Saturday, March 31, 2012

Egyptian artists fight to take back the streets

In response to the ruling military’s decision to wall off several streets around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the Egyptian artists group Revolution Artists Association took matters into their own hands (and brushes), creating a perspective painting that mimics in exact detail the appearance of the street behind the barricade.
The trompe-l’oeil painting known as “No Walls Street” and other examples of graffiti art throughout the city center have been employed as non-violent means to protest the rule of the military leaders who have seized power in the Egyptian capital, as well as the human rights violations—such as forced “virginity tests”—that continue to be perpetrated upon the citizenry.
Despite the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in recent parliamentary elections, the ruling military council continues to assert its authority. Vows issued by the generals in power that they will relinquish control, at least in part, by the end of June have been met with skepticism by much of the Egyptian population.
With the first round of presidential elections scheduled for May 23 and 24, and the newly elected president scheduled to assume office by June 30, the civil unrest in Egypt appears to be far from over.
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on

Friday, March 30, 2012

Learning from our Past, Lessons for our Future

Our rapidly changing climate has stressed the scientific and archaeological investigation of the palaeoclimate and human response. Evidence of past climate changes and subsequent human responses indicate the existence of strong environment/climate-society linkages. Keith Kloor’s recent article in Audubon Magazine, “A Lost Civilization May Shed Light on Coping with Climate Change,” discusses this issue. The 700-year-old remains of the ancient Hohokam settlement document how this prehistoric culture in the Southwest adapted to the rapid shift towards more arid conditions during the 13th Century.
By integrating palaeoclimate and environmental data with history of societal change it is possible to investigate catastrophe/collapse associated with climate change. We can then extrapolate these results to a climate-induced post-apocalyptic future. Rising temperatures from global warming indicate that the 21st Century will see the continuation of the Southwest’s drought cycle, perhaps at an even harsher magnitude.
The information preserved in historical sites—and the lessons we can learn from these sites—emphasize the importance of protecting our cultural heritage. It is imperative that we learn from our past; we must recognize the value of sites such as the Hohokam settlement and be ever vigilant when it comes to cultural security.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finding Funding in the Public and Private Sectors

A couple stories in the New York Times over the past couple of days give pause for thought on what’s happening with funding of the arts.
On March 24th, a story about public funding of the arts across Europe had some dire statistics. Million-dollar shortfalls for funding of a music institution in Italy, 25-percent cuts in arts funding in the Netherlands, and, reportedly, “Portugal has abolished its Ministry of Culture.” The article names several affected countries and echos concerns raised by recent austerity measures in Greece. In contrast, a story on the 27th related how Brazil increasingly allocates funding for the arts. A Brazilian arts financing organization, Social Service of Commerce, reportedly has an annual budget of $600 million. Apparently, the organization derives funding from a percentage of payroll tax, so that the funding automatically increases with the expansion of the economy.
 In the private sector, the United States has experienced contraction and expansion. Southern California provides an example. In 2009, the J. Paul Getty Trust implemented significant cuts in budgets across the Getty Research Institute, Museum, and Conservation Institute. At the same time, patron of contemporary art, Eli Broad, forged ahead with projects such as plans for construction of a museum for contemporary art in downtown Los Angeles. The fact the Getty has an endowment of 2-3 times the value of that of the Broad Foundation makes the contrast all the more striking.
It seems that emerging nations are setting an example for investment in the arts. Let’s hope that philanthropy follows Broad’s thinking to set an example for public funding.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cultural Security News (Mar. 18 - Mar. 24)

