Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cultural Heritage: Victimized

We have witnessed countless instances in which cultural property has been the victim of armed conflict: the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001, the sacking of the Iraqi museums in 2003, the destruction of the Sufi shrines in Mali in 2012, and of course the looting of artifacts to fund wartime endeavors, which is currently occurring in Syria. The cases in which cultural heritage has been specifically targeted or has been a casualty of conflict are innumerable.  The political clout and economic value of patrimony make it a bull's eye.
But we cannot overlook that cultural heritage also can be a victim during peaceful times, and can be a victim of the nation it represents. This month, a construction company demolished a Maya temple in Noh Mul, an ancient city complex in Belize. The temple was more than two thousand years old, and likely took a thousand years to build from hand-cut limestone; in two days, the temple was reduced to rubble by backhoes and bulldozers.  The temple was the “nearest and handiest source of aggregate” for roads in need of paving.
The owner of the construction company contracted for the road upgrades states that the local landowner gave permission to excavate; apparently material has been taken from the temple mound for over a decade.  He describes the loss of the temple as an “unfortunate incident.”
While Belize has legislation in place to prevent harming of ancient monuments, these statutes are outdated and lack any serious penalty for violators. The deputy prime minister of Gaspar Vaga, who represents the area, has stated that he is “outraged by the wanton destruction,” and wants a full investigation and prosecution of the contractor.
We tend to focus on the destruction of cultural heritage by enemy forces, and the lack of protection provided to such patrimony; we cannot, however, forget that patrimony often is destroyed by the very people it represents.  It does not always take conflict or times of upheaval to victimize patrimony.  Looting of one’s own cultural patrimony is an on-going issue, as citizens see the artifacts in their backyards as a means of income – survival comes first.  The problems in these instances run too deep to simply be fixed by stricter laws and regulations preventing illicit digging and the sale of artifacts.  And in such cases when one chooses to intentionally demolish one’s own heritage? What rules can be put in place—and enforced—to prevent such intentional destruction if the “owner” of the “property” chooses to destroy it?
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cultural Security News (May 19 - May 25)

Market competition and record returns
In politics, in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art elected to repatriate a pair of statues to Cambodia. In Israel, a delegation from UNESCO inspected the preservation work in the Old City of Occupied Jerusalem. In India, an article asserted that not all Indian artifacts in foreign collections were necessarily stolen and, correspondingly, advocated for revision of the Antiquities and Treasures Act of 1972. Museums of human remains worldwide are realizing the potential recall of items to nations origin.
In a crossover of politics and security, Cambodia stepped up calls for return of cultural property. In Africa, Professor Kwesi Kwaa Prah asserted the importance of preserving native languages. In Egypt, the former minister of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, is still fighting legal trouble, which includes alleged illicit shipments of antiquities. In the United States, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, and Customs and Border Protection returned hundreds of ancient coins to the Bulgarian Ambassador.
In economics, in the art market, speculation on a bubble, investment potential, and mergers of on-line enterprises continued. Artprice indicated an exponential increase in the number of players in the worldwide art market. In Hong Kong, the first Basel art fair illustrated the increasing competition in the art market in China. In France, a former gallery owner remarked on the challenges of operating locally in an increasingly global market.
In a crossover of economics and security, in the United States, a raid on museums in 2008 for illicit holdings of cultural artifacts has incurred high costs relative to the number of convictions. In Europe, a multidisciplinary team will visit the 14 most endangered European Heritage Sites. An article in Rutgers Law Review advocated replacing restitution for fine art with prosecution as with antiquities.
In security, in Syria, the Manger of Museums reportedly asserted that smuggling of looted artifacts has turned into stealing from museums through collaboration with Turkish, Lebanese, and Iraqi nations. In Sri Lanka, reports of artifact thefts are on the rise. In Ireland, indicated that archaeological sites are not safe after the recovery of a hoard of hundreds of historical items. A former Scotland Yard detective, Richard Ellis, asserted the risk of stolen art serving as collateral in transactions for arms and drugs. In New York, a dealer was indicted for selling forgeries of artists such as de Kooning, Pollock, and Rothko to the Knoedler and other galleries.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cultural Security News (May 12 - May 18)

