Showing results 1 - 12 of 926 for the category: British Museum.

March 27, 2015

UK government rejects Parthenon Marbles UNESCO mediation

Posted at 10:56 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

In September 2013, after long deliberation, the Greek Government made the decision to invite the Britain (via UNESCO) into mediation to resolve the Parthenon Sculptures issue.

Since then, the issue of the Parthenon Marbles has risen far higher up the agenda, publicised first by George Clooney, and then the presence of his wife Amal, as a member of a team of lawyers invited to Athens to advise on potential legal action.

Most recently, the British Museum themselves pushed the case of the Marbles back into the limelight with an (arguably) ill received decision to secretly loan one of the sculptures to the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg.

All this time, despite the issue of the Parthenon Marbles making international news headlines on numerous occasions, no response to the request was forthcoming from the British Government or the British Museum, other than the fact that they were considering it and would respond in due course.

During this period, ICOMOS passed a resolution in support of the mediation request, letters were written to the Prime Minister and questions were asked in Parliament. Earlier this month, Andrew George MP tabled an Early Day motion intended to draw attention to this inaction.

Suddenly today, the British Museum published responses on their website from themselves and the British Government, that were sent to UNESCO to be forwarded on to the Greek Government.

As one might have predicted, the response was negative.

Now, maybe it just took seventeen months of careful thinking to arrive at the decision that they did not want to enter into mediation, but alarm bells are ringing regarding the timing of this. Following the 2010 General Election in the UK, the decision was made that from then on, Parliament would operate on five year fixed terms – so for the first time ever, the date of the next election was known well in advance.

Although Parliament is to be dissolved on 30th March 2015 prior to the election, it was prorogued on 26th March. What this means is that at prorogation, all parliamentary business ends, although that Parliament would still exist until dissolution.

It seems an unlikely coincidence that the date of 26th March is exactly the same one given on the top of the two letters of response to the mediation request. To me, this looks like the person who fires of an email that they know will be contentious, just before leaving the office for a two week holiday. They leave it until he last minute, hoping that someone else will deal with the fallout, or that it will be forgotten by their return.

In my day job as an architect, I have on occasion come across similar behaviour, in the context of planning application rejections. The objections were filed at the latest possible point in the process, where the other party had no time to respond, meaning that the whole process would be for an entire month until the next committee meeting. The end result of this process though, was that it was discovered that the objecting party was not being entirely honest – their awkwardly obstructive tactics merely drew attention to this fact, and in the end, it transpired that the validity of their objections was entirely cast into doubt by far greater transgressions on their own part.

I can not help noting a parallel between these two situations. If the British Government / British Museum felt that they were sitting entirely comfortable and had a strong case, why would they not respond on a timescale where the other party could reply at leisure if they so desired within the current session of Parliament? There has been more than enough time in which to do so, and the timing of this announcement merely highlights the level of awkward obstructiveness that is faced when anyone tried to actually engage the British Government or the British Museum in discussions on the issue.

I have previously highlighted the carrot and stick approach to cultural property negotiations. Like many, I was never convinced UNESCO mediation would work, as there was nothing to compel the British Museum to enter into the process. They feel that they are sitting comfortably, so why should they voluntarily enter into a procedure, the outcome of which might be that they end up significantly less comfortable? If a potential threat of legal action was also on the horizon though, then the mediation might have been perceived very differently. Suddenly, mediation would become a distinctly palatable alternative to a costly and high profile lawsuit, which could sully the name of the institution and drag on for years.

As yet, no official proposals have been made for litigation, although we know that it has been considered. Who knows whether if and when it does take place, mediation will still be available as an option. If the mediation offer is withdrawn, the British Museum / British Government might well regret not taking the offer when it was available.

All this highlights that importance of the Greek Government keeping up the pressure on Britain. The first serious attempt at negotiation may not have worked, but it should be followed up with alternative options, making sure that the UK realises that attempting to ignore the situation will not make it go away. The issue of the Marbles is one that needs to be resolved, and mealy mouthed talk of Universal Museums and denial of the existence of past loan requests is not the way to achieve this.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
British Museum

Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
France

26 March 2015

The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum: UNESCO mediation proposal

I write on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum, who at their meeting of 19th March 2015 considered the request put forward by the Greek Government that they should enter into a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, on the subject of the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum. After full and careful consideration, we have decided respectfully to decline this request. We believe that the more constructive way forward, on which we have already embarked, is to collaborate directly with other museums and cultural institutions, not just in Greece but across the world.