Censorship and Authenticity
Two reports in the past week pitted contemporary art against politics. The Financial Times reported that in Abu Dhabi at the Dubai Art Fair, "authorities ordered at least four pieces removed from display in advance of a visit by members of the emirate's ruling family." The New York Times reported that "the show, 'Ukrainian Body,' which opened Feb. 7 at the Visual Culture Research Center at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, aimed to explore corporality in contemporary Ukrainian society" and that after viewing the exhibition, the academy's president "locked" it in disgust. Forgeries also made news both bad and "good." The Art Newspaper reported that the Greek art market is "riddled with forgeries" and that "A legal case brought against Sotheby's by a major Greek collector could be the tip of the iceberg." In a court case of several years on the authenticity of the inscription "James son of Joseph brother of Jesus" on a Jewish burial box, the judge concluded that "the prosecution failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt ... that the ossuary is a forgery."
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Art in the Digital Age

The rise of technology has many implications for the art world. The Internet provides convenient accessibility to artworks; instead of going to museums and art shows, the public can view works online. Digital galleries and online art auctions are on the rise and social media networks—such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest—have become hubs for posting photos of artworks.
It is interesting to consider how the digital age will affect artists, museums, and art shows. It seems that the majority of contemporary artists now have their own websites or blogs. Will this growing online global art community replace actual social interactions among artists, dealers, and the public? While it cannot be denied that technology broadens accessibility to artwork, we must also consider how this impacts the viewer’s experience. Can we appreciate art in the same way in this digital age?
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

TEFAF Maastricht - What’s in a name?

Will The European Fine Art Fair need to change it’s name? A shifting market share from west to east begs the question.
TEFAF Maastricht (The European Fine Art Fair) is in session (March 16-25). With a history of over 25 years, TEFAF is heralded as “The World’s Leading Art and Antiques Fair” and carries weight in the art world. A report from TEFAF “demonstrates how China’s share of the global art market rose from 23% in 2010 to 30% last year, forcing the United States, with 29%, into second place. The UK, which was overtaken by China in 2010, remained third with a 22% market share, while France was a straggling fourth with 6%.” For the last few years, Dr. Clare McAndrew has compiled the report with not only statistics on the market but also with aninternational survey of dealers. The report goes on to predict that “the next decade will be the first period when emerging market countries contribute more to global economic growth than developed ones.”
China is one of the 18 countries represented this year, and the prediction suggests that other emerging economies may soon join the fair.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cultural Security News (Mar. 11 - Mar. 17)

Eastern Progress
Sites of cultural heritage experience a range of security threats. In Iraq, settling in Mesopotamia threatens historic sites, in India, "land sharks" see ancient cities as development opportunities, and in Greece, austerity measures create cuts in protection of archaeological sites that already experienced looting in the economic crisis. In Israel, the art market posted significant gains over the past decade, and a Jerusalem Judge acquitted the Israeli collector accused of forging evidence of the first physical link to Christ. A report on the worldwide art market indicated that China has overtaken the U.S. in the market for antiquities at 30%. Correspondingly, a Chinese-Indonesian collector was listed as the 8th most influential person in the art world, and a Chinese Imperial bowl was estimated to sell for over $10 million.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Turkey stakes its claim to ancient Roman mosaics

The Turkish government has called for the return of a dozen ancient Roman mosaics currently housed at the Wolfe Arts Center at Bowling Green State University. The provenance of the mosaics, which were purchased by the university in 1965 from a New York gallery owner, was called into question by BGSU ancient history professor Stephanie Langin-Hooper while conducting research for a proposed paper on the artworks.
With the aid of Brown University professor Rebecca Molholt, an authority on Roman mosaics, Langin-Hooper’s investigations have led to the hypothesis that the pavements may have originated in Zeugma, an ancient city that was subject to rampant looting during the 1960s.
In a press release dated February 7, 2012, BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey stated “of course we will do the right thing,” but what is the right thing in this case? Because the mosaics were purchased in 1965, strictly speaking they do not fall under the authority of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Turkey could claim the mosaics as stolen or illegally exported cultural objects under the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, though the United States has yet to formally recognize this document.
In addition, one could question whether these works should be considered Turkish cultural property in the first place. Because the mosaics were created during the second or third century when Turkey was part of the Roman Empire, could Italy have a legitimate claim to these ancient pavements? In fact, Zeugma was originally a Macedonia settlement, so one could argue that the Macedonians or Greeks could claim the mosaics as examples of their cultural heritage.
The outcome of this fascinating case could set a precedent for the future handling of looted antiquities that fall beyond the temporal scope of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cultural Security News (Mar. 04 - Mar. 10)

