Showing results 1 - 12 of 29 for the month of February, 2013.

February 28, 2013

The Court of the District of Columbia & the Chabad jews – a possible solution to the Parthenon Marbles case?

Posted at 2:29 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Paul Barford raises an interesting question on his blog, regarding a recent case in the USA. Essentially, the gist of the post relates back to an earlier story, about the fallout from a court case in the courts of the District of Columbia.

The case was brought by Chabad Jews, who have been campaigning for the return of two collections of books & manuscripts from Russia since the 1980s. They filed a lawsuit in 2004. In July 2010, the court ordered the Russia to return the library & archives to Chabad. At this point, Russia ignored the judgement. A month ago, on 16th January 2013, the same court sanctioned the Russian Government $50,00 per day for not complying with their ruling.

Since then, Russia’s foreign ministry has taken the retaliatory move, of recommending that two government agencies sue the US Library of Congress. If this case was to proceed, it would take place in a Russian court. It is taken against the Library of Congress, because through the inter-library loans programme (of which the LOC was the conduit), in 1994, seven books were lent to the Shabad group & never returned.

Russia has also taken the move of placing an embargo on any loans to museums in the USA, due to fears that artefacts will be seized.

Now, I’m not at all sure at this stage what the outcome of all this will be – but, the fact remains, that sanctions taken in a court outside the home country still have a potential to provoke a reaction.

Previously, I have been party to suggestions that a similar move could be taken by the Greek Government against the British Museum & the District of Columbia was mentioned as one possible jurisdiction under which this might take place. Now, I’m hoping that if it did take place, it would follower a calmer course than the current case, but it is indisputable, that the threat of legal action based on this precedent would be a strong incentive to negotiate.

Part of the problem with the Parthenon Marbles case, is that there has never been enough pressure placed against the British Museum / British Government. Essentially, they don’t feel that they currently have to respond to anything. If requests for negotiations are ever issued by Greece, these are closed out fairly quickly by laying down pre-conditions that Greece will never agree to – essentially asking them to give up something before the discussions can even start. Something needs to be done to show the British Museum that Greece means business – that the issue will not just go away.

Italy did not succeed in their requests against the US, until initiating legal action – although in many cases, the (serious) threat of legal action was eough to start off proper negotiations leading to the settlement i.e. it never actually went to court.

Clearly, in the case of the Chabad Jews (of which much more could be written), negotiating was off the agenda, as the case is being pursued to the bitter end, & looks like it could develop into a full blown diplomatic incident if one side doesn’t back down. Essentially (from the perspective of an outsider) they have taken a weapon & used it unwisely – and could end up blowing off their own feet in the process.

Notwithstanding the above point though, the fact remains – the legal route offers a path to negotiation & resolution of the case that has not yet been properly explored. Greece has tried the gentle discussions route for years & made little progress – so perhaps it is now time to take a different tack?

The Art Newspaper

Russian agencies move to sue US Library of Congress
Threatened lawsuits could result in sanctions against the US, in retaliation for $50,000 per day penalties against Russia
By Laura Gilbert. Web only
Published online: 12 February 2013

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has recommended that two Russian government agencies sue the US Library of Congress, the news agency Pravda reported Friday. The move, seemingly in retaliation for US court-ordered sanctions against Russia costing $50,000 per day, is the latest twist in the ongoing dispute between the Brooklyn-based Jewish group Chabad and Russia.

Chabad has been trying to obtain two collections of Jewish books and manuscripts from Russia since the 1980s and filed a lawsuit in 2004. On 16 January, a Washington, DC District Court sanctioned the Russian government $50,000 per day because Russia had not followed the court’s July 2010 order to turn over the library and archive to Chabad. Shortly after the order, Russia initiated an embargo, which is still in effect, on lending art to American museums, claiming it feared Chabad would seize its art in order to enforce the judgment. American museums responded by refusing to loan art works to Russian institutions. Chabad, for its part, says it will not claim Russian art that is immune from seizure under US law but would enforce the judgment by seizing other Russian property in the US and through monetary sanctions.
Read the rest of this entry »

David Cameron’s simplistic and inadequate concept of returnism

Posted at 1:48 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The British Prime Minster’s comments last week on the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond & the Parthenon Marbles have been criticised by Eddie O’Hara, the chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Museums Journal

PM’s concept is simplistic and indadequate, say critics
Prime minister David Cameron has been condemned for a lack of understanding following his statement last week about restitution of cultural objects.

Cameron was answering questions on a state visit to the site of the Amritsar Massacre, where British troops killed 379 Indians, when he was asked if he thought that the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is part of the Crown Jewels, should be returned as goodwill gesture. The prime minister said he didn’t believe in “returnism” and that wasn’t the right approach.

