Showing results 1 - 12 of 102 for the tag: Guardian.

April 12, 2016

Should Palmyra be fixed or left?

Posted at 1:02 pm in Similar cases

Since the destruction of various Syrian sites by ISIS, a number of different projects have been launched that aim to either virtually, or physically rebuild and revert the sites to their pre-ISIS form.

Here, Jonathan Jones argues against such actions. Similar discussions have taken place ever since Greek Independence on the form that any restoration of the Acropolis might take. What new buildings could be removed and what should stay, where does a restoration turn into a reconstruction etc.

The destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra

The destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra

From:
Guardian

Palmyra must not be fixed. History would never forgive us
Jonathan Jones
Monday 11 April 2016 14.06 BST

Palmyra must not “rise again”, as Syria’s director of antiquities has promised. It must not be turned into a fake replica of its former glory. Instead, what remains of this ancient city after its destruction by Isis – and that is mercifully more than many people feared – should be tactfully, sensitively and honestly preserved.

The honesty has to begin with Palmyra’s newfound fame. Before Isis seized this extraordinary Syrian site last year, Palmyra was a name known best to archaeologists, historians and classicists. In a monstrous and horrific way, by blowing up some of its most beautiful monuments and carrying out inhuman atrocities amid its splendours, the terrorist army has made Palmyra known.
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February 1, 2016

Satellite images show ISIS destroyed Iraq’s oldest monastery

Posted at 2:01 pm in Similar cases

Iraq’s oldest Christian Monastery has been destroyed by ISIS, according to analysis of recent satellite photos of the area.

St Elijah’s monastery in Mosul had been used as a place of worship for 1,400 years.

US Soldiers celebrate Easter Mass at St Elijah’s monastery in 2010

US Soldiers celebrate Easter Mass at St Elijah’s monastery in 2010

From:
Guardian

Isis has destroyed Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery, satellite images confirm
Associated Press
Wednesday 20 January 2016 12.16 GMT

New satellite photos confirm what church leaders and Middle East preservationists had feared: the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to rubble, yet another victim of Islamic State’s relentless destruction of heritage sites it considers heretical.

St Elijah’s monastery stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years, including most recently for US troops. In earlier millennia, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel and worshipped at the altar. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved near the entrance.
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January 28, 2016

Is not knowing an artefact was Nazi loot an excuse to retain it?

Posted at 2:47 pm in Similar cases

The Musée des beaux-arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland has been in the news recently, for their refusal to return a Constable painting looted by the Nazis to the heirs of the rightful owner.

The excuse given by the museum is that they did not know that they purchased the item in good faith. Further to this, they also argue that as a neutral power in the Second World War, their history is unencumbered by the holocaust.

Neither of these reasons holds much credibility for me though. If the legitimacy of a purchase is merely down to good faith, then surely this leads us down a route where nobody asks awkward questions when making a purchase. Even if the due diligence process was thorough, this should not be an acceptable excuse. although perhaps there is an argument that some compromise could be made – either between the museum and the rightful owners, or potentially the governments of countries that expect their institutions to be able to do the right thing. There is no precedent for the second argument – that Switzerland had no involvement in the situation that led to the looting. Britain was actively fighting against the Nazis during the Second World War, arguably giving it a stronger claim to this than Switzerland, but various institutions have already made restitutions in similar cases and the right to do this is enshrined in law by the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act.

Despite all the above though, what this article skips over, is that the Holocaust is not a special case in this regard. Museums should make far wider examinations of provenance and their justifications for ownership. The Benin Bronzes and the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum are just some of the many other cases currently outside of the legal frameworks that allow for the return of Nazi loot, meaning that the institutions that hold them feel little need to argue a case, as they know that there is no legal way for the items to be deaccessioned from their collections at present.

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

John Constable’s Dedham From Langham, 1813

From:
Guardian

Why a Swiss gallery should return its looted Nazi art out of simple decency
Jonathan Jones
Wednesday 27 January 2016

Memory has many colours. A work of art that survives the centuries is an embodiment of history, marked invisibly by all the hands that have held it. Who owned it? Where did it hang? These are not just arcane questions for scholars but the network of human experience that haunts works of art in museums and makes them richly alive.

