, but at the same time, we are happy to wrong many of them, by continuing to ignore the disputes surrounding our own possession of their cultural property. Various countries on their list (of concerns about human rights violations) are also on the list of original owners of disputed artefacts. Just at a quick glance, Egypt continues to request the return of the Rosetta Stone, Nigeria the Benin Bronzes and Ethiopia the Magdala Treasure.

I am not saying that the human rights records of any of these countries is remotely acceptable, or criticising the FCO’s methodology in compiling their list. Surely though, using an item of disputed cultural property to introduce this is not the best way to do it? while we are pointing fingers, we must not forget that our credibility is being judged by these same nations on other issues, issues that remain very real and important to them as part of their quest to maintain their own cultural identity.

The Cyrus Cylinder, currently housed in the British Museum

The Cyrus Cylinder, currently housed in the British Museum

From:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Human Rights and the Cyrus Cylinder
March 3, 2015

Next week the Foreign Office will release its annual report on Human Rights and Democracy. It will showcase some of the work the UK has been doing to promote human rights around the world over the course of our current parliament (ie. the last five years), paying special attention to the value we place on civil society. It will also look in detail at 27 “countries of concern”, in which we consider there to be the most serious violations and abuses of human rights, and 10 “case study countries”, where the focus is on one particular ‘theme’.

Human Rights are sometimes portrayed as a “Western” concept or invention (usually most vociferously by those committing the most serious violations). This is, in fact, a misreading of centuries of history which led up to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Way back in 539 B.C., the armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia (modern day Iran), conquered the city of Babylon. In doing so, and as he prepared to govern his new territory, he declared that slaves would be free, people had the right to choose their own religion, and that different races living in the city would be treated equally. He recorded all of this on a baked-clay cylinder (known today as the Cyrus Cylinder and resident in the British Museum) – an ancient record that has been recognised by many as the world’s first charter of human rights. It is translated into all six official languages of the United Nations and its provisions mirror the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration.
Read the rest of this entry »

UK reluctant to enter Parthenon Marbles mediation process

Posted at 12:08 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

In September 2013, a request was made by Greece to Britain, to enter a mediation process to resolve the Parthenon Sculptures reunification issue. The process would take place via the snappily named Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation, a sub-committee of UNESCO.

The request for mediation marked a new step for Greece, and a clear realisation that small scale informal negotiations to resolve the issue were making little progress.

Since the request was issued, any appeals for updates have indicated that the British Government is still considering their response.

Last year, it was requested that a response would be made by 31st March 2015. However, government sources say that they are unable to make any significant announcement this side of the May election. We must bear in mind at this stage, that all current predictions are that there will be no clear majority in the May 2015 general election, so if not a change of government, at the very minimum, we can expect a significant restructuring of the coalition.

The British Government is clean to prevaricate over what is likely (according to all past policy indications) to be a negative response, but the reality is that any negative response might well be met by a stronger riposte from Greece.

For a number of years now, talks have taken place in secret in Greece regarding the possibility of some form of legal action over the Parthenon Marbles. These talks became more public when it became known that Amal Clooney was involved. As a side note, she was in fact involved all along – I have had sight of confidential papers that her name is ascribed to, from early 2011. Previously though, the lawyers were able to operate beneath the radar though, whereas Amal’s new found fame means that this is no longer such a simple proposition.

The likelihood of litigation is increased by the recent news that even if there Greek Government does not have the money to invest in this sort of venture, there are others who are happy to do so on their behalf.

What this leads on to, is that it is clear that Greece is considering other options. If their mediation request is rebuffed, they are not going to just drop the issue, but have fall back options, that could be a lot less palatable than mediation.

It is unclear, whether after an initial rejection of the mediation request, the offer to enter into the process would still be open to Britain.

Meanwhile, the British Museum, while unwilling to invest efforts in actual negotiations seems to have been taking measures to try & prop up their own back story behind why retention of the sculptures is a good idea. The first step was the rather controversial and secretive loan of one of the sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, which was announced to much fanfare in The Times. The second step is the commissioning of a rather narrowly focussed poll, aimed at giving the impression that those in the industry were entirely favourable of return (well they would say that wouldn’t they).

These moves are indicative that the British Museum is no longer sitting quite as comfortably as it once was. It is trying to make its position more secure, yet the loan to the Hermitage seems to have done exactly the opposite, with many former retentionists being strongly critical of the Museum’s actions.

It is clear that we are entering a new chapter in Greece’s quest for the return of the sculptures – one that has move on from informal applications to something much more structured. The stakes may be higher for both sides, but the aggressive responses from the British Museum indicate that the Greek approach seems to be having some sort of success. My hope is that the new SYRIZA led coalition is willing to keep up the pressure, rather than making a complete change of policy.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Independent

Elgin Marbles row: Greece tells British Government to stop stonewalling on return of Parthenon sculptures
Ian Johnston
Saturday 07 March 2015

The Government is refusing to negotiate with Greece about the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles despite a request to do so from the United Nations, a decision that could prompt Athens to begin legal action for the first time.

British campaigners likened the UK’s stance to “clinging on to stolen booty for dear life” and contrasted it with the “generous act” of returning the sculptures to help a friendly country on the brink of economic collapse. Youth unemployment has hit 50 per cent and suicide rates have soared amid a crisis so severe the Financial Times has warned Greece could turn into a “quasi slave economy”.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 6, 2015

Aboriginal activist gives lecture on return of Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 1:53 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Events, Parthenon 2004

Australian Aboriginal activist, Dr Gary Edward Foley gave a talk about the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles yesterday, comparing the restitution of Aboriginal cultural artefacts to the ongoing campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Greek Reporter

Aboriginal Activist to Give Lecture on Parthenon Marbles’ Return
by Ioanna Zikakou
Mar 4, 2015

Starting this Thursday, the 2015 Greek History and Culture Seminar series, organized by the Greek Community of Melbourne for the fifth consecutive year, will take place in the community’s new building. The seminars’ inaugural lecture is on March 5 with Aboriginal activist Dr Gary Edward Foley and Greek-Australian University of Melbourne professor Nikos Papastergiadis.

During his speech, Foley will focus on the recovery of cultural heritage and the return of Aboriginal antiquities, alongside the Parthenon Marbles case. This will be the first time that an Aboriginal will present his speech before the Greek Community of Melbourne.
Read the rest of this entry »

March 5, 2015

The British East India company – putting looting into the lexicon

Posted at 1:46 pm in Similar cases

A lot of the stories of artefact repatriations focus on state sponsored looting, such as the massacres in Benin or Beijing’s Summer Palace. A second category is that of private individuals such as the Seventh Earl of Elgin who were also involved in the pillaging of ancient relics, although not normally on such a large scale as it is hard for a single person to have the same impact as an army.

There is a third category though, one which brought us the word Looting – a Hindustani slang phrase for plundering. The word rapidly entered the English vocabulary via the British East India Company, one of the world’s first multinational corporations. While the British East India Company & their unprecedented levels of looting have thankfully now gone, the problem still exists, although it manifests itself in different forms, such as terrorist groups & warlords who like the EIC maintain their own private armies & relatively unencumbered by laws will happy loot ancient sites for personal gain, or merely to deprive others of the ability to see the relics that were once there.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.

From:
Guardian

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders
William Dalrymple
Wednesday 4 March 2015 05.59 GMT

One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.
Read the rest of this entry »