The British Museum admires and supports the work of UNESCO, fully acknowledging the importance of its unique ability, as an intergovernmental agency, to address the serious issue of the threats to, and the destruction of, cultural heritage around the world. The Museum has a long history of collaboration with UNESCO, notably in Iraq in 2003-5, and is currently engaged with UNESCO in formulating responses to the crisis in Syria, including the illicit trafficking of antiquities. The Museum would wish always to align itself with UNESCO’s purposes in the preservation and safeguarding of the world’s endangered cultural heritage. However, the surviving Parthenon Sculptures, carefully preserved in a number of European museums, clearly do not fall into this category.

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

In pursuit of this aim, the Trustees would want to develop existing good relations with colleagues and institutions in Greece, and to explore collaborative ventures, not on a government-to-government basis but directly between institutions. This is why we believe that UNESCO involvement is not the best way forward. Museums holding Greek works, whether in Greece, the UK or elsewhere in the world, are naturally united in a shared endeavour to show the importance of the legacy of ancient Greece. The British Museum is committed to playing its full part in sharing the value of that legacy for all humanity.

The potential of this approach can be seen in the British Museum’s current special exhibition Defining Beauty, the Body in Ancient Greek Art, which opened to the public today. Here some of the Parthenon Sculptures are displayed with other works that similarly show the intense humanism of ancient Greek civilisation, including masterpieces generously lent by museums around the world. Nowhere else in the world is it now, or has it ever been, possible to see these objects together. The aesthetic impact is considerable, and the intellectual content compelling. This seems to us to point the way forward, as an example of the great public benefit that arises from museums internationally using and sharing their collections in this way.

In this same spirit, the Trustees recently lent one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and were pleased to learn that in only six weeks some 140,000 Russian visitors had the chance to see it there. This was a new audience for this extraordinary work of ancient Greek art, most of whom could not have visited either Athens or London. Visitor surveys revealed that the display of the sculpture was received with great interest and warm enthusiasm. After two and a half thousand years, this was Russia’s first glimpse of the splendours of fifth-century Athens that have played such a central part in shaping Russian consciousness and culture.

Such initiatives, arranged directly between the participating institutions, seem to the Trustees a natural way of building from the fact that the surviving Parthenon Sculptures are shared among a number of European collections. This means that the sculptures can already be seen in a different historical context in each museum, and the Trustees believe this to be to the great benefit of world audiences. The sculptures in London are already seen by more than six million visitors each year, free of charge.

Views on the historic distribution of the surviving Parthenon Sculptures naturally differ, though there is unanimous recognition that the original totality of the sculptural decoration cannot now be reassembled as so much has been lost, and that the surviving sculptures can never again take their place on the building. The scholars of the British Museum and of other institutions that hold Parthenon Sculptures enjoy excellent collaborative relationships with Greek museums and universities, in Athens and elsewhere. These have included collaboration on research projects, publications and exhibitions. The British Museum has routinely lent to Greece, and indeed British Museum objects are currently on loan to the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. This demonstrates the warm relationships of mutual trust and respect that have been built up between scholars in Athens and London. The Acropolis Museum and the British Museum are both centres for Parthenon studies, and curators and colleagues from each institution have together discussed their common efforts to seek new audiences and to find new ways of interpretation.

As Trustees we attach great importance to these joint ventures, and believe that both the study of the Parthenon Sculptures and their display to the widest possible audiences illuminates not only the Classical Greek achievement but also its impact on the world. In conclusion, therefore, we would invite our colleagues in Greek museums to continue to work with us and to explore new ways of enabling the whole world to see, study and enjoy the sculptures of the Parthenon.

We are sending this letter both in English and in Greek, and are copying it to the Ministers for Culture and Europe, who are replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter of 9 August 2013.

Sir Richard Lambert
Chairman of the British Museum Board of Trustees

From:
British Government

26 March 2015
Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán
Assistant Director-General for Culture
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
1 Rue Miollis
75732 Paris Cedex 15
France
Dear Mr
Pérez de Armiñán,

PARTHENON SCULPTURES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM

We are writing in response to the letter of 9 August 2013 from your predecessor, Francesco Bandarin, to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities, the Foreign Secretary and the Director of the British Museum.