Czech forgeries, Greek reparations, Syrian smuggling
In politics, in India, the Charminar may not qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Illinois, Northwestern University prepares to return a letter of Napoleon Bonaparte’s family to France. In Arizona, Northern Arizona University encourages the education of Native Americans as archaeologists.
In a crossover of politics and security, Greece seeks reparations for World War II damage and return of looted antiquities. In Yemen, the Culture Minister sees cultural education as a countermeasure to extremist thought. Scrutiny of museum holding for illicitly acquired cultural artifacts intensifies. Cambodia continues the initiative to recall antiquities from foreign museums.
In economics, collectors from China seek bargains in the art market worldwide. In China, Shanghai angles for a greater share of the auction market by welcoming Christie’s to operate independently. Financial analysts continue warnings of a bubble in the art market and predictions of crash. In New York, Christie’s auction of contemporary art set a record at $495 million.
In a crossover of economics and security, in Czech Republic, forgeries have a significant presence in the art market. Art is revealed as an ideal means for laundering money. The head of the FBI Art Crime Team commented on the ease by which illicitly transferred fine art and antiquities pass into the legitimate market.
In security, Interpol has targeted the art collection of the Qaddafi family for potential seizure. In New York, the FBI raided an art gallery in relation to an investigation of money laundering. In Lebanon, police arrested Lebanese and Syrian nationals on smuggling of Syria antiquities.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Syria – “The Art of Civil War”

The impact of armed conflict on cultural heritage is once again highlighted by current events: the civil war in Syria. To add to the horror and destruction brought upon the Syrian population, the war is shattering Syria’s cultural heritage. A recent Foreign Policy article (“The Art of Civil War”) elaborates on how the conflict in Syria is affecting the country’s antiquities.
According to the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), the looting is more damaging than the fighting that is destroying mosques, old houses, and Crusader castles. As conflict has dragged on, looting of the country’s “archaeological treasure trove” (consisting of 35 museums and 10,000 archaeological sites) has become more commonplace. In the last decade alone prices for antiquities have increased tenfold, making the smuggling of antiquities to the prominent buyers (notably in Israel, Britain, and the United States) a lucrative venture.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), therefore, is using antiquities as currency – exchanging stolen Syrian patrimony for guns. Smuggler Abu Khader is noted as saying, “They give me antiquities, I give them guns.” Apparently, cuneiform tablets, Roman friezes and statues, and Byzantine coins are “particularly popular.”
Only 3% of Syria’s heritage sites remain outside the conflict zone, and all UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria have been affected by the war. Abdel-Karim, Director of the DGAM, states that Syria is endeavoring to minimize the damage to its heritage in an attempt to avoid repeating Iraq’s experience in 2003. One such effort is the closing of museums to the public and the movement of their collections to secure locations.
We are NOT doomed to repeat history.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cultural Security News (May 05 - May 11)

Kneeling Attendants return to Cambodia, a dinosaur returns to Mongolia.
In politics, in Latvia, the Mark Rothko Arts Centre opened in Daugavpils. In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to return statues to Cambodia. In Israel, excavations continue in Jerusalem to study the historical presence of Roman culture. In New York, Colgate University has agreed to return a collection of Aboriginal art to Australia.
In a crossover of politics and security, in Texas, the now famous case of a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton is coming to a conclusion as the fossil is being returned to Mongolia. Greece plans to bring a case against Germany for reparations for looting during World War II.
In economics, collectors from China are “scouring” the world for deals on art. In the United States, the spreading requirement of a master’s degree in fine art for a career as an artist has implications for student debt. In New York, art storage is turning into an industry.
In a crossover of economics and security, in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, collectors worldwide seek art insurance. In Syria, reports continue on the threat of trafficking in antiquities for weapons. Auctions for impressionist, modern, and contemporary art continue to thrive.
In security, in Libya, antiquities remain at risk of continued looting by international gangs. In Egypt, a court in Cairo extended the detention of Palestinians who had been arrested for smuggling of antiquities. In London, the case of looted Egyptian antiquities at Christie’s led to detaining a smuggling suspect.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cultural Security News (Apr. 28 - May 04)

