- Elginism - http://www.elginism.com -

Afghan artefacts returned by UK were saved by a London philanthopist

Posted By Matthew On October 10, 2012 @ 1:05 pm In Similar cases | No Comments

More coverage of the looted Afghan artefacts, which were returned by the UK earlier this year [1].

From:
Museums Association Journal [2]

Hundreds of stolen items returned to Kabul | Museums Association
Patrick Steele
01 September 2012

Some of the 825 stolen objects returned to the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul in July, with the assistance of the British Museum and Ministry of Defence, were saved by a London-based philanthropist.

The British Museum’s Middle East curator, John Simpson, said the philanthropist offered to acquire the objects for the Afghan museum if the British Museum could “advise on legality and process” and act as an intermediary.

A sculpture of Buddha and examples of the Begram Ivories were among items stolen from the museum during the 1992-1996 civil war in Afghanistan and sold on the black market.

Simpson said the philanthropist “is someone who feels strongly about Afghanistan and the National Museum of Afghanistan and wanted to help them”.

The Buddha was acquired from a private collection in Japan in early 2011, while the ivories were acquired in 2010, from an unknown source.

“We can only presume that they were bought in good faith prior to being acquired by the philanthropist,” said Simpson.

The ivories were displayed in the British Museum’s 2011 exhibition Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, while the Buddha was on display in the museum’s enlightenment gallery during.

The other objects returned to the Afghan museum included 803 items seized by the UK Border Force and the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police.

The British Museum identified the objects and advised the police on their repatriation.

It also made records of all the objects, consistent with the Afghan museum’s records, for their Afghan colleagues.

The Buddha is now on display in Kabul. The National Museum of Afghanistan’s curator, Fahim Rahimi, said: “I hope this process of returning artefacts continues and we get our heritage that has been looted back.”

From:
Huffington Post [3]

Afghan museum rebuilds with returned artifacts
KAY JOHNSON | September 5, 2012 10:49 AM EST

KABUL, Afghanistan — Right down to the power cuts that frequently plunge its artifacts into shadow, the National Museum of Afghanistan is a symbol of the country’s decades of hardships. Its building was shelled, looted and caught fire during the 1990s civil war. Taliban extremists later smashed many centuries-old statues.

Now, the museum is slowly rebuilding, thanks to international efforts to return thousands of looted treasures – and to heroic Afghan staff members who hid its most priceless works during the war years and kept the secret for more than a decade.

The museum welcomed home nearly 850 Afghan artifacts in early August – including a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age axe, a 1st Century ivory elephant carving and a life-sized Buddha statue – that were either stolen from the museum or illegally excavated during decades of insecurity. The British Museum catalogued and helped return the pieces in cooperation with British authorities, who seized many from smugglers. It was the second major handover of Afghan historical pieces by the British Museum. In 2009, about 1,500 historical pieces were returned.

The aim is to restore the facility to its pre-war reputation as one of the finest in the region, with displays ranging from the Bronze Age to more contemporary Islamic art.

With its gates topped with barbed wire and rifle-toting guards directing visitors to undergo body searches, the museum on Kabul’s outskirts carries the air of a culture still under siege.

Chief curator Mohammad Fahim Rahimi apologizes for the darkened halls during a recent visit to view one of the newly returned pieces. Like much of Afghanistan, the museum puts up with frequent power outages as the government struggles to provide basic services.

Minutes later, the power shudders back on and the museum lighting reveals its latest acquisition: a Buddha statue estimated at about 1,700 years old.

Looted from the museum during the civil war that followed the Soviet occupation, the statue turned up in Japan in a private collection before it was bought by an anonymous donor who arranged for the British Museum return to its Afghan home, Rahimi says The statue is an example of art from Afghanistan’s long Buddhist history, before the arrival of Islam.

“This is simply our heritage,” Rahimi says. “If we have our heritage back, it’s everything for us.

That’s a heritage that not all appreciate. In 2001, the Taliban dynamited a pair of giant Buddhas carved into a mountain in Bamiyan province. Around the same time, the Taliban also rampaged through the national museum, smashing any art depicting the human form, considered idolatrous under their hardline interpretation of Islam. In all, they destroyed about 2,500 statues.

