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The British Museum still has to deal with old issues

My response to the Evening Standard’s article [1] on Neil MacGregor’s tenure at the British Museum was published in their letters page today.

Evening Standard (London) [2]

Old Issue for the British Museum
Friday 11th April 2008

Fiona Maddock’s interview with Neil MacGregor highlights many great achievements that he has made during his tenure at the British Museum, but manages to skim over other critical issues.

Whilst most artefacts in the museum were acquired through legitimate means, the ownership of a significant minority of items is disputed. MacGregor talks about the functioning of a post colonial collection, making much of prominent ties forged with China, but such integration with other parties happens only when the museum has the upper hand & can dictate the terms.

Greece has asked on many occasions to enter free negotiations with the museum regarding the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens, but these requests are always met with conditions of entry that effectively prohibit further discussion. This policy is rapidly falling out of step with current international museum practise, where high profile restitutions, particularly from US museums have in many cases strengthened these institutions through increased co-operation and bilateral exchanges.

MacGregor has raised the profile of his museum, but more needs to be done to put right the spoils of the “various forms of high class looting” that still lie trapped inside its doors. The African saying that “Until the Lion writes his own story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” certainly continues to ring true in this case.

Matthew Taylor
Marbles Reunited