Central California PBS affiliate KVIE has a segment showing and discussing the theft and destruction of ancient petroglyphs from California. It shows some of the sites themselves, the damage they have suffered, and a good overview of the laws protecting these sites. The segment really hits its stride in pointing out the disconnect between laws protecting these sites, and the local populations. There is a lot more public awareness needed. People should know better, but they don’t yet, and cultural resource managers need to redouble their efforts to do a better job educating the public about why they shouldn’t damage sites and remove items.
Ursula Lindsey reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education on what foreign academics are doing to combat the looting and destruction in Syria:
Scholars can do little to stop the fighting and looting, but they have created blogs, websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts to monitor the destruction and raise awareness about it. By sharing excavation records, scholars outside the Middle East have helped their counterparts in the Arab world to compile online lists of missing or stolen objects.
Cheikhmous Ali, an archaeologist at the University of Strasbourg, in France, founded the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology, which relies on an underground network of activists and journalists to document damage to historical sites in Syria. The Syrian authorities are often suspicious of people taking photos, so the association’s volunteer informants sometimes use hidden devices, such as tiny digital cameras inserted into pens, to accomplish their goals.
Holidays and festivals always bring increased risks to works of art. Perhaps because the usual traffic of locals and visitors is reduced, and there aren’t as many who might notice something that would be odd or uncharacteristic. I’m not sure if that is one of the contributing factors to the theft of this Guercino depicting St. John the Evangelist and the Madonna. The work was stolen from the Church of San Vincenzo in Modena Italy earlier this week. Whether the start of Italy’s Ferragosto holiday this week led to the Church being more at risk is just speculation on my part, but may have been a contributing factor. Perhaps the biggest factor is the lack of funding at the Church, and the inability to pay the bills on a security system installed to protect the works in the church. As reported by Hannah McGivern in the Art Newspaper:
According to the parish priest Gianni Gherardi, who reported the theft, the church could not afford to insure the painting. Its alarm system—fitted during a renovation in the mid-1990s that was financed by the local bank Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena—had been inactive since the funds dried up, said Monsignor Giacomo Morandi, the vicar of the archdiocese.
Church theft is a difficult problem in Italy, with so many churches filled with so much amazing art, hardening all these sites to thwart theft is an expensive and difficult undertaking. Church art theft usually involves smaller minor objects like candlesticks, smaller paintings of lesser value, and other ecclesiastical art. This theft appears to be of a much higher profile. This high profile of course makes it more of a headache for the thieves. There is no legitimate market any time soon for this work.
Recently, in Cariou v. Prince, the Second Circuit held that a series of photographic collages described as “appropriation art” qualified as fair use despite the fact that both the collage and the original photographs served similar expressive purposes, albeit in very different manners. The court adopted the broadest definition of transformation to date, which, though formally reliant on the language in Campbell, relaxed the requirements for transformativeness such that a work need only show “new expression, meaning, or message.”” Because of the variety of prior definitions and the broad language in Campbell, the Cariou rule is not precluded by precedent. However, such a broad formulation blurs the line between a transformative work and the right to prepare derivative works under 17 U.S.C. § 106(2), and the court does not provide an aesthetically neutral method of distinguishing between the two. Unless and until the statute is changed, future courts should resolve the tension in a way that both preserves the derivative work right and precludes value judgments of new art forms.
Cariou v. Prince, 714 F.3d 694 (U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 2013).
Its not just ancient sites and archaeology that are at risk in Syria. The NPR program Fresh Air today featured a terrific interview with a former punk band drummer who was able to capture recordings of some ancient religious chants in Christian and Sufi communities in Syria. He was able to this before the outbreak of the Civil War there. In relating the history of these musical and religious traditions Jason Hamacher gives a sad account of how much is being lost in Syria as the conflict there continues. Here’s one exchange between the host Teri Gross and Jason Hamacher:
GROSS: So you must have a lot of photographs of ancient sites in Syria that have been fully or partially destroyed by the Civil War?
HAMACHER: Correct. The perfect example is, there was a neighborhood called Jdeideh. It’s actually the Armenian quarter of the city. And they had the absolute best restaurants. There were these five, six, seven hundred-year-old mansions that had a covered – the restaurants were set up in these courtyards and the food was just unbelievable. The food from Aleppo has been regarded throughout history as some of the best Middle Eastern food on earth. The Ottoman sultans would actually have their chefs either train in Aleppo or bring someone from Aleppo to learn how to do this amazing cooking.
Almost that entire neighborhood is gone, leveled. There was a place called the Sissi House that was in Jdeideh that I used to eat at all the time. And it was bombed; gone. Like, someone sent me a photo and I couldn’t even – they’re like, do you think this is the Sissi House?
I couldn’t even understand what I was looking at. There’s so much of that.
GROSS: The cathedral that you recorded the ancient version of “The Lord’s Prayer” that we heard, is that cathedral still standing? Was that cathedral affected by the bombing and the shelling in Syria?
HAMACHER: It still stands. It’s riddled with bullet holes. Everything has suffered damage.