He added: “It’s the same question with the Elgin Marbles and all these other things. I think the right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions in Britain is to do exactly what they do, which is link up with museums all over the world to make our collections – to make sure that the things that we have and look after so well – are properly shared with people around the world.”
Read the rest of this entry »

The “Benin Plan of action for restitution” and what it means for the return of disputed artefacts

Posted at 8:51 am in British Museum, Similar cases

Meetings have been held in Nigeria, between representatives of the government & from various institutions abroad, that hold disputed Nigerian artefacts. The aim of this is to determine some way forward to resolving the issue. For an opinion on the viability of this, the second article I have reposted gives an alternative perspective to the official government line to the media.

The Guardian (Nigeria)

Amid hope of restitution, Nigeria hosts foreign museums
Friday, 15 February 2013 00:00 By Tajudeen Sowole

AS Nigeria hosts some representatives of holders of the country’s looted cultural objects as part of efforts towards the return of the controversial artefatcs, the country’s dialogue or diplomatic approach is once again on the spot.

Scheduled to hold next week, significantly, in Benin, Edo State, where the largest looting of Africa’s cultural objects took place in 1897, the meeting would be the third of its kind between the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) and some museums in Europe.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 27, 2013

Turkey versus the Louvre – Ankara’s artefact restitution attempts continue

Posted at 1:49 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

More coverage of Turkey’s ongoing attempts to secure the restitution of disputed artefacts – many of which are housed in Paris’s Louvre museum.

Le Monde (via Worldcrunch)

Published on 2013-02-18 15:56:34
Turkey vs. The Louvre: Ankara Renews Its Quest To Recover Antiquities
By Guillaume Perrier
LE MONDE/Worldcrunch

ISTANBUL – The treasure of Troy is back. The collection of golden jewelry from the ancient city, which had been stolen during the 19th century, was handed back to Turkey by the University of Pennsylvania last September.

The precious jewelry – known as the “Troy gold” – had been looted after the first excavations of Troy by a German archeologist in the 1870s. No one knows if Helen of Troy actually wore the jewels, but Turkey says it belongs to them. “It is only right that they be returned to where they were taken from,” declared Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertugrul Gunay.
Read the rest of this entry »

Not all types of restitution are equal – law enforcement & return of looted artefacts

Posted at 1:43 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

This piece by Kwame Opoku raises the interesting point, that the often gets lost when described in press articles – that there are two very different types of restitution. One type happens regularly, is legally enforced & has no real involvement of museums & galleries. The other type happens rarely (if at all) & is determined by the museums. But, in the media, these two very different types of cases often become one & the same, implying that there is a level of co-operation between countries over disputed artefacts that is not really there. Certainly, there is one layer that exists, but the layers beneath it are applied far more erratically.


Wed 13 February 2013
Opinion: What We Understand By “Restitution”
Kwame Opoku questions whether Nigeria’s approach to restitution of cultural artefacts is really working and offers a more progressive approach and honest definition.
Submitted By: Kwame Opoku

“Short of giving details of the anticipated repossession of Nigerian artefacts from France, Usman insisted that diplomacy remained the “best and only option for now and we would change our strategy if it’s not working.”

We are all pleased that the French, just like the US Americans are returning Nigerian looted artefacts that have been intercepted by the police or customs whilst in transit or at arrival at port of destination. This is the result of normal collaboration between customs/police institutions of France/USA and those of Nigeria. They are not the result of efforts by cultural institutions seeking the return of looted items, as far as we know. These are the results of investigation of criminal activities pursued by the customs/police institutions.
Read the rest of this entry »

Is free admission to museums & galleries in the UK sacrosanct?

Posted at 8:44 am in British Museum

This subject seems to crop up on a regular basis – is the government’s money better spent on other things rather than free admission to large numbers of museums & galleries? While I enjoy the free use that the current subsidies give, one has to wonder if the overall visitor experience might be improved if there was some level of charging, which would help to reduce over-crowding. When referring to the Parthenon Sculptures, the British Museum regularly proclaims that they can be viewed there free of charge – something that seems to be taken as beneficial (& as a criticism of the fact that the Acropolis museum has an entry fee), without any meaningful debate on the subject. This free access relies heavily on government subsidies – something that the museum is less willing to shout about.


Dominic Lawson
Monday 25 February 2013
Why is free admission to art galleries and museums sacrosanct, when free swimming is not?

Even in a time of straitened national finances, it never pays to underestimate the awesome power of the arts lobby in Britain

What do you imagine would be an easier subsidy to defend at a time of straitened national finances – free swimming in public baths for children and pensioners; or free entry for all into metropolitan museums of fine art? If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have guessed the former. This, however, would be to underestimate the awesome power of the arts lobby in Britain.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 26, 2013

The Koh-i-noor and promoting Britain’s trade ties with India

Posted at 2:18 pm in Similar cases

David Cameron’s trip to India was ostensibly to promote trade ties with Britain. Reading between the lines, this could be seen more as: We see lots of money sloshing around in India nowadays & we want to see if we can get a slice of it.

