Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wartime Risks and Peacetime Potential

The wartime destruction of cultural property seems intractable. In Syria and Mali, the threat to cultural heritage is painfully obvious, but relative to the loss of human life, protection of artworks, manuscripts, and historic structures takes a lower priority. In peacetime, the risks are different, and protection of cultural property is less in competition with physical survival. In many nations, emerging and developed, pursuing political and economic development still have higher precedence than protecting archaeological sites and conserving monuments, but protection of cultural property does occur with some success.
Peru YaleIn fact, antiquities and monuments contribute to political and economic progress. Notably, repatriation of antiquities plays an increasingly significant role in foreign relations, and cultural tourism holds potential for economic development. Peru's success in reclaiming Inca artifacts from the Peabody Museum at Yale University reflects the potential for cultural institutions in the United States to cooperate in the emerging climate of repatriation, and the site of Machu Picchu holds continued value as a tourist destination.
In short, public and private investment in protection of cultural heritage not only preserve “art for art’s sake” but also contributes to political and economic security.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Cultural Security News (Aug. 19 - Aug. 25)

African and Asian Development through Art and Antiquities
The Maasai women create beadwork in their village for sale at the Sante Fe art market. (Courtesy of ASK)Nigeria and Kenya and India and China gave evidence for the potential role of art and antiquities in economic development. Nigeria continued to shore up the potential for tourism by defending national museums and announcing next month's return of Nok sculptures from France, and the Maasai women of Kenya have succeeded in selling their beadwork abroad to generate funding for local education programs. In India, Sotheby's appointed a veteran of Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs to head South Asian art sales, while a slowdown in Chinese collectors buying back antiquities from abroad, and speculation about a bubble in the Chinese art market, gave hope for the Indian art market to gain ground. Still, Chinese auction houses and collectors outpace counterparts in India, and Poly International Auction, which was formed by the People's Liberation Army in 1993, became the leading auction house in China and is reportedly on the way to challenging international competition of Sotheby's and Christie's.
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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pakistan, Pyramids, and Politics

Previous posts have recounted reports on calls by Muslim religious leaders to destroy, or conceal in wax, the pyramids at Giza (2012-07-16) and have described Turkey's assertiveness in reclaiming antiquities from museums worldwide (2012-03-13). In July, an event in Pakistan involved looted relics with political, as well as financial, implications.
Police in Karachi seized a container truck of Buddhist relics from the Gandhara region, which stretches from Pakistan into Afghanistan. On the financial side, the region is targeted by looters, who provide relics to collectors worldwide. Vandalism and destruction of Buddhist artifacts also has a political side in that Taliban militants are suspected of removing the relics from Pakistan and hard-line Muslims, who view images of Buddha as false idols, destroy the cultural artifacts.
Destruction of fortresses and historic structures in Syria is tragic and irreversible. As related in a recent post (2012-08-03), targeting of the crusader-era castle of the Crac des Chevaliers illustrates the threat to cultural security during armed conflict. As exemplified by the tactics of Turkey, the rhetoric of Muslim religious leaders, and smugglers in Pakistan, the political economy of cultural property creates risk for antiquities and monuments in peacetime as well.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cultural Security News (Aug. 12 - Aug. 18)

Controversies in Conservation
One of the spots formerly filled by a Bamiyan BuddhaMore than ten years on, the fate of the remains of the Bamiyan Buddhas remains unknown. Despite UNESCO's decision last year not to pursue reconstruction of the statues, a group of German archaeological conservationists still hope to rebuilt the statues from the fragments. In acquisitions, the Cleveland Museum of Art keeps moving forward. Despite the recent climate of repatriation, the museum added top-rated Roman and Mayan antiquities to its collection. In conservation, UNESCO made progress with Libya in committing to protection of cultural sites while potentially contesting the new board of the Osogbo cultural centre in Nigeria. Controversy also cropped up over the accuracy of statistics on the size of the art market in China and over the unveiling of a refurbished statue of MacArthur in South Korea. Finally, it turns out that after charges were brought against the former-SAS officer in the UK, the fragment of the behind of the statue of Saddam Hussein may not even be authentic.
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cultural Security News (Aug. 05 - Aug. 11)

From Nigeria to India - not so good news
Fake modern Indian art market fattens on budget buyersNigeria featured prominently in the past week with reported successes in repatriation of Benin bronzes from museums in the United States and continued dialogues with museums worldwide for returns. Simultaneously, the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism announced the need to attract investment in and maintain existing museums in Nigeria while pursuing lasting solutions to trafficking in antiquities. India also reported a range of issues. The deported alleged smuggler, Subhash Kapoor, reportedly sold objects to prominent museums worldwide, and now the museums may be compelled to identify complete provenance for the objects in question. Simultaneously, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed announced a request for art institutions worldwide to verify the provenance of Hindu art and return illicitly acquired objects to the temples of origin. Also, reportedly, fakes of modern India art are apparently not uncommon, if not rampant, in the market. On the positive side, Kerala Lalithakala Akademi has created a portal for aspiring artists to show their work on-line. Sadly, reports of looting in Pakistan are on the rise, Syria continues to suffer thefts of antiquities from cultural sites and museums, the Muslim Brotherhood apparently seeks to cover "inappropriate" public statues, and the Greek art market has reportedly collapsed. To end on a positive note, Chile announced progress towards signing the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cultural Security News (Jul. 29 - Aug. 04)

Continued losses in Syria - Planned protection in Egypt
sarcophagi1As in Mali, damage to cultural heritage sites in Syria has taken on a political angle with the government and insurgents each blaming the other for deliberate destruction and looting. While objects looted in Syria reportedly are being traded through Jordan and Turkey, Turkey announced plans to construct, and fill, the largest museum of civilizations by 2023. In Egypt, an article quoted the reappointed Minister of State for Antiquities on seeking funding and cooperation to complete restoration of historic sites and counter trafficking. Coincidentally, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seized two Egyptian sarcophagi at the U.S.-Mexico border near Laredo. On the lighter side, early sketches of characters from The Muppets are schedule to go up for auction in Hollywood, California.
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Friday, August 3, 2012

Violence Threatens Syrian Life, Cultural Heritage

As fighting continues to rage in Aleppo, Damascus and other cities across the country, the Syrian people and their cultural heritage face a dire threat. In addition to the estimated 20,000 people who have perished during 17 months of civil unrest, the Syrian rebellion has witnessed the looting of museums, destruction of archaeological ruins and damage to historic monuments, including the crusader-era castle of the Crac des Chevaliers (pictured on the right).
The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has issued a warning aimed at this imminent threat to Syrian cultural security, focusing on the city of Aleppo, which has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1986. “ICOMOS is extremely concerned about the risks of any heavy conflict that may threaten the World Heritage site of Aleppo and the other precious cultural heritage of the city.”
The ICOMOS plea follows a similar appeal issued by UNESCO calling for the protection of Aleppo. In a statement issued July 26, 2012, UNESCO voiced its concerns “about the risks of looting and pillaging of cultural property” in Syria’s largest city, and urged the country’s government to adhere to the tenets set forth by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, of which Syria was a signatory.
The hope for peace in this war-torn nation was dealt an ominous blow with the resignation (effective August 31) of Kofi Annan as United Nations and Arab League envoy following the failure of his peace plan.  His replacement has yet to be appointed.
With threats from both President Bashar al Assad and the revolting Free Syrian Army to intensify military actions during the upcoming weeks, Syria faces an ever-increasing threat to the lives of its populace and to its cultural heritage.
Originally posted by Joshua MIx on
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