Prior to contact with Europeans between 300 and 600 years ago, Traditional Knowledge (TK) systems had developed and flourished over thousands of years in various parts of the world. These knowledge systems are rich and varied, ranging from soil and plant taxonomy, cultural and genetic information, animal husbandry, medicine and pharmacology, ecology, zoology, music, arts, architecture, social welfare, governance, conflict management, and many others. Most of these TK systems continue to exist and evolve; at the same time, they have been appropriated and subjected to Western legal regimes. Indigenous cultural expressions are manifestations of TK that are passed on by Indigenous ancestors through successive generations. They are, in turn, inherited by current, to be passed on to future, generations.
What would happen if some thoughtful people added some real art to the idea of the audio guide. What if you ditch the whole name. What if you took the best parts of Radiohead’s OK Computer, flashmobs, our fears of mortality, our reliance of technology, confronted 50 people with the idea of a city, and took them through the parts of a city we often ignore?
You’d end up I think with something like “Remote Houston”. An experience put together by the arts collective Rimini Protokoll based in Berlin. The idea is adaptable to different cities, and each tour is modified to account for the quirks of different cities. “Remote Houston” begins in Evergreen Cemetery, and ends in the heart of Houston’s downtown.
What you get out of each tour will be personal and different. I was struck by how the tour was tied so closely to the idea of life and death and the passage of time. All concepts that we teach in law school, with are given arcane names with course titles like “Trusts and Estates” and cover concepts like “dead hand control” and the like. These doctrines are integral to our courses and doctrine, but never really made tangible. At least not in this way.
As Molly Glentzer, an art critic for the Houston Chronicle discussed during our recent tour together pointed out in her review:
The piece is noteworthy mainly due to the prestige of the Journal, as the comment largely consolidates the arguments for advocating for more policing of the antiquities trade at the source and educating the buyers of illicit material at the market end.
From the Introduction:
With the problem at hand, this Note suggests that the current laws and recourses available that protect and deter the theft of Mexican pre-Columbian antiquities and these artifacts’ illegal import into the United States are ineffective at their goal of reducing these types of crime. Instead, a new policy is recommended that focuses on the active preservation of these antiquities before they are looted in the first place. This policy will rely primarily on educating the people of Mexico and the United States about the damage that this illicit trade causes and the penalties for those involved in this destruction. Specific groups of people will be targeted for this education, including people living in rural areas who may find or help transport stolen antiquities, border agents and tourists who may discover the antiquities as they are smuggled, museums and dealers who often serve as intentional or unintentional fences for these artifacts, and people involved in international transportation who may witness or take part in the trade.
This Note explores the domestic application of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Convention on the Means of prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property of 1970 (“UNESCO Convention” or “Convention”) by both the United States and Australia. The currently growing trend of returning looted artifacts to their countries of origin highlights the need for stricter law enforcement procedures and a possible reevaluation of the U.S. policy of the nonretroactive application of the UNESCO Convention, as applied to domestic law. As a major market country, the United States can lead the way in encouraging repatriation and in establishing better relations with source countries that do not have the resources to fight for their lost heritage on their own.
The Note argues that the non-retroactive features of the Convention lead to problems with it, which I’d argue is not really a major flaw of the Convention. Overall its a useful student note, but one that could have benefited from some editing by someone more familiar with the Convention and the literature examining it. Law students, if you are writing on cultural heritage, please get in touch. I’m happy to read drafts and offer suggestions on your writing and arguments.
The Asia Week in New York is an effort by galleries and Museums to exhibit Asian art and promote sales. According to Tom Mashberg’s reporting in the New York Times, it generated $360 million in sales last year.
But this year the event also generated considerable law enforcement attention, with by my count the seizure of eight antiquities. At least so far It revealed again the depressing scope of antiquities looting networks. Even when a network is revealed, and dismantled, objects appear again on the market for years after a successful investigation—in some cases decades or more. The ICE press release estimated that the Kapoor investigation and Operation Hidden Idol has secured over 2,500 objects, worth an estimated $100 million, with a total of four arrests.
The seizures at Asia Week this year stem largely from the investigation by Federal Agents, in cooperation with Indian authorities, of Subhash Kapoor.
Chasing Aphrodite has comprehensive coverage, and offers this background on the investigation: