Showing results 85 - 90 of 90 for the tag: Kwame Opoku.

June 20, 2008

A satirical approach to the Universal Museum concept

Posted at 11:34 am in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

Following Andrew Marr’s interview with James Cuno earlier this week, Dr Kwame Opoku recently alerted me to an amusing satire of the Universal Museum concept, posted on the Artnose website. Cuno has been making his own efforts to re-brand the maligned Universal Museum concept as the Encyclopaedic Museum. Despite the humour of this article though, it does highlight important points – not least that the creation of a Universal Museum is impossible without colossal amounts of funding – a way of keeping it out of reach of all but the wealthiest western nations.

Kwame Opoku (by email)

A Satirical Approach to the “Universal Museum”.
18th June 2008

There has been a lot of publicity these last days for James Cuno’s book, Who owns Antiquity? including several radio discussions on the British radio station, BBC where the author presented his views and was questioned by expert participants. Cuno repeated his well-known views about antiquities belonging to all and his criticism of those he calls “nationalist retentionists”. The tone of the discussions was very polite but it was also clear that most of those who spoke were not fully convinced by the arguments in his book. Some referred very briefly to the demands for the return of the cultural objects taken during the imperial days – Elgin/Parthenon Marbles, Benin Bronzes and the Rosetta Stone. Indeed, a former museum director expressed the view that it was time to return some of these objects. He also remarked about the fact that some museums bought objects without asking too many questions about their provenance. Despite Cuno’s insistence that the speaker mentions specific institutions known for such a practice, the participant remained unspecific. But it was clear to all that the prestigious museums involved in deals with looters are too well-known and did not need to be mentioned in the small circle of discussants.
Read the rest of this entry »

June 8, 2008

Kwame Opoku deconstructs Cuno

Posted at 3:23 pm in Similar cases

Many of Dr Kwame Opoku’s articles have previously featured on this site. Here, he analyses some of the arguments put forward in James Cuno’s new book on why retention of cultural property the the institutions of the West is a good idea.

Modern Ghana

Do present day Egyptians eat the same food as Tuthankhamun? Review of James Cuno’s Who Owns Antiquity?
By Dr. Kwame Opoku
Sun, 08 Jun 2008
Feature Article

In order to deny States the right to control excavations on their land and to prevent them from claiming ownership of artefacts found in their countries, James Cuno, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, in his new book, Who owns antiquity? Museums and the battle over our ancient heritage, goes so far as to deny any continuity between the peoples of present States and those of ancient civilizations. He denies that the present-day Egyptians have any links with ancient Egyptians:

“What is the relationship between, say, modern Egypt and the antiquities that were part of the land’s Pharaonic past? The people of modern-day Cairo do not speak the language of the ancient Egyptians, do not practice their religion, do not make their art, wear their dress, eat their food, or play their music, and do not adhere to the same kind of laws or form of government the ancient Egyptians did.” (1) This astonishing declaration is typical of the controversial pronouncements made by Cuno in his book which can be easily proven to be unfounded or mere speculation and in any case, not very helpful in finding workable solutions to present controversies concerning the retention of illegally exported or stolen cultural objects. Some of his statements are of such a nature that one wonders whether they are worthy of detailed examination. They are probably better left uncommented but since they come from a director of one of the most important museums in the Western world, they cannot be simply ignored. Take the statement that the present Egyptians do not eat the same food as ancient Egyptians. Is this serious? When Zahi Hawass claims the return of the Rosetta Stone or the bust of Nefertiti, should we examine his diet in order to establish his links to ancient Egypt which permit him to claim on behalf of present-day Egypt? Does our consumption of particular food establish our links or affinity with other peoples? Does the consumption of rice by many Africans establish in any way their links to Asians? What about MacDonald’s food which is wide spread in our world, does that make all of us Americans or one people? What about variations in food consumption patterns within a country along north/south lines or class lines? So who cares whether Zahi Hawass eats the same food as Tutankhamen did? For most of us, it is enough to know that they are both Egyptians and the one can legitimately claim the cultural achievements of the other on behalf of the Egyptian peoples of to-day.
Read the rest of this entry »

May 18, 2008

The universal museum – from Benin to Chicago

Posted at 8:24 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Popularised as a concept in recent years by the British Museum, is the concept of the Universal Museum in the todays world anything more than a marketing strategy for the continued retention of artefacts by the worlds most powerful museums?

