February 26, 2005

British Museum would rather export cultural diplomacy than return artefacts

Posted at 12:35 am in British Museum, Similar cases

Yet again, the British Museum attempts to justify & post rationalise their continued retention of cultural treasures from around the world that were acquired in situations of dubious legality. This time they have invented a new phrase Cultural Diplomacy to explain their current actions.
Unfortunately the director of one of the Kenyan Museums is agreeing with him on this one.
Should retention of artefacts be justified by the level of care that can be provided for them? If this is the case, if somewhere else can care for it better than the British Museum, then is the British Museum then going to hand the artefacts over? Who decided this standard of care amongst museums? It certainly was not the result of any reasoned debate involving all the interested parties. Furthermore, is the care that could be provided by many African countries today any worse than the standard that was available at the British Museum at the time that the Artefacts were originally taken (Remember that until not that in Victorian times London was possibly the most polluted city in the world.

The Post (Lusaka, Zambia)

British Museum Would Rather Export Cultural Diplomacy Than Return Artefacts – Macgregor
The Post (Lusaka)

February 25, 2005
Edem Djokotoe
THE British Museum would rather export cultural diplomacy than return artefacts taken from countries around the world, its director, Neil Macgregor, has said.

Macgregor was speaking in an interview at the British Museum ahead of a media briefing on its Africa programme, which is aimed at stimulating debate about African issues across the UK.

He said that the whole essence of cultural diplomacy was to use the museum’s collection of about 7 million artefacts and its expertise to promote not only the UK’s achievements but to enable other countries to examine their own in a wider international context.

Asked whether items taken from other countries would be returned to them, Macgregor said: “When governments make a request, we discuss their demands because we are interested in sharing our collection with the rest of the world.”

The British Museum Act, enacted in the 1960s, notes that the museum will hold its collection in trust for the rest of the world, thereby placing legal restrictions on other countries gaining permanent access to artefacts originally taken from them.

Macgregor said, in the interests of cultural diplomacy, the British Museum was working closely with the Kenyan government to take some of its collection to the East African country for exhibitions there.

Macgregor said that a curator from Kenya was in London to select pieces for exhibition.

And the curator of ethnography at the National Museum of Kenya, Kiprop Lagat, said in an interview that the collaboration with the British Museum was a more practical way of sharing cultural artefacts with the rest of the world.

“Our governments can’t preserve these artefacts the way they should.

And then there is the problem of funding and the lack of the necessary infrastructure. By keeping these things at the museum, we have a forum for exposing Kenya to the rest of the world,” he said.

One of the main attractions in the African collection at the British Museum is the Tree of Life, a metallic sculpture made by Mozambican artists from AK 47s and other weapons.

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