The questions about the Koh-i-noor diamond can hardly have been unexpected though. Afterall, It happened on his previous visit to the country & it is well known that India would like the gem to be returned. This makes it all the more surprising that his response sounded as though little real thought had gone into it.

If Cameron wanted to promote trade with India, surely a gesture of agreeing to return the Diamond could form a great catalyst for this – although I have a feeling that due to its position in the crown jewels, the Prime Minister would probably not have the authority to return it anyway. At the end of the day though, its removal from the Crown Jewels would not be a massive loss for Britain – financially, our situation would be the same with or without it.

Like many other restitution cases, the Koh-i-noor diamond is a complex one. This editorial piece raises some of the issues, but there are many others on both sides. The article highlights the fact that Pakistan has allowed much of its own heritage to crumble & deteriorate in recent years – therefore, does it deserve to have other items returned. I would counter this argument though – there are no laws currently that allow other countries to remove artefacts for their own safety (without permission from the original owners), so should the fact that the artefact is already out of the hands of the original owners be used to promote such a viewpoint, which would not normally be considered a legal possibility.


24 Feb 2013
Jewel in the crown

THOUGH David Cameron may have been keen to promote trade ties on his recent visit to India, the British prime minister turned down a long-standing demand to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond. Mr Cameron felt returning the dazzling gem would not be “sensible”. Questions over the Koh-i-Noor’s rightful ownership stem from the legacy of Britain’s colonial past. Originally mined in southern India centuries ago, the fabled stone changed hands several times, passing through the treasuries of the subcontinent’s Hindu, Muslim and Sikh kings before being presented to Queen Victoria by the colonial government of India. Considered a trophy from perhaps the most prized of Britain’s realms, the diamond is today part of the crown jewels firmly ensconced in the Tower of London. But Britain was not the only European colonial power to have appropriated the cultural property of others. More recently, there was widespread looting of Iraq’s historical treasures following the 2003 United States invasion; the Americans did little as gangs of looters made off with priceless treasures in the anarchy following Saddam Hussein’s fall.

It is valid to ask if historical artefacts whisked away from former colonies and now sitting in Western museums will receive proper care if returned to their countries of origin. We in Pakistan, for example, have allowed our heritage to crumble. Also, it is true that ancient collections in the Louvre or the British Museum have become part of world heritage. But how many of the world’s people can simply hop on a plane to enjoy the treasures taken from their countries? Ethically, there is weight in the argument that treasures looted in the age of empire be returned to their countries of origin to right historical wrongs and allow the people of former colonies to better appreciate their own heritage, while placing responsibility on those countries to preserve the artefacts.

Bronze age gold cape to return to Wales on loan

Posted at 1:59 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

More coverage of the return (on loan) of the Mold Cape, planned to take place later this year. This is not the first tie that the cape has been returned on loan – a previous exhibition of it in Wrexham took place in 2005.

BBC News

23 February 2013 Last updated at 11:07
Mold gold cape to be displayed in Cardiff and Wrexham museums

A unique ceremonial Bronze Age gold cape which was discovered in Flintshire 180 years ago is to go on display in Cardiff and Wrexham this summer.

The Mold Gold Cape, thought to have been a woman’s, will be loaned first to the National Museum in Cardiff in July.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 25, 2013

Do the Londoners upset about the missing Banksy consider how Greece feels about the Parthenon Marbles?

Posted at 2:14 pm in Similar cases

The story of the Banksy artwork that disappeared from a wall in London has reached some sort of conclusion, with the news that the auction is no cancelled. It is great to see people getting so enthusiastic about preserving local artwork, but do the people whose protests stopped this auction ever consider how the original owners of many of the disputed artefacts in Britain’s museums feel?

If we consider the circumstances, the missing Banksy is a very weak case – there is nothng to indicate that it was not the owner of the wall who was selling it. Or that he had a right to do whatever he wanted to with this wall.

In term of the artwork, it could be argued that it was site specific – but only to the extent that Banksy had chosen that wall for it. realistically, it could have been applied equally well in many other locations. Furthermore, consider the duration that the artwork existed in this location for – only a matter of months. If this is contrasted to the Parthenon Marbles, they were located in-situ for over two millenia, and were designed specifically with that location in mind – to the extent that they formed an integral part of the building that they were on – they could not be removed without destroying parts of the building.

Stopping this auction & enriching the streets of the borough of Haringey might be a good cause – but the people supporting it really ought to think about the many far more important cases that Britain’s museums try & brush off as unimportant.