Cultural Repatriation, Politics, and Royalties
If Canada adopted an artist resale royalty, and also applied it to the descendants of late visual artists, last year's $88,750 auction sale of this carving showing a migration scene of Inuit in an umiak, made by the late Ennutsiak of Iqaluit in the 1960s, could bring his family $4,437. (FILE PHOTO)In repatriation, a professor at Brandeis University helped the return of artifacts to Guatemala by identifying the Mayan objects, while Turkey made demands for the return of Roman mosaics from Bowling Green State University of Ohio. In protection, Jordan garnered support from UNESCO in preventing Israel from taking unilateral action at sites of cultural heritage in Jerusalem, and tragically, looting in Egypt endangered lives by making homes unstable. In the art market, the economic development minister of Nunavut encouraged Canada to instate the right for Inuit artists to recover resale royalties, and Occupy Museums set up shop outside of the annual Armory Show in New York. In diplomacy, UNESCO continued a four-year debate over whether or not the President of Equatorial Guinea should be allowed to sponsor an award.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Get rich quick

Illegal excavations have become part of “get rich quick” schemes for individuals hoping to make a fast fortune.
The Egyptian Gazette reports on Egyptian citizens dubbed “deluded diggers.” Motivated by poverty, these citizens carry out illegal excavations at sites known to contain artifacts as well as elsewhere around Cairo, including residential areas. In addition to the destruction of cultural heritage, these digs pose huge risks to the inhabitants. Collapsing houses have resulted in numerous deaths of residents who attempt to excavate under their own homes. It is also believed that an “antiquities mafia” is behind these digs; members of the mafia convince homeowners that there is treasure buried beneath their properties and persuade them to carry out amateur archaeology.
It is interesting to note that some of these deluded diggers believe that the wealthy inhabitants in their residential areas must be working in the illicit antiquities trade, and that if they too wish to get rich they should find and dig up their own antiquities. That the looting and smuggling of artifacts is seen as a lucrative venture for individuals hoping to escape their lives of poverty raises many concerns for the safety both of these people and of the security of cultural patrimony.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Plunder before Conquest?

In contrast to the traditional spoils of war, plunder now occurs independent of a military victory and, as such, holds new significance for cultural security. Has present-day plunder taken on a role in tactics for conquest?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has produced a few examples. According to an article in The Art Newspaper last year, “Israelis and Palestinians are racing to claim cultural heritage sites in the West Bank.” Since, reports have indicated that both sides engage in destruction of evidence of heritage of the other. For example, an Israeli daily newspaper cited a report that Muslim authorities were demolishing archaeological evidence on Temple Mount. The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), which is entrusted with preparing documents on Israeli attempts to Judaize Jerusalem, recently met in Amman, Jordan and highlighted the role of the organization in documenting Israeli violations against Palestinian cultural heritage.
The destruction of cultural property is not a new practice in erasing the identity of the conquered. In the midst of attempts at diplomatic resolution of conflict, however, claiming cultural heritage sites and razing archaeological evidence are creative twists on an old tactic.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Yale faculty expresses concerns over Yale-NUS

