Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cultural Security News (Jul. 22 - Jul. 28)

India, Nigeria, and ICE
The previous week's news about the arrest and extradition of Subash Chandra Kapoor was followed this past week by a story on ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) recovering Indian antiquities from a storage unit in New York. Kapoor had amassed an estimated $20 million of illicitly exported artifacts with individual pieces having multi-million dollar values. A report indicated that in New York Interpol and US Customs had intercepted a pair of stolen Indian sculptures that were in route to London. A separate story presented the opposing view that the smuggling rings provide an opportunity for Indians living abroad to acquire desired antiquities. HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) and ICE also returned a cache of Nok sculptures, which had been identified in New York in 2010, to Nigeria.  The report follows the previous week's story which itemized Benin "blood antiquities" of questionable provenance that reside in U.S. Museums.
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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cultural Security News (Jul. 15 - Jul. 21)

Investments, Returns, and Losses
In news on the state of the global art market, sales summaries of Sotheby's and Christie's gave opposing pictures, while China continued to respond to increased interest in investing in art. The Chinese Government rejected Ai Weiwei's tax-evasion appeal and arrested a German expatriate on charges of smuggling art. In Brazil, Larry Gagosian will have a sculpture exhibition as part of the ArtRio fair, while authorities discovered that a convicted art thief was organizing thefts from prison in Rio de Janeiro. The Egyptian Museum receives return of mummified rat from Germany, while allegedly artifacts stolen during the Jan uprising were being sold in Qena. Swiss free-ports are being scrutinized for antiquities, while demand increases to store newly acquired fine art. England announced the return of a large cache of smuggled artifacts to Afghanistan, while the United States and Cyprus extended and expanded the list of material restricted from importation.
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Monday, July 16, 2012

Are the Egyptian Pyramids in Danger of Demolition?

As reported by multiple Arab news outlets within the past few weeks, several Muslim religious leaders have demanded the demolition of the pyramids at Giza,Egypt, because of their purported antithetical nature to Islamic faith. Despite the fact that the majority of Egyptian pyramids were not built for religious purposes, but rather as tombs for the pharaohs of the Old and Middle Kingdoms, many Muslims consider the 4500-year-old structures to be “symbols of paganism” that must be destroyed.
With the recent election of Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, such radical appeals may find a sympathetic ear at the highest levels of government. Yet if the demolition of the pyramids seems too extreme an act for the newly-elected leader, the Salafi Al-Nour Party has offered a less destructive solution: simply cover the pyramids in wax!
Though the realization of such extreme measures—either the total destruction of the pyramids or their concealment under a coating of wax—may seem highly improbable to many of us in the Western world, one only need be reminded of the Taliban’s demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001 to realize the true threat of religious fervor to cultural security.
Both the pyramids and the buddhas appear on theUNESCO World Heritage List, joining 960 other cultural and natural heritage properties. However, the inclusion of the pyramids on UNESCO’s list may not provide sufficient enough cause to prevent the eradication of one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures, a true testament to the avant-garde ingenuity of an ancient civilization.
Originally posted by Joshua MIx on
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cultural Security News (Jul. 08 - Jul. 14)

New Standards in Collecting and Protecting
Several stories in the past week reflect distinct changes in the world of art collecting and protection of cultural heritage. Collectors are increasingly affected by changes in museum acquisition policy that increases the need for proper provenance of donations. On closer examination, the art boom in London and India shows that high-end collectors are ever more discerning of the quality and attribution of works. In protection of cultural heritage, the United Nations has stepped up rhetoric that warns of irreversible damage in Mali, and Chinese policy documents continue to employ the term "guojia wenhua anquan" or “national cultural security.” In interdiction, ICE continues its vigilance with returns to Peru, and a long-time smuggler of idols was extradited from Germany to India. Finally, exploitation of cultural property might be reaching new extremes with alleged calls to demolish pyramids in Egypt???!!!
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Update on the Parthenon Marbles

On June 19th and 20th the international conference on “The Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles” was held in London, where a discussion was held regarding The British Museum’s claim on the Parthenon Marbles and the possible repatriation of the antiquities to Greece.
Dr. Tom Flynn, who spoke at the conference, provided an update on his blog,, in his entry “Defenders of the British Museum demolished in public debate over the Parthenon Marbles” (posted Saturday, June 23).
To summarize, Flynn wrote:
Send Them Back: The Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Athens               
Before the debate, the audience voted like this:
FOR: 196
After the debate, the audience voted like this:
FOR: 384 (+188)
AGAINST: 125 (-77)
UNDECIDED: 24 (-134)
Thus the motion to return the Parthenon Marbles to Athens was carried.