The hunt for works of art looted by the Nazis matters. Researchers who discover the true owners of a painting stolen in wartime Europe and later acquired innocently or knowingly by a museum or gallery are piecing together shadowy stories of oppression, injustice, murder and destruction. Why did the Nazis loot art from Jewish owners? It was not only greedbut an ideological belief that Jews contributed nothing to European civilisation and did not deserve to share in it.
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May 16, 2015

Greece drops plans for legal action over Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 9:08 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

I was very surprised to hear this story, particularly with the timing of it coming only a day after much of the content of the press summary of the legal report was published.

My first issue is that the actual report has not yet been delivered to the Greek Government. It was commissioned by the previous ND / PASOK coalition government when Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer and Amal Clooney visited Athens last year. Originally the report was due to be delivered in late April, but for various reasons has been delayed until the end of this month. We know from previous new stories about the way that this exercise has been funded, that the cost of researching and producing this report was not an insignificant amount.

So, apart from the lawyers working on the report, my understanding is that nobody has yet seen the actual final report – not the Greek Government, not the press and definitely not the plethora of armchair legal experts who are commenting on the press reports.

Even once the Greek Government has seen the report, something of this scale and importance would generally require extensive consideration and review, to understand the full impact of what was being proposed, to let the government’s own legal team assess its veracity etc. Once that had happened, further discussion would be required, to allow the government to weigh up the possible options available to them and decide how they wanted to proceed. None of this appears to have happened, and I don’t see how it could have, as nobody has yet seen the report. As such, it is hard to believe that the content of the report is what led to this decision.

The report on the legal options for the Parthenon Marbles, as I mentioned earlier was commissioned by the previous government, and the current government have not to my knowledge actually met with the lawyers who are working on it. Based on this information alone, any rejection seems to be more of a reaction to the fact that they are wanting to do different to those who came before them, rather than any other reason.

The Greek Government says that they want to use politics and diplomacy to resolve the issue. This is not a new approach however – if anything it is reverting to what has been tried in the past, as any consideration of other options by Greece has only happened in the last few years.

The diplomatic approach has been tried since the mid 1980s – and to an outside observer, any success has been very limited. The Parthenon Sculptures still do not appear any closer to returning than they were fifteen years ago. If anything, the British Museum has become more trenchant in their opposition during this time, first by dreaming up new arguments such as that of the Universal Museum and more recently loaning one of the pediment sculptures to Russia, while continuing to snub Greek loan requests.

The most recent initiative by Greece, mediation of the issue via UNESCO, which many had high hopes for, was rejected by both the British Government and the British Museum after an inordinately long period of consideration.

All the above actions took place during a period when the government in the UK (Labour – 1997-2010) although oficially rejecting return, had many members who were enthusiastic supporters of the restitution of the sculptures. During the government of the last five years (Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition – 2010-2015), although the major partner in the coalition was less supportive of the issue, the Liberal Democrat leader who was also Deputy Prime Minister had previously expressed strong support for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens.

This has now changed. The new Conservative government that entered won the General Election earlier this month, are entirely unreceptive to any hint of the the sculptures returning. Sure, there are a few enlightened individuals within the party – but they stand out like beacons of hope against the backdrop of so many others who are still in denial that the days of empire are over. Both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Culture have, in the last few years, stated publicly their opposition to returning the sculptures.

One must also bear in mind one of the themes of the precis report presented to the press – the idea that action must be taken now, otherwise the opportunity might evaporate. Its now or never.

All the above points make me feel that any rejection of the report so rapidly suggests that full consideration has not really been given to the issue. As such, I hope that this turns out to be some sort of misunderstanding on the part of the Greek Government and that whatever they decide, they will first think through their options carefully – and review the actions already taken in the campaign since the mid 1980s. I will happily support them in any initiatives that they believe will get the sculptures back to Athens, but a coherent plan is needed. The British Museum’s loan to Russia could well be a sign that they were starting to feel the pressure and wanted to try and assert their own dominant position as clearly as possible – backing off now, just when they were starting to feel uncomfortable will achieve nothing.

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis

From:
Guardian

Greece drops option of legal action in British Museum Parthenon marbles row
Helena Smith in Athens
Wednesday 13 May 2015 17.13 BST

Cultural minister makes revelation despite dossier from human rights lawyers exhorting the Greek government to pursue legal channels immediately

Greece has ruled out taking legal action in its battle to reclaim the Parthenon marbles from Britain. The unexpected move abruptly ends the legal battle in one of the world’s most bitter cultural disputes.
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April 20, 2015

Aboriginal protests over plundered artefacts in British Museum

Posted at 9:41 pm in British Museum, Events

As anticipated previously, the Dja Dja Wurrung tribe in Australia is protesting about the display of various Aboriginal artefacts in the British Museum. These protests are likely to increase later in the year, when the artefacts return to Australia ass a temporary loan.

