Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Perspectives on the Political Economy of Cultural Property

Against the backdrop of Turkey's continued assertive campaign of repatriation and a reported $1.5 billion in artworks at London’s Frieze Week, events in the world of cultural property provided a different perspective. Over the past week several news articles offered novel insight into the political economy of art and culture and the ramifications for security.
In Egypt, testimony to the Committee of Culture, Tourism and Media alleged misuse of antiquities as gifts to foster foreign relations. The article specifically pursued answers to the question, "Did former president Hosni Mubarak offer a segment of Egypt's archaeological heritage to foreign countries for political purposes?" A source within the Faculty of Tourism and Hotels at Mansoura University made a number claims of unauthorized gifts to foreign presidents including reference to a "notorious" case in which 48 artifacts disappeared from the Egyptian Museum.
In South Korea, the government established the Art Bank to oversee the acquisition and distribution of artworks to government agencies. The Cultural Minister hoped that the Art Bank would "improve the quality of the government art collection and stimulate the art market." The state collection comprises more than 2,500 artworks, and the Ministry of Culture plans to acquire 500 million won ($449,000) worth of artwork still this year.
Finally, in Pakistan, an opinion piece on the integration of politics and looting of antiquities illustrated a security aspect of the political economy of art. The article referred to the well-known multimillion-dollar illicit trade in Buddhist relics from Pakistan and cited an Associated Press article that referred to the government's lack of "funds, resources and political will to protect the hundreds of Buddhist monasteries." The author offered the observation, "As Pakistan’s history is being rewritten to service a violent, exclusionary narrative of Muslim identity, we have to embrace our cultural heritage as a reminder of our pluralistic past," which keenly identifies the ramifications for regional security.

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