Public opinion overwhelmingly favors the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles.  Now we must wait to see when the British Museum will concede and reunite the cultural patrimony of Greece.
The text of Tom Flynn’s paper on this subject, which he delivered at the Colloquy, is available at:
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cultural Security News (Jul. 01 - Jul. 07)

Political Economy of Art in the East
These ancient statues were among many recovered today in Pakistan as looters tried to take them out of the countryThe past week's events in Pakistan, China, and Israel comprise the three dimensions of the Political Economy of Art: security, markets, and foreign relations. In security, Pakistan government officials seized a truck containing Buddhist artifacts leaving Karachi. In markets, the Ministry of Culture in China reported that the Chinese art market is the world's largest at $33.18 billion up 24% from 2010. In foreign relations, the Israeli Antiquities Authority discovered a Synagogue floor from the 4th-5th centuries CE in Galilee in collaboration with U.S. and Canadian universities. Complementary events echoed the political economy of art with the International Criminal Court threatening Mali Islamists with war crimes for destruction of religious structures, auction sales in London reflecting interest in rare works while less desirable works remain unsold, and law suits deterring authentication efforts in China.
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cultural Exploitation from Bamiyan to Timbuktu

The Taliban's demolition of the giant statues of Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley of Afghanistan in 2001 and Ansar Dine's recent destruction of shrines in Timbuktu frame tactical exploitation of cultural property in the first decade of the 21st century from Mali to Afghanistan. Amidst the Arab spring, Tunisia and Egypt suffered looting of archaeological sites, and in Syria, collateral damage and targeting of historic structures continues. The exploitation in Timbuktu and Bamiyan, however, share a particular tactic of political violence that may indicate an emerging trend.
Al-Qaeda dominates northern Mali, desecrates Timbuktu tombBoth the Taliban and Ansar Dine claimed religious grounds for the destruction, both intended to gain publicity, and both garnered international response, but the degree of each aspect differs in each case.  Since the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Iraq suffered wartime looting and collateral damage of cultural sites in 2003 and nations from Turkey, to Italy, to Peru continue to demonstrate the viability of cases for repatriation of cultural patrimony.  Consequently, targeting of cultural property appears to have greater effect in that the destruction in Timbuktu not only echoes but also amplifies the tactics of the Taliban.
In both cases, the militants claimed to be destroying idolatrous symbols. In the case of Taliban, the statues represented a different religion, while Ansar Dine justifies destruction by associating targeted shrines with a local Sufi version of Islam, which doesnot adhere to a strict version of Islamic law. In both cases, the acts of the militants drew international calls to stop the wanton destruction of cultural heritage. In 2001, nations worldwide, including Muslim nations, and UNESCO did speakout and offered humanitarian aid to halt the destruction, while now UNESCO has placed Timbuktu on the list of endangered heritage sites and the InternationalCriminal Court has threatened to treat the acts of Ansar Dine as war crimes.
A shift to targeting symbols within a particular religion and a shift to criminal prosecution in response to destruction both suggest an increasing significance of cultural security to international affairs.   

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Update on Mali: an Endangered World-Heritage Site

In early May, merely a few weeks after UNESCO first expressed its concern for the world-heritage site, Malian reports indicated that the Ansar Dine group destroyedseveral of the city’s shrines and desecrated the mausoleumof revered Muslim Sidi Mahmoud
By late June reports described how the Islamist militants were wielding pickaxes to destroy the mausoleums of Muslim saints.  According to the Ansar Dine spokesman, Sanda Ould Bamana, the Ansar Dine has completed almost 90% of its objective to destroy all mausoleums that are not in compliance with Islamic law. 
Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (to which Mali is a Signatory to the Rome Statute, stating that deliberate attacks against undefended civilian buildings which are not military objectives are a war crime), has condemnedthe destruction as a “war crime” and has threatened the Islamist fighters inMali with legal action if they do not cease their destruction of the city.
Timbuktu—the city itself as well as the treasures housed within—embodies the prestige, religious ideals, and national aspirations of Mali.  This is an example illustrating how art can suffer during wartime both because of its significance and as a by-product of armed conflict.  The rebel groups seek to occupy the city so as to possess this symbol of power and prestige, and it is apparent that destruction is occurring as a means for the combating groups to reinforce political and social independence and power.  Here we see intentional destruction, political and religious assertion, and the possibility of collateral damage, plunder, and ignorant destruction.
UNESCO has become involved; the Mali government has become involved; the ICC has become involved.  Yet destruction continues.  How can we stop this destruction? Cultural security must be ensured; our universal heritage must be protected from war.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cultural Security News (Jun. 24 - Jun. 30)

Folk Art and a Sacred Stone
The Santa Fe Folk Art Market provides a venue for artists in emerging nations, from an Afghan women's collective to Zimbabwean basket weavers. Sweden and Venezuela were the latest nations to make headlines in repatriation cases. A rare atlas sold at a Sotheby's auction was determined to have been stolen from the Royal Library of Sweden, and the Pemon Indians of Venezuela demanded the return of a sacred stone, which is now a sculpture in Berlin's Tiergarten. The U.S. Ambassador to Italy noted increased cooperation between Homeland Security agents and Italian Carabinieri in the return of paintings and antiquities, which had been identified at Christie's and Sotheby's auctions. The politics of protection of cultural property continued with Timbuktu being added to the list of World Heritage in danger, and anti-government protests in Russia cited destruction of monuments. Monuments served as targets of political agendas with Putin and Peres meeting for the unveiling of a monument to Soviet soldiers in Netanya, and ultra-Orthodox Jews vandalized Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial.
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