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

From:
Guardian

Preservation or plunder? The battle over the British Museum’s Indigenous Australian show
Paul Daley
Thursday 9 April 2015 08.00 BST

It’s been less than a century since the world’s leading collectors began acknowledging Indigenous Australian art as more than mere ethnographic artefact. Since then, the most enlightened, from Hong Kong to London, New York to Paris, have understood that when you purchase a piece of Indigenous art you become its custodian – not its owner. That image depicting a moment on one of the myriad songlines that have criss-crossed the continent during 60,000 years of Indigenous civilisation can adorn your wall. But you will never have copyright. Sometimes, not even the creator owns the painterly iconography and motif attached to particular stories that are family, clan or tribe – but not individual – possessions.

Such understanding is now implicit in the compact between collectors and creators, as remote Indigenous Australian arts centres match a rapacious international market with the rights of some of the world’s most accomplished, and impoverished, modern artists to support themselves and their families. But for museums, especially those of the great empires, ownership of Indigenous cultural property remains an existential bedrock. Which brings me to the British Museum and its forthcoming exhibition, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation. To call this exhibition – and a related one, Encounters, planned for Canberra’s National Museum of Australia – controversial dramatically understates the bitter politics, anger and behind-the-scenes enmity provoked by the British Museum’s continued ownership of some 6,000 Indigenous Australian items variously acquired after British contact, invasion and occupation of the continent beginning in 1770.
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April 9, 2015

Neil MacGregor to stand down as Director of British Museum

Posted at 10:41 pm in British Museum

Neil MacGregor has announced that he is going to stand down as the Director of the British Museum at the end of 2015. During his tenure at the museum, he has definitely raised the profile of the institution, along with his own public standing. He has done a lot of good in broadening the reach of the British Museum, through such things as the History of the World in 100 objects radio series and book.

During his time there, there have been many epic exhibitions, such as the Terracotta Army, although I am sure that while he played a key part, he was far from the only one involved in getting such endeavours off the ground.

However, whatever praise MacGregor might receive should be accompanied by some major caveats.

He is lauded as presiding over a period in which the Museum has risen in popularity, and whilst this is true, it is partly a result of things outside of his control. The Great Court at the Museum is now the iconic space that people remember the building for, but work on it was started well before his arrival and it finally opened a year before he took on the role of director. The previous director presided over a museum that was a building site, with awkward circulation though side corridors, yet the bright spacious museum of the new millennium was not MacGregor’s doing.

In some newspapers, it appears that MacGregor can do no wrong. Even former critics now unquestioningly praise his every move as the work of a genius. I have no idea of the actual arrangements that have been made, but to an outsider it has certain parallels to the embedded reporters accompanying military divisions – you can get the inside stories before anyone else, but only as long as you don’t publish anything negative.

While MacGregor has presented a far more educated approach to the running of the museum than many of his predecessors, with a more rounded global outreach programme, under his control, the museum has always been quick to apply spin to its own actions. Shortly after he took charge of the institution, a highly publicised document appeared – the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum. Many major institutions were present on this list, although the British Museum was notable by is absence. It was clear to many that they were involved in this document, and as it turned out, the declaration fell flat & disappeared from public discourse fairly rapidly.

While the Declaration of the Importance of the Universal Museum might have faded from memory, its legacy is still very much with us. James Cuno continually tries to revive the discredited Universal Museum concept under the alias of the Encyclopaedic Museum. Yet, the whole idea of the Universality of institutions such ass the British Museum is something of a fiction concocted by MacGregor. Prior to MacGregor taking up a post at the British Museum, there are no news stories that mentioned the term Universal Museum, yet it is pushed on us as though it is something that has always existed. It may or may not be a coincidence that its inception followed soon after construction work on the New Acropolis Museum started, removing one of the British Museums previous arguments for retention of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Neil MacGregor receives praise for loaning the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran, yet people are quick to forget that for years leading up to this, it was a source of immense tension. The British Museum had earlier made an agreement to loan the artefact, in reciprocation for earlier loans made by Iran, yet when the time came, they did everything in their power to delay this process and avoid following through with the agreement.