Interestingly, a new artwork has already appeared on the wall that the Banksy has been removed from – so restoring it is not possible without destroying another piece of art…


Banksy mural: I’m being scapegoated, says Miami art dealer
Richard Luscombe in Miami
Friday 22 February 2013 15.47 GMT

The owner of a Florida art house handling the controversial auction of a Banksy mural prised from a north London wall has spoken out to claim he is being unfairly scapegoated, and insists the sale is legal and will take place.

Slave Labour, a spray painting depicting a barefooted boy making Union Jack bunting in a sewing machine, by the celebrated street artist Banksy, was removed from the wall of a Poundland shop in north London last week under mysterious circumstances. As local authorities, residents and the shop’s owner have denied all knowledge, protests from UK authorities have turned to the Miami auctioneer.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 24, 2013

The Koh-i-noor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – three disputed artefact cases

Posted at 7:31 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku writes about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments on the Koh-i-noor diamond & the Parthenon Marbles during his trip to India.

Kwame Opoku (by email)


On the last day of his trade visit to India, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, ruled out the return of the Kohinoor Diamond to India and added that the same applied to the Parthenon /Elgin Marbles. (1)

Cameron thought it was best that these objects be left where they are in the care of the British Museum
Read the rest of this entry »

The Koh-i-Noor – Whose history is it a part of & who should own it?

Posted at 7:04 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

David Cameron’s point of view on the return of the Koh-i-noor diamond has had a lot of coverage in recent days. In many ways, the view that he gives is very similar to the line taken by the British Museum on items such as Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – that the British are ideally placed to display these artefacts as part of collections from all corners of the globe, where they can be seen by many people. This reasoning always reeks of imperialism to me however – it is an entirely self-appointed role – the artefacts weren’t generally taken with this purpose in mind originally & giving the great museums of the world this role was never something decided by the original owners of the artefacts either. Surely, if the aim is for these works to be seen by as many people as possible, then India would be an ideal location anyway. England may once have been at the centre of the world, but with the rise of the Middle East, South East Asia & China, India is ideally placed to be a hub linking these regions. There is little in reality to link the Koh-i-noor to England, although it should be remembered that is an object that has always moved from place to place. No doubt, one day it will move on, beyond England’s borders, but where it ends up at that stage, is ass yet unknown.

Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Sunday, February 24, 2013
Sunday Pouch
Who owns history, Mr. Cameron?
Ashfaqur Rahman

Last Week, British Prime Minister David Cameron, during his official visit to India, made a disconcerting statement in Amritsar. He said his country would not return the 105 karat Kohinoor diamond, one of the largest in the world, which was taken in 1850 from South Asia as a “gift” to the British monarch Queen Victoria. He reiterated that the “diamond in the Royal Crown is ours.” “I do not believe in returnism, as it were. I don’t think it is sensible. The right answer is that the British Museum and other cultural institutions around the world should make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world,” he said.

The history of the Kohinoor diamond is a fascinating one. It was mined in the thirteenth century in Andhra Pradesh, and was initially in possession of King Prataparudra in that region. Kohinoor stayed with the Mughals for a long time. Emperor Shahjahan affixed it on his Peacock Throne to add glamour to the piece. The Kohinoor fell into difficult times when it was seized by Persian King Nadir Shah when he attacked Delhi.
Read the rest of this entry »

February 22, 2013

Diamonds are forever… ours… David Cameron’s the anti-returnist’s reasoning behind keeping Koh-i-noor

Posted at 7:40 pm in Similar cases

Most common phrases we here about diamonds today (not least the one used in the title of this post) were created by the De Beers cartel – an organisation that’s main aim is to boost the price & sales of diamonds around the world. Even without De Beers though, diamonds have always been highly valued & sought after by the wealthy.

The fact is though, that there is a long story to the Koh-i-noor – it only became British property relatively recently & was taken in circumstances that many today would see as morally / ethically questionable. It had been valued by others for a long time before Britain got hold of it & various countries still claim that it is theirs. Many analogies / parallels can be drawn with this case, although I personally feel that the comparison to the Parthenon Marbles is a particularly poor one & merely serves to highlight how uneducated David Cameron is about both of the cases.

That said though, the cases can still both be equally valid – and something needs to be done to work towards resolving them rather than merely brushing off requests with flippant remarks.

First Post

Diamonds are forever… British. Why Cameron really can’t give back the Koh-i-noor
by Sandip Roy Feb 22, 2013

Diamonds are forever and they are for your EYES only.

So India, you can look but don’t even dream about getting the Koh-i-noor back.

Instead David Cameron has given India a parting gift – a post-colonial word – returnism.
Read the rest of this entry »