Modern Ghana

By Dr. Kwame Opoku
Sat, 17 May 2008
Feature Article

“And I am left thinking that the “Enlightenment principles on which public museums in the United States were established” have perhaps contributed to the irreversible destruction of our universal, or cosmopolitan, cultural heritage”.

David Gill, Collecting Antiquities and Enlightenment Principles (1)

…The exhibition, Benin: Kings and Rituals Court Arts from Nigeria, goes to the Art Institute of Chicago (A.I.C.) from July 10 – September 21, 2008 as the final station of this travelling exhibition which, starting in Vienna, generated debates about restitution of stolen art, went to Paris and Berlin. It is to be noted that the exhibition which is the biggest ever held on Benin art will not be seen in Nigeria. It goes next to Chicago. But what kind of institution is the Art Institute of Chicago?
Read the rest of this entry »

May 16, 2008

The British Museum’s de-acessioning policy

Posted at 3:27 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Kwame Opoku looks at the British Museum’s de-accessioning policy & concludes that once an item is in the museum it is very difficult for it to leave the system at a later date – no matter what the reasons.


Is the de-accession policy of the British Museum a farce?
Submitted By: Dr Kwame Opoku
Date: Thu 15 May 2008

Dr Kwame Opoku conducts a forensic analysis of the British museums de-accession policy and concludes that it really reads “once in the British museum, always in the British museum”.

Normally, in cases of claims for stolen property or illegally detained objects, it is sufficient for the owner to establish beyond reasonable doubt that he is the rightful owner of the object in dispute and that the present holder of the object has no lawful right to the object. The present holder of the object then has to establish his right e.g. that he bought the object lawfully from a third party.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 28, 2008

Excuses for retention of artefacts

Posted at 1:37 pm in Similar cases

Many excuses are made by the museums of the west for the retention of artefacts. In this case, the argument is that making art works out of artefacts, particular those originating from “primitive” cultures will increase their chance of survival.


Written by Dr. Kwame Opoku
Sunday, 27 April 2008

Universal culture can only be achieved when all cultures are able and free to make their contribution but this cannot be done when the guardians of one culture hijack the masterpieces of another culture. (Picture: Mask pwo or mwana pwo, Chokwe, Angola. Ethnology Museum, Berlin.)

In a recent article in a leading German newspaper, Abschied vom intellektuellen Kolonialismus with the title, Farewell to intellectual Colonialism; What Berlin can learn from the debate over the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. (1) Wolf Lepenies, holder of the Peace Price of the German Book Industry and recipient of several other academic distinctions, reminded me once again of the enormous difficulties Europeans, even intellectuals, seem to experience when they deal with African problems and above all, when they consider matters in which the interests of Europeans and Africans are involved. Somehow they seem unable or unwilling to give to Africans the same consideration as they give to others.
Read the rest of this entry »

April 22, 2008

Kwame Opoku responds to Philippe de Montebello

Posted at 11:24 am in Similar cases

Philippe de Montebello, Director of New York’s Metropolitan Musum has never been popular with restitutionists, despite being unwillingly responsible for some of the most significant artefact restitutions in recent years. He always gives the impression that he does not really even try to understand the issues & implies that he has been forced into making decisions by situations outside his control.

Modern Ghana

By Dr. Kwame Opoku
Mon, 21 Apr 2008
Feature Article

Reference is made to the letter from Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1), New York, which was published in AFRIKANET on Friday, 18 April, 2008. In his letter, Philippe de Montebello refers to my article entitled “Is Legality still a viable concept for European and American Museum Directors?” The Director of the Metropolitan does not address the main point of my article, namely, that the arguments the European and American museums present in defence of their holding of stolen African cultural objects are extremely weak. It seems the director is more interested in the picture inserted in the article than in the serious comments on legality. I shall therefore only comment on the points raised in his letter.

We are sorry that the Director of the Metropolitan Museum had to go to so much trouble in order to identify the Nok terracotta. Incidentally, why must a Nok sculpture be described as “haunting, strange-looking object”? This description comes from a museum director who has artworks from the Egyptians, Guro, Lobi, Dogon, Bamana, Senufo, Baule, Lumbo, Igbo, Fan Yoruba, Chokwe, etc among his collections. I thought we had long moved away from the period when the Europeans and Americans described whatever came out of Africa in these terms. Or are we going back to those days when an unbridgeable difference was assumed to exist between African art and European art? Surely, after the influence of African art on modern art and after so many exhibitions on African art, some organized by the Metropolitan Museum, such a description sounds somewhat odd, especially coming from a Director of one of the leading museums of the West.
Read the rest of this entry »