While MacGregor talks a lot about cultural diplomacy and working with other institutions, during his 13 years at the museum, he has not moved even a millimetre closer to resolving the long standing dispute over the Parthenon Marbles. Despite Greece building a state of the Art new museum to house them, MacGregor and his representatives try to claim that such endeavours merely strengthen the case for keeping half of the surviving Marbles in Britain. While other museums (particularly in the USA) have gradually seen that old disputes need to be resolved, the British Museum has continued to respond by burying its head in the sand and pretending that the issue will go away.

The Museums recent actions, of lending one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg received much acclaim in the press, but in reality won little support from others in the museum world. Having previously denied denying a loan of the sculptures to Greece, a loan was made in secret to Russia. Once the loan as publicly announced with a multi-page feature in a national newspaper, the British Museum had the audacity to suggest that Greek complaints were ungracious. While once the British Museum claimed that the sculptures were too fragile to move, they are now talking about lending them to institutions around the world – pimping them to everyone except for their rightful owners. Finally, it became clear to many that the museum did not understand the sculptures as a part of a greater whole, something that was designed to be seen together.

Most recently, the British Museum has turned down a request made by Greece for mediation through UNESCO to resolve the Parthenon Marbles dispute. Surely if they were serious about trying to resolve disputes and their position was as strong as they claim it is, they would jumped at the chance to move things forward?

For many who campaign for the return of disputed artefacts, MacGregor’s tenure at the British Museum will be remembered as one of missed opportunities. Of being too blinkered to see the potential advantages of reunifying items with their rightful owners. A rejection of the potential win-win scenario of reciprocal loans of new and unseen works. Of missing out on an increased standing of the institution internationally as old differences were resolved. A failure in cultural decolonisation.

There was (and still is) the potential to reinvent the British Museum as an institution that can provide a moral lead, a new style of museum for the 21st Century, one that can revisit its past in order to create a new, better future. The opportunity has always been there, but MacGregor has never been willing to take it, instead leaving US institutions to take some of the first tentative steps along this path, creating places that exemplify contemporary values rather than the dodgy dealing of times past.

One hopes that perhaps MacGregor’s successor will be able to think different.

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

British Museum Director Neil MacGregor

From:
Independent

Neil MacGregor announces departure from British Museum
Nick Clark
Wednesday 08 April 2015

Neil MacGregor, who has transformed the fortunes of the British Museum during his 13 year reign, is to leave the UK’s most popular visitor attraction at the end of the year.

The 69-year-old Scot told his colleagues of his decision to step down in December at a meeting. The director received prolonged applause from the staff, according to one onlooker, who said the announcement was “emotional for everybody”.
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March 5, 2015

The British East India company – putting looting into the lexicon

Posted at 1:46 pm in Similar cases

A lot of the stories of artefact repatriations focus on state sponsored looting, such as the massacres in Benin or Beijing’s Summer Palace. A second category is that of private individuals such as the Seventh Earl of Elgin who were also involved in the pillaging of ancient relics, although not normally on such a large scale as it is hard for a single person to have the same impact as an army.

There is a third category though, one which brought us the word Looting – a Hindustani slang phrase for plundering. The word rapidly entered the English vocabulary via the British East India Company, one of the world’s first multinational corporations. While the British East India Company & their unprecedented levels of looting have thankfully now gone, the problem still exists, although it manifests itself in different forms, such as terrorist groups & warlords who like the EIC maintain their own private armies & relatively unencumbered by laws will happy loot ancient sites for personal gain, or merely to deprive others of the ability to see the relics that were once there.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.

Mughal emperor Shah Alam hands a scroll to Robert Clive, transferring tax collecting rights to the East India Company.

From:
Guardian

The East India Company: The original corporate raiders
William Dalrymple
Wednesday 4 March 2015 05.59 GMT

One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.
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February 25, 2015

Christopher Price, MP and stalwart Marbalista – 1932-2015

Posted at 2:23 pm in Elgin Marbles, Marbles Reunited

I was sorry to hear earlier this week that Chris Price had passed away at the age of 83.

