March 22, 2012

British Museum director Neil MacGregor insists artefacts must not be returned

Posted at 8:33 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

At a lecture at UWA in Perth, British Museum director, Neil MacGregor insists that artefacts should not be returned by museums to their countries of origin. Instead, he proposes that travelling exhibitions will become more popular in future, allowing some of the artefacts in question to be exhibited around the world.

This idea sounds fine in practice – but it doesn’t help to correct the many perceived and actual injustices that led to large amounts of the artefacts being in museums such as his in the first place.

WA Today

Museum boss defends keeping of precious artefacts
Jenna Clarke
October 27, 2011 – 5:57AM

Artefacts of historical and cultural significance which are displayed in major museums around the world should not be returned to their country of origin, according to art world leader Neil MacGregor.

During an address at the University of Western Australia this week the British Museum director came to the defence of museums around the world where indigenous and ancient objects are displayed.

The celebrated author and BBC presenter believes that due to the increasing globalisation of the world, museums and the concept of ”travelling exhibitions”, will become more relevant to modern societies that are interested in learning about world history and understanding the future of cultures.

“When you see these objects they will mean more to you in your own experience than they would in London or the place where they were made,” he said.

“The value of an object is to explain history to as many people as possible and explain the present to as many people as possible that may not be achieved by it being returned to the place where it was made.”

In Perth to open the first collaborative project between the British and WA Museums, Extraordinary Stories from the British Museum, Mr MacGregor is looking forward the five-year partnership with WA which will see many rare and culturally significant works of art appearing outside of London for the first time.

“Two thirds of the people living in central London were born outside of the UK. This is a phenomenon which the world has not known before and it is replicated across the world and it gives museums a new role,” he added.

“It is ever more important for the citizen who is a citizen of the world, to make sense of the world and that is what museums are for everywhere.”

Mr MacGregor received applause from the 200-strong audience as he outlined how travelling collections are now used “to explore key elements of our shared history.”

“In the last 40 or 50 years, migrations from all over the world have happened in all directions by tourism and people travelling for business, we now have in most cities, populations that are by no means local and in some cases are entire global.”

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