Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pragmatics of Cultural Property

Does the concept of cultural security have practical significance? Different perspectives on “cultural security” indicate an evolving theoretical concept. At the same time, controversies over the politics of repatriation, the financial value of art, and the security of cultural heritage in regions of conflict have practical implications.
Cultural Heritage Objects Database - Fighting the Illicit appropriation of Cultural HeritagePolitically, nations with a history of claims for repatriation, such as Greece, created a precedent. Nations, such as Italy, have followed with success in retrieving objects from renowned museums in the United States and in the process kicked up political dust. Before the dust settled, nations, such as Turkey, took the politics of cultural property to the next level by stretching the basis for claims of repatriation.  The assertiveness of Turkey's claims raises the question of an ulterior motive. Is pursuit of the return of cultural patrimony simply a matter of cultural heritage, or has cultural property taken on a practical role in global power?
Financially, the art market has captured interest as an alternative investment. However, the interest has raised concern over the overvaluation of masterworks and contemporary art. Are a small group of collector-investors bidding up the value of safe masterworks without regard for the art market, as a whole, or for aspiring artists? Does the commoditization of art put the cultural value at risk?
In security, what is the role, or fate, of cultural property in armed conflict and political violence? UNESCO conventions for protection have established standards that challenge the abilities of nations to secure cultural heritage. Syria serves as a topical example of the challenges of securing cultural property in armed conflict, and the actions of Ansar Dine in Mali poignantly illustrate the challenges of protecting cultural property from political violence. As states parties to UNESCO conventions, both Syria and Mali bear responsibility for securing historic structures and religious monuments. However, the circumstances of the conflicts seem to challenge, if not make it impossible, to follow the conventions.
Controversies--over the political exploitation of repatriation, financial exploitation of artworks, and responsibilities of states parties to conventions--have shifted the protection of cultural heritage from an altruistic “art for art’s sake” issue to a matter of practical significance. Nations increasingly seem to realize the political advantage of becoming states parties to the conventions. In light of the advantages, what are the motives behind acceptance and to what ends are the conventions being implemented?

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