For those who didn’t know him, Chris was a former Labour politician, who worked tirelessly for many years in support of the return of the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece. He studied classics at Oxford and expressed his views on the Elgin Marbles (as they were then known) to colleagues as early as 1958. This is interesting, as many retentionists like to believe that any movements for return only originated when Melina Mercouri became Culture Minister in Greece in the 1980s, whereas the reality is that the return movement has always existed.

Chris was one of the original members of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, and its Deputy Chairman for many years. He was also a member of Marbles Reunited, liaising between the two committees. He was also a great philhellene and critic of the Turkish invasion of Northern Cyprus. Unlike many of today’s politicians, he was a man of substance and conviction – somebody who would do what he believed to be right, rather than perpetually worrying about whether this would damage his chances of being re-elected.

After leaving parliament following electoral defeat in 1983, he went on to become the vice-chancellor of Leeds Polytechnic during its transition to becoming a university, part of his lifelong commitment for a fairer and more equal society and the importance of educational opportunity. Once he retired had more time available to devote to the restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures, regularly using his parliamentary contacts and in-depth knowledge of government procedures to secure meetings, discover about new bills that were going to be debated and otherwise intervene, to make sure that the opinion of those supporting reunification of the sculptures was heard.

He enriched the lives of all of us who were lucky enough to have known him, and his expertise will be missed by all who campaign for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures. While others might have pre-conceived ideas of how the campaign should be managed, Chris was always open to adapting strategies and incorporating new approaches, in order to accommodate changing conditions. When I last met with him in 2010, he was enthusiastically talking to me about the idea of cultural decolonisation – the idea that Britain had decolonised physically, but never bothered to send back the cultural artefacts when she granted independence & that this was a widespread movement that needed to happen.

Chris died last Saturday 20th February 2015, after a period of poor health following a stroke.

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM

Christopher Price, Deputy Chairman of the BCRPM

From:
Independent

Christopher Price: Energetic MP who despite his combative nature was liked and admired both by colleagues and opponents
Tam Dalyell
Tuesday 24 February 2015

It was Christopher Price’s misfortune – and in my informed opinion the nation’s – that he never held a safe Labour seat. In 1966 he took Birmingham Perry Barr from the Conservative incumbent Dr Wyndham Davies but perished when Edward Heath came to power in 1970. In February 1974 he was elected to Lewisham West, and held the seat in 1979, but to the huge sadness of his many Labour friends – he had the rare gift in politics of being candid and outspoken without making enemies – he lost by a sliver in the 1983 election at which Gerald Kaufman described Labour’s manifesto as “the longest suicide note in history”.

Had Price survived he would certainly have been elected to the Shadow Cabinet, and might well have been elected leader rather than Neil Kinnock; he would have garnered votes from a number of colleagues. His eventual successor in Perry Barr, Jeff Rooker, then a young engineering manager, told me Price had been well-regarded by the Birmingham Labour councillors and local union leaders. Jill Knight (Edgbaston) remembered him as a first class colleague on City of Birmingham supra-party issues. Brian Walden, elected in 1964 for Birmingham all Saints, told me, “Chris Price was a very, very good constituency MP. He genuinely cared about people, not least those from ethnic minorities. I have nothing adverse to say about him.” Coming from the most acerbic TV inquisitor of our age, that last sentence is an accolade.
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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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Aboriginal leaders want British Museum to return more artefacts

Posted at 10:17 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

A few years ago, the law in the UK was changed to allow certain artefacts to be returned to their country of origin.

The 2004 Human Tissue Act had its origins in controlling the unauthorised storage of body parts of deceased patients by hospitals, but section 47 of the act covered a very different, yet tenuously related subject – the repatriation of human remains.

Following a successful campaign by Australian Aboriginal groups, a decision had been made by the British Government to make changes to the law, to allow artefacts that involved human remains (i.e. they were human remains, or part of them was composed from human remains) to be returned to their countries of origin. This change in the law was a major step forward, as for the first time it over-rode the 1963 British Museum Act, opening a new route by which items could be de-accessioned from the institution.

After the need for changes to the law were identified by a working group led by Professor Norman Palmer (who has recently been associated with the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles), the Museums that held artefacts that might be affected by any change in the law, all wanted to limit any potential losses to their collections. As a result of this, various limitations were invoked within the act. Firstly, there was a 1000 year limit – artefacts older than this were not covered – a move that safeguarded any Egyptian mummies held by Britain’s major museums. The second limitation was a much more major distinction that of bones versus stones. It was argued that bones (i.e. human remains) were one category of artefact, whereas stones (i.e. pretty much everything else that was inanimate) constituted an entirely different category. While there are reasons that human remains should perhaps be seen in a different light, the move was arguably more about safeguarding large tranches of the museum’s collections, than it was about any real ethical distinction.