In March 2011 Yale University administration announced the establishment of Yale-NUS. However, the Yale-NUS project, in which Yale University and the National University of Singapore are collaborating to plan a liberal arts college, is currently under debate by Yale faculty. The Yale Daily News reports  on the recent Yale College faculty meeting where professors expressed their concerns regarding the Yale-NUS project and introduced a resolution stipulating that the Yale-NUS College protect civil liberties and endorse principles of non-discrimination.
The new resolution—spearheaded by Professor Seyla Benhabib and written on behalf of the Yale College faculty—questions the Singaporean government’s treatment of civil rights and political liberties, and “demands” that Yale-NUS “respect, protect, and further the ideals of civil liberties for all minorities, the principles of non-discrimination and full political freedom.”
Among the concerns raised by faculty members is the political climate in Singapore, including Singapore’s law on homosexuality. Additionally, Singapore is not a signatory to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization convention that bars the theft of cultural property.
The concerns voiced by faculty members over the Yale-NUS project are valid issues. Last week’s Yale College faculty meeting showed that faculty members are unwilling to compromise their values, particularly when it comes to the protection of academic freedom. The initiative taken by faculty members to address their questions should serve as an example: the protection of civil and political liberties must be upheld; concerns must be voiced and initiative taken to resolve those concerns.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The televised looting of archaeological treasures

Spike TV’s announcement of a new series called “American Digger” to debut on March 21st has prompted a storm of outrage from the U.S. archaeological community.
Spike 3Archaeologists contend that the  program,  which “follows the American Savage team, led by former professional wrestler-turned-modern-day relic hunter Ric Savage as they scour target-rich areas, such as battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history,” advocates the unethical, possibly illegal, plundering of potential archaeological sites for profit.  In a letter to Spike TV head Kevin Kay, Archaeological Institute of America president Elizabeth Bartman argues that “American Digger” promotes “looting and the destruction of our shared archaeological heritage.”
The AIA issued similar  correspondence to the National Geographic Society regarding National Geographic TV’s new show titled “Diggers,” that, like “American Digger,” seems to glorify treasure hunting at the expense of archaeology. In both letters, the AIA requested the shows include a disclaimer “that informs viewers of the possible illegality of any digging they undertake, even on their own private property, and the need to contact local authorities about any discoveries.” Let’s hope that pressure from the AIA, along with petitions issued by, are enough to encourage the cancellation of these televised assaults on American archaeological and cultural heritage.
Originally posted by Joshua Mix on

Cultural Security News (Feb. 26 - Mar. 03)

Economics and Politics of Looting
Dark rain clouds over the Parthenon in Athens (13 March 2006)Economic hardships in Greece have precipitated looting and looting angst. A British couple was detained at Luxor International Airport and ultimately released after objects in question were identified as "cheap" fakes, which were perhaps even made in China. Greek officials did, however, arrest 35 people, who were reportedly involved in a smuggling ring. In Israel, officials caught looters, who were identified as West Bank Palestinians. In contrast, Jordan sought to protect Palestinian property and heritage from Israeli attempts to "Judaize Jerusalem". While not looting per se, the increasing motive of investing in the art market inspired the Art investment Council to set up an event at Armory Arts Week to debate financial and artistic investment.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Soldier for all Times

When the Mythic Warrior of Koh Ker was created in the 10th century, the artist may not have imagined the future battles that the figure would encounter. A statue of a warrior makes for apt imagery in the challenges of cultural security.
A year after Cambodian authorities requested that Sotheby’s halt the sale of the statue, the story of the warrior’s path unfolds. According to a recent article in The New York Times, archaeologists contend that clues suggest that the statue “was plundered in the 1970s amid the chaos of power struggle and genocide, when the Khmer Rouge ravaged Cambodia, and looters hacked their way into long-inaccessible temples, pillaged priceless antiquities and sold them to Thai and Western collectors.”
Reportedly the statue was acquired in 1975 by a “noble European lady” in good faith. Now the warrior statue is embroiled in a modern-day battle for cultural patrimony. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security stands at the ready to investigate, while the Cambodian government weighs options.
Perhaps a private purchase will result in a donation as a means of repatriation. In such a case, the soldier may unwittingly become a mercenary, who considers payment along with patriotism.