Art as an investment? Repatriations gain momentum.
In politics, China persists in the repatriation of Chinese relics but acknowledges that long-terms efforts will be required. In the United Kingdom, academics convened to apply pressure on the government to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention. In Greece, a conference on repatriation of cultural property will take place at the Olympia Conference Center. Egypt challenged the sale of 200 objects at Bonham’s and succeeded in recovering some. Reportedly, the head of the United States National Archives has agreed to return the entire Jewish Archive to Iraq. In the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will return a pair of statues to Cambodia.
In a crossover of politics and security, in Egypt, police claim to be put on trial for using lethal force in self-defense against criminal gangs who, in some cases, smuggle antiquities. Also, youths rallied against construction that threatens an ancient burial ground in Dahshour.
In economics, China not only has the second largest art market but also influences markets abroad such as in South Africa. In Sudan, the Ministry of Tourism advocates greater spending to develop the cultural-heritage assets of the nation. Reportedly, high net-worth individuals continue to seek out the art market as an alternative investment (Or do they?), but experts still point out the risks. On the other hand, an article speculated on the potential for the art market to serve as a model for other markets. In China, affordable art continues to expand.
AfghanistanIn a crossover of economics and security, in Afghanistan, controversy continued over development of the copper mine at Mes Aynak. The “cultural security” of China has prevailed in that filmmakers in Hollywood adapt productions for foreign release to show China in a favorable light and include scenes that feature actors from China.
In security, in the United States, a report indicates increasingly broader ramifications of criminal cases of art and cultural property. In Macedonia, police arrested seventeen suspected smugglers of antiquities. The Director-General of UNESCO once again warned of the damage of ongoing looting in Syria.
For similar news, visit Cultural Security News.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Working on the definition for “Cultural Security”

At the end of March, the post “Working towards a definition for ‘Cultural Security’” offered groundwork on understanding the significance of the term in the 21st century. This week’s post takes another look at how to think about the relevance and significance of the role of culture in community, national, and international security. Comments on the post “What is Cultural Security?” on the Cultural Security blog from April provide insight.
The phrase “cultural power” seems to be gaining traction in the media. At the community level, a Native American Author, as a guest of “Moyers and Company,” discussed the lack of cultural power held by Indians in the United States. The interview happened to follow recent news on contested sales of Hopi masks in France.  At the intersection of the national and international levels, adaptation of Western film production indicates the cultural power of China. Recent news reported that Hollywood films cater to the audience in China by deliberately representing the nation in a favorable light and by adding scenes that feature actors in China. Apparently, China’s cultural security policy holds sway over Western marketing strategies.
Comments on the Cultural Security blog provided insight into power-sharing at the national level. As a specific example, Dr. Eugenie Samier discussed the challenge of preserving the representation of Arab culture in academic curricula in Dubai. Foreign branches of Western universities provide knowhow for economic development but lack integration of regional language and religious principles. The omission not only puts the national cultural at risk but also compromises the ultimate applicability of the academic training.
In summary, the concept of “cultural power” may help in understanding “cultural security.” Specifically, the relative influence, or political and economic power, of distinct cultures may shed light on the role of culture in security at the community, national and international level. In the past, cultural power seemed to derive from economic power, but in the present, as suggested by thoughts from Dubai, an established culture itself plays a fundamental role in the implementation of modern techniques for economic advancement.
Will culture become an independent, if not a primary, source of power in the 21st century?