The recently returned Buddha statue’s long exile abroad at least protected it from that fate, Rahimi says.

“You can see here, the hand is complete and the head is complete. It’s not broken,” he says.

He points out the finer points of the 4th Century piece: the painstakingly carved folds of the robe; the chakra on the Buddha’s right hand, the streams depicting water flow from his feet and the images of flames rise from his shoulders – a representation of one of the Buddha’s first miracles, in which he levitated and produced fire and water to silence skeptics.

The “miracle” Buddha is the only the recently returned pieces from Britain that is on display so far.

Museum director Omara Khan Massoudi says the rest are still in boxes, waiting to be examined and eventually displayed. Cooperation with other museums and with UNESCO has been key to rebuilding the museum, which by 2001 had lost 70 percent of its artifacts to the years of war.

“Within these last 10 years, we’ve gotten more than 16,000 pieces, among them 9,000 returned from outside of Afghanistan,” Massoudi says.

Some of the pieces recently returned were stolen from the museum itself, but many others were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country in past decades while war otherwise occupied Afghan authorities. It’s a practice that continues to this day, according to Massoudi.

“Unfortunately, some places, there is no security, sometimes it happens that people have illegal excavations,” he says.

Massoudi has devoted most of his life’s work to the National Museum, which he says was once renowned for having one of the region’s finest collections, with some 100,000 artifacts including millennia-old tools from some of the earliest human settlements. Established in the 1920s by Afghan King Amrullah Khan, the museum was still thriving when Massoudi joined it more than three decades ago.

But after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, museum workers became increasingly concerned as the country deteriorated into civil war.

So, in 1989, Massoudi and several other staff members packed up some of the most museum’s most treasured pieces – including the legendary “Bactrian gold,” an intricate collection of tens of thousands of gold and silver coins, crowns and jewelry more than 2,000 years old – and hid them in two locations in central Kabul, one of them a secret vault under Kabul’s central bank.

“Luckily, this decision gave us a good result when the civil war started in Kabul city,” Massoudi said. “The national museum artifacts were looted … but the artifacts we shifted to the two places in the center of the city.”

The pieces remained hidden until 2003, when the hidden treasures’ existence was revealed. Now the Bactrian gold and some of the other rescued artifacts are on a tour of museums around the world, having already been displayed in New York, Paris and London. The traveling exhibition is now in Norway and goes next to Australia.

Eventually, those treasures, too, will be returned to Afghanistan’s National Museum. Massoudi laments the facility still lacks such modern museum staples as humidity control and high-tech security – they’re still working on the electricity, after all. But he says the museum is seeking funds to build a new, modern home near the current building.

“We all together tried the best to rebuild … from zero,” he says.

From:
Art Daily [4]

Kabul’s National Museum of Afghanistan rebuilds with returned artifacts
By: Kay Johnson, Associated Press

KABUL (AP).- Right down to the power cuts that frequently plunge its artifacts into shadow, the National Museum of Afghanistan is a symbol of the country’s decades of hardships. Its building was shelled, looted and caught fire during the 1990s civil war. Taliban extremists later smashed many centuries-old statues.

Now, the museum is slowly rebuilding, thanks to international efforts to return thousands of looted treasures — and to heroic Afghan staff members who hid its most priceless works during the war years and kept the secret for more than a decade.

The museum welcomed home nearly 850 Afghan artifacts in early August — including a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age axe, a 1st Century ivory elephant carving and a life-sized Buddha statue — that were either stolen from the museum or illegally excavated during decades of insecurity. The British Museum catalogued and helped return the pieces in cooperation with British authorities, who seized many from smugglers. It was the second major handover of Afghan historical pieces by the British Museum. In 2009, about 1,500 historical pieces were returned.

The aim is to restore the facility to its pre-war reputation as one of the finest in the region, with displays ranging from the Bronze Age to more contemporary Islamic art.

With its gates topped with barbed wire and rifle-toting guards directing visitors to undergo body searches, the museum on Kabul’s outskirts carries the air of a culture still under siege.

Chief curator Mohammad Fahim Rahimi apologizes for the darkened halls during a recent visit to view one of the newly returned pieces. Like much of Afghanistan, the museum puts up with frequent power outages as the government struggles to provide basic services.