In the years since the Human Tissue Act came into force, there have been many instances of human remains being returned, from museums all over Britain. The returns have not just been to Australian Aboriginal groups, but also to many other indigenous peoples around the world.

During this time though, the stones versus bones argument never entirely disappeared. Aboriginal groups were pleased with the return of human remains, but to them, many other items in Britain’s museums held equally important cultural significance. The British Museum is now loaning some of the Aboriginal items in its collection to the National Museum of Australia, leading to new claims that some of these items should be returned. As the Aboriginal groups point out, these items tell a story about them and their culture, not a story about England.

Minor successes in this field have already been achieved, such as the Kwakwaka’wakw mask returned on a renewable loan basis, but these have been few and far between. To achieve what the Aboriginal Groups want would require another change in the law. This should not be considered as an insurmountable challenge – a few years after the 2004 Human Tissue Act, MP Andrew Dismore introduced the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act, which punched a new hole in the anti-restitution clauses of the British Museum Act – this time allowing the return of items looted during the Nazi Era.

With each new special case, the legitimacy of more artefacts within the British Museum’s collection comes into question, leading to further pressure for changes in the law to give the potential for long running restitution cases such as that of the Parthenon Marbles to be resolved.

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

From:
Guardian

Indigenous leaders fight for return of relics featuring in major new exhibition
Paul Daley
Saturday 14 February 2015 00.03 GMT

When Gary Murray contemplates the thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects held in the vaults of the British Museum in London, he strikes a simple analogy.

“All of these things that belong to our people in Australia – they don’t tell a story about the Queen of England, do they?” he asks.
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December 13, 2014

Parthenon sculpture Hermitage loan – readers respond

Posted at 2:46 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

As one would expect, the controversial move by the British Museum to lend one of the Parthenon Marbles to Russia has illicited a number of responses from newspaper readers.

Visitors passing a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia

Visitors passing a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia

From:
Guardian

Squalid saga of Parthenon marbles loan to Russia
Sunday 7 December 2014

In loaning the Parthenon marbles statue of Ilissos to Russia (Loan shatters Elgin marbles claim, says Athens, 6 December), the British Museum has acted insensitively and foolishly. It is unseemly and squalid, after unanswered Greek requests for the marbles’ return, for the statue’s first move outside Britain to be to a country we ourselves have placed under sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. At a stroke the museum has legitimised Putin’s Russia at a time when the latter’s unpredictable aggression threatens Ukraine’s existence and Europe’s wider security.

Does the museum think itself exempt from the dynamics of contemporary European politics, and that cultural diplomacy will smooth over the current crisis? Consider this: right now the Netherlands is refusing to return Scythian gold, loaned before the illegal annexation of Crimea, to four museums now under Russian control there. What is to stop Russia holding Ilissos hostage in return? In April the Russian Itar-Tass agency reported that the refusal to return the gold would result in non-cooperation between Russian and EU museums. The British Museum may well have placed one of its most priceless artefacts in serious danger. Putin has shown himself indifferent about far more.
Tony King
Barnt Green, Worcestershire
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December 8, 2014

Greece responds angrily to Russian Parthenon sculpture loan

Posted at 1:05 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Unsurprisingly, the Greek government is not too impressed with the way that the British Museum recently loaned one of the Parthenon Sculptures to the Hermitage in St Petersburg. Various past Greek approaches for loans & to discuss the issue have been snubbed, yet it appears that the British Museum is perfectly happy to lend the sculptures to other institutions.

Visitors look at a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia

Visitors look at a sculpture from the Parthenon marbles at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia

From:
Guardian

Parthenon marbles: Greece furious over British loan to Russia
Greek prime minister says loan of statue from pillaged frieze puts end to British Museum argument that disputed antiquities are immovable
Helena Smith in Athens
Friday 5 December 2014 15.38 GMT

Greece has reacted with outrage to the British Museum’s surprise move to loan one of the disputed Parthenon marbles to Russia.

Within hours of learning of the unexpected decision to send the monumental statue of the river god Ilissos to the State Hermitage museum in St Petersburg, the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaris, hit back.
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