We would first like to express how much we value the role that UNESCO plays in helping to safeguard cultural heritage and in providing a forum for the resolution of international disputes through the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). The issue of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum has been the subject of much discussion over the years both within the Committee and elsewhere, and while the UK is not formally a member of the Committee, officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Museum have regularly attended and sought to assist the Committee in its work.

Mr Bandarin asked us to consider a request put forward by the Greek Government to agree to a process of mediation, facilitated by UNESCO, with a view to transferring the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum to Greece. At the Nineteenth Session of the ICPRCP in October 2014, the UK acknowledged that UNESCO stands ready to facilitate mediation discussions and the ICPRCP adopted a recommendation that invites the parties to consider making use of the mediation process as proposed by Greece.

While we remain keen to cooperate with UNESCO in its work, the fact remains that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the laws pertaining at the time and the Trustees of the British Museum have had clear legal title to the sculptures since 1816. Neither the British Government nor the British Museum are aware of any new arguments to the contrary since 1985, when a formal Greek request for the return of the sculptures was turned down by the British Government. We have seen nothing to suggest that Greece’s purpose in seeking mediation on this issue is anything other than to achieve the permanent transfer of the Parthenon sculptures now in the British Museum to Greece and on terms that would deny the British Museum’s right of ownership, either in law or as a practical reality. Given our equally clear position, this leads us to conclude that mediation would not carry this debate substantially forward.

In addition to the matter of clear legal title, a further relevant factor is that the Trustees of the British Museum are prevented by law from de-accessioning objects in the Museum’s collections unless they are duplicates or unfit for retention. Successive governments have indicated their support for this important legal principle, which is in common with the legal obligations of all the UK’s major public museums and protects the integrity of the British Museum’s collections.

We acknowledge that the Greek Government has aspirations relating to the transfer of the sculptures to Greece and all of us who have had the opportunity to visit the Acropolis Museum greatly admire it. The Acropolis Museum has allowed a greater proportion of the rich collection of sculptures from the Acropolis in Athens to be exhibited than ever before, and has provided a fitting home for many of the Parthenon sculptures that have been removed from the temple in recent years.

Given the global nature of the collection held by the British Museum, the many millions of visitors who visit each year have the opportunity to understand the significance of the Parthenon sculptures in the context of world history and they can do so free of charge. While we understand the strength of contrary opinion, we think that this is something of incalculable international benefit.

In that spirit, the British Museum has a long history of friendly collaboration with colleagues in the Greek Archaeological Service and has contributed to discussions around the restoration of the Acropolis monuments. It has also worked on a project to scan elements of the surviving Parthenon sculptures in both Athens and London. The UK Government is keen that the process of mutual, bilateral cooperation that exists between the UK and Greece on cultural matters should continue to develop.

Setting aside the differences relating to the Parthenon sculptures, we believe that there is scope for further co-operation and collaboratio n between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum in the years ahead, and we hope that this path can be pursued.

We are copying this letter to Sir Richard Lambert, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, who is replying separately to Mr Bandarin’s letter.

ED VAIZEY MP
Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy

RT HON DAVID LIDINGTON MP
Minister for Europe

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.
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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.
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March 9, 2015

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.
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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.
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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”.
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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.
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March 4, 2015

British Museum returns artefacts to their country of origin – temporarily

Posted at 1:53 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The British Musuem is loaning various artefacts to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. The artefacts were taken by Captain Cook while he was exploring Australia.

Various Aboriginal groups want the items returned permanently though.

One thing that loans such as this do prove, is that even though the British Museum insists that the artefacts are better located in the British Museum, there is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a significance to exhibiting them in their country of origin, even if it is only temporary. If Australian artefacts can return in this way, then why can’t they make a similar loan of the Parthenon Marbles?

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

From:
ABC News (Australia)

Indigenous artefacts collected by Captain Cook set to return for exhibit in Australia
Updated February 26, 2015 19:11:43

The National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra says a controversial exhibition will see Indigenous souvenirs collected by Captain James Cook return to Australia for the first time in 245 years.