Minutes later, the power shudders back on and the museum lighting reveals its latest acquisition: a Buddha statue estimated at about 1,700 years old.

Looted from the museum during the civil war that followed the Soviet occupation, the statue turned up in Japan in a private collection before it was bought by an anonymous donor who arranged for the British Museum return to its Afghan home, Rahimi says The statue is an example of art from Afghanistan’s long Buddhist history, before the arrival of Islam.

“This is simply our heritage,” Rahimi says. “If we have our heritage back, it’s everything for us.

That’s a heritage that not all appreciate. In 2001, the Taliban dynamited a pair of giant Buddhas carved into a mountain in Bamiyan province. Around the same time, the Taliban also rampaged through the national museum, smashing any art depicting the human form, considered idolatrous under their hardline interpretation of Islam. In all, they destroyed about 2,500 statues.

The recently returned Buddha statue’s long exile abroad at least protected it from that fate, Rahimi says.

“You can see here, the hand is complete and the head is complete. It’s not broken,” he says.

He points out the finer points of the 4th Century piece: the painstakingly carved folds of the robe; the chakra on the Buddha’s right hand, the streams depicting water flow from his feet and the images of flames rise from his shoulders — a representation of one of the Buddha’s first miracles, in which he levitated and produced fire and water to silence skeptics.

The “miracle” Buddha is the only the recently returned pieces from Britain that is on display so far.

Museum director Omara Khan Massoudi says the rest are still in boxes, waiting to be examined and eventually displayed. Cooperation with other museums and with UNESCO has been key to rebuilding the museum, which by 2001 had lost 70 percent of its artifacts to the years of war.

“Within these last 10 years, we’ve gotten more than 16,000 pieces, among them 9,000 returned from outside of Afghanistan,” Massoudi says.

Some of the pieces recently returned were stolen from the museum itself, but many others were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country in past decades while war otherwise occupied Afghan authorities. It’s a practice that continues to this day, according to Massoudi.

“Unfortunately, some places, there is no security, sometimes it happens that people have illegal excavations,” he says.

Massoudi has devoted most of his life’s work to the National Museum, which he says was once renowned for having one of the region’s finest collections, with some 100,000 artifacts including millennia-old tools from some of the earliest human settlements. Established in the 1920s by Afghan King Amrullah Khan, the museum was still thriving when Massoudi joined it more than three decades ago.

But after Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, museum workers became increasingly concerned as the country deteriorated into civil war.

So, in 1989, Massoudi and several other staff members packed up some of the most museum’s most treasured pieces — including the legendary “Bactrian gold,” an intricate collection of tens of thousands of gold and silver coins, crowns and jewelry more than 2,000 years old — and hid them in two locations in central Kabul, one of them a secret vault under Kabul’s central bank.

“Luckily, this decision gave us a good result when the civil war started in Kabul city,” Massoudi said. “The national museum artifacts were looted … but the artifacts we shifted to the two places in the center of the city.”

The pieces remained hidden until 2003, when the hidden treasures’ existence was revealed. Now the Bactrian gold and some of the other rescued artifacts are on a tour of museums around the world, having already been displayed in New York, Paris and London. The traveling exhibition is now in Norway and goes next to Australia.

Eventually, those treasures, too, will be returned to Afghanistan’s National Museum. Massoudi laments the facility still lacks such modern museum staples as humidity control and high-tech security — they’re still working on the electricity, after all. But he says the museum is seeking funds to build a new, modern home near the current building.

“We all together tried the best to rebuild … from zero,” he says.


Article printed from Elginism: http://www.elginism.com

URL to article: http://www.elginism.com/similar-cases/afghan-artefacts-returned-by-uk-were-saved-by-a-london-philanthopist/20121010/4956/

URLs in this post:

[1] returned by the UK earlier this year: http://www.elginism.com/20120808/over-9000-looted-artefacts-returned-to-afghanistan-since-2001/

[2] Museums Association Journal: http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/01092012-stolen-items-returned-to-kabul

[3] Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120905/as-afghanistan-museum/

[4] Art Daily: http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=11&int_new=57617#.UHVuwoaABOc

© www.elginism.com - The copyright on all quoted articles remains with their original authors / publishers.