February 11, 2010
Those living in the UK can not fail to have noticed the BBC’s ongoing series – the history of the world in one hundred objects, organised by British Museum director Neil MacGregor. This series due to run for much off 2010, promises to perpetuate his personal world view of the Universal Museum, while sidestepping the true nature of the debates surrounding many of the artefacts in his institution. There is an issue at stake here of how vast a mouthpiece the BBC has given him to expound his own views, without others being given a clear, proportional right of reply.
A HISTORY OF THE WORLD WITH 100 LOOTED OBJECTS OF OTHERS: GLOBAL INTOXICATION?
By Kwame Opoku, Dr.
It is perhaps indicative of the cultural climate of our times that the British Museum and the BBC could announce a programme with a pretentious title such as “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. (2) A pretence to serving the whole world, a title which indicates a wider view but hides in fact the reality of frantic efforts to preserve the interests of a few in the guise of the so-called “universal museums” which have come under some heavy criticisms in recent years. The project appears to be aimed at diverting attention from the fact that the tide of history is moving against the illegitimate detention of the cultural objects of others. It is aimed at impressing the masses about the alleged indispensable role of the major museums and gathering support for their continuing possession that is tainted with illegality and illegitimacy. In the process, public interest for the museum would be stimulated and information about the objects as considered necessary would be produced.
The last few years have seen major Western museums being criticised for purchasing looted objects. Leading American museums and universities have been forced to return to Italy looted artefacts that had been bought by the museums, knowing full well that the objects could only have been looted. Indeed, an American curator is in jail in Italy, waiting for her trial for criminal offences in connection with acquisition of Italian artefacts for her museum in the USA. Moreover, Egypt has renewed its demands for the return of the Rosetta Stone, the bust of Nefertiti and other items that have been in major Western museums for several decades. The Greeks have constantly been reclaiming the return of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles and the completion of the magnificent New Acropolis Museum has exposed the hollow British arguments for retaining the marbles. The British public has overwhelmingly voted in favour of returning the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles to Athens whenever a poll was made. We should also remember that the Nigerians who have never forgotten the brutal invasion of Benin in 1897 are seeking the return of some of the 5000 objects looted by the British troops in their bloody aggression against a kingdom that resisted British imperialist expansion and hegemonial endeavours.
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