The British Museum in London will loan 150 Indigenous exhibits for display, including the shield and spears thought to be taken by Captain Cook from Botany Bay in 1770.
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March 3, 2015

Parthenon Marbles legal fees may be paid by wealthy individual

Posted at 11:16 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Reports from a former official at the Greek Ministry of Culture indicate that a wealthy Greek shipping magnate may be providing funds to cover legal fees relating to the Parthenon Marbles. At present (according to this report), the group of lawyers (Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer and Amal Clooney) who visited Athens last year to appraise the Greek government on the legal options available to them, have been appointed to produce a more in-depth report into the case. This report is due to be delivered to the Greek Government on 30th March 2015.

The news that this stage of the initiative is to be privately funded is interesting, as it was something that I had previously raised as a possibility, when people queried the issue of whether it would be affordable to the Greek Government.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Washington Post

Shipping magnate foots the bill for Amal Clooney to represent Greece
By Daniela Deane
March 3 at 4:29 AM

LONDON — Greece is broke, correct? That’s why it needed bailing out by the rest of Europe.

But then, the cash-strapped Greek government hires the high-profile and expensive London law firm that employs Amal Clooney, American actor George Clooney’s glamorous new bride, to represent it in its never-ending quest to get the Elgin Marbles back from the British Museum. With no public tender.

What’s missing from this picture? A Greek shipping magnate, of course.

A former official in Greece’s culture ministry said Monday that an unnamed Greek shipping tycoon who operates in both Athens and London wanted to make a “grand gesture of patriotism” by paying the London-based lawyers’ legal fees, according to the London Times newspaper. The official said the fees had been deemed “too extravagant” by the Greek government, which is in the midst of a financial crisis, the paper reported Tuesday.
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February 24, 2015

Virtual technologies as a solution for cultural property disputes

Posted at 1:44 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku has written an interesting response to Paul Mason’s recent article suggesting that virtual reality and 3D printing could be a solution to the Parthenon Marbles problem.

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

Parthenon Marbles in British Museum

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

CAN MODERN TECHNOLOGY HELP RESOLVE DISPUTES ON RESTITUTION OF CULTURAL ARTEFACTS?
Kwame Opoku
20 February 2015

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

Paul Mason has in an article in the Guardian, ”Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum” has suggested that technologies such as virtual reality and 3D printing could make the physical location of ancient artefacts less important:
“However, the rise of digital technology should allow us to imagine a new kind of museum altogether. The interactive audio guides and digital reconstructions found in some museums should be just the beginning. It is now possible to extend the museum into virtual space so that exhibits become alive, with their own context and complexity. Hard as it is when you are managing a business based on chunks of stone and gold, we should challenge museum curators to think of their primary material as information.”
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February 19, 2015

Does the art industry support returning Parthenon Marbles?

Posted at 2:13 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

ITV News is carrying a story (I haven’t seen it picked up anywhere else so far), that a survey carried out by Public relations firm Bell Pottinger Arts indicates 60% of art experts back keeping the Parthenon Marbles in London. The article is short on detail or analysis, so most of what follows below is purely based on my own knowledge, observations and conjecture.

The poll result is interesting, as it does not reflect the results previously shown in a multitude of other surveys of the general public, or targeted groups, all of which have tended to show that more people are in favour of return than retaining them. These surveys have been conducted by respected polling companies such as Ipsos Mori, as well as by newspapers and magazines. Two things have been noticed from thee polls – firstly, that as time has progressed, support for the return for the sculptures has generally increased (possibly due to an increase in awareness in the subject, as press coverage of it has also increased). Secondly, there was a general trend, that the more educated people were about the topic, the more likely they were to support return. This was proven, not just where people were asked to rate their knowledge of the subject, but also borne out in polls such as that carried out by the Museums Association’s journal, which would clearly be catering for an audience that would have a greater understanding of the case than the general public.

Bearing in mind the above, alarm bells are ringing, when a new survey appears that seems to go against what has been shown in every other previous survey that I am aware of from the last 15 years. As such, the methodology has to be examined carefully.

There are a number of things that I would like to know:

Firstly, what was the actual question that people were asked? In most polls, the exact question wording is made public, but in this one, there is no indication of exactly what was being asked and the context of it within the questionnaire.

Secondly, who was asked? It talks about the 70 journalists and leaders of arts organisations in the UK, the Middle East and Asia who were questioned, without going into any more detail of who these were, how they were selected and the breakdown by country, type of organisation etc. It seems to have been a very targeted poll (perhaps intended to produce a certain result) and also to have a very small sample size. Polls by Ipsos Mori have typically used sample sizes of over 1000 members of the public.

Thirdly, the thing that interests me most, is who commissioned this poll and why? In my experience, companies such as Bell Pottinger don’t work for free, so some company / organisation / individual must be paying them to carry out this work. As this is all about the Parthenon Sculptures, the first thought is that the British Museum might be involved. There is also a clear linkage as to why this institution would chose to use Bell Pottinger, as Baroness Wheatcroft of Blackheath (AKA former Journalist Patience Wheatcroft) is not only the Deputy Chairman of the British Museum, but also an advisory board member of none other than Bell Pottinger. She is also a Conservative peer and former Daily Telegraph editor and it is well known that neither of these bodies are sympathetic to reunification of the Marbles.

If my above guesswork is correct, it is interesting, as it indicates that the British Museum have determined that they need to play a very different set of tactics to those that they have employed in the past (namely that of burying their heads in the sand). If they are now employing an outside PR company (albeit one with a less than stellar reputation for being anything other than guns for hire), then it suggests that they are perhaps no longer sitting quite as comfortably as they once were.

This assertion is backed up by the loan of one of the Parthenon Sculptures to St Petersburg last December, something that was the first real variation in policy noticed since Neil MacGregor took over as director of the museum over ten years ago. I can only deduce that is is clear that they are feeling the pressure, that they finally need to try and defend themselves. This ties in to heightened publicity in recent months about the sculptures in general, but also to the fact that it is now publicly known that the Greek Government has been in discussion with lawyers over whether legal action could be used to help secure the return of the sculptures.

I would suggest that this shows that the current Greek strategy is working, and as such I hope that the new Syriza government will continue to follow the footsteps of those who preceded them, in terms of how they deal with this issue, rather than backing off and letting the issue fall off the agenda once more.

One final thing to note is that the use of the name Elgin Marbles to describe the sculptures is a very loaded term, although it is unclear whether this was the decision of Bell Pottinger or ITV London. Even the British Museum has not used this term for many years now.

If The British Museum has appointed Bell Pottinger to handle this issue for them, I am sure we will be hearing far more about it in the coming months. Watch this space.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
ITV London

18 February 2015 at 12:20pm
60% of art experts back keeping Elgin Marbles in London

A survey of art experts found 60% in favour of the British Museum in London keeping the Elgin Marbles.

The marbles, which are 2,500 years old, were presented to the London institution almost 200 years ago after being removed from the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis by Lord Elgin. The debate over whether they should be returned to Greece raging ever since.
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February 16, 2015

Virtual reality as a route to ending Parthenon Marbles dispute?

Posted at 10:48 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Following the recent articles about 3D printing and museums, Paul Mason looks at how new technologies could perhaps provide a solution to the long running Parthenon Marbles dispute.

This is not the first time that such a proposal has been made – Something similar was proposed by Neil MacGregor in 2003. The big sticking point though is that while both sides feel that a replica may be a solution for the other side, they want to hold onto the originals themselves.

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum

From:
Guardian

Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum
Paul Mason
Sunday 15 February 2015 20.00 GMT

In the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, a marble statue of the river god Ilissos is displayed in heavily guarded isolation. Purloined by Lord Elgin in 1805, it was loaned to Russia by the British Museum last December, in the face of protests from the Greeks, who want all the Parthenon marbles back. The move was highly controversial. Russia and the EU had imposed mutual sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, and critics made much of the fact that Brits could move statues to Russia, but Greek farmers could not export peaches there. It was a reminder that the politics of culture is always the politics of physical things.

The 21st-century museum keeper is faced with many voices clamouring for justice: for the return of stolen goods, for recognition of imperialist wrongs, for racial justice and women’s rights. They have offered two broad responses to such claims. The first builds on the “universal museum” principle, outlined by a group of influential directors, in 2004. Their argument is, first, that the present location of treasures such as the Parthenon marbles is, itself, a historical fact to be respected. Since antiquities fertilised the British Enlightenment, they have become part of our national culture. On top of that, they argue that, by maintaining large, free and well–secured collections in metropolitan centres, the “universal museum” gives global access to collections that are global in scope. This argument gained strength after the US military recklessly damaged archaeological sites in Iraq, and then Islamic State fighters overran them.
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