Ben Quinn’s piece in the Guardian sheds light on an interesting forthcoming conference which hopes to “establish a permanent display” of Benin material in Nigeria. The Benin bronzes are in many museums in the West, and viewing them gives me to very different reactions. On the one hand, they are terrific to look at, with wonderful detail. But on the other, many of these objects were seized by the British Empire during an 1897 Punitive Campaign. That campaign was as bad as it sounds. To give a brief overview, a British official and his advisors were sent to uncover whether there was ritual human sacrifice taking place in the Kingdom of Benin. When the official and his advisors were killed by the King of Benin, the British responded by destroying the city, and looting as many as 900 of the Benin bronzes to compensate for the costs of the exhibition. Many of these objects were purchased by museums.
Nigeria has requested the return of much of this material, but the museums and collectors who currently possess them have often refused to enter into a dialogue. These negotiations for the return of material can be difficult and contentious, but they do not have to be. Here is hoping the meeting, which will take place in the Netherlands’ National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden will lead to a productive dialogue in the same way that Yale’s return of material to Peru or the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act operates.
Quinn’s story highlights the ethical case driving the dialogue, but also some of the challenges:
“I think that among this generation of curators there is an eagerness to find ways towards reconciliation,” said Dr Michael Barrett, senior curator at Stockholm’s Världskulturmuseet. “We are one of the smaller participants in this and it is very early but we are eager to continue with discussions.”
Among the issues still to be resolved are insurance costs and security arrangements. European curators and their west African counterparts are also keen to establish a legal framework that would guarantee the artefacts immunity from seizure in Nigeria.
John Picton, a professor at Soas University of London (formerly the School of Oriental and African Studies) and a former curator of the National Museum in Lagos, said: “The moral case is indisputable. Those antiquities were lifted from Benin City and you can argue that they ought to go back. On the other hand, the rival story is that it is part of world art history and you do not want to take away African antiquity from somewhere like the museums in Paris or London, because that leaves Africa without its proper record of antiquity.”
I’ve received notice that the terrific Cultural Heritage Moot Court competition is gearing up again. Here are the details from DePaul and the LCCHP:
DePaul University College of Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation are pleased to announce that registration for the Eighth Annual Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition is open! The Oral Arguments for the 2017 Competition will be held on February 24th and 25th, 2017 at the Everett M. Dirksen United States Courthouse, home of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, Illinois.
The 2017 Competition will focus on the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), which prohibits the taking of bald and golden eagles and eagle parts, including feathers. The competition problem will address a challenge to BGEPA brought by a Native American tribe member, including a challenge under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The competition is open to 26 two- and three-member student teams from ABA-accredited or provisionally accredited law schools. Schools may register up to two teams at a rate of $450.00 per team. The registration deadline is November 17, 2016. The problem will be released on November 18, 2016. Visit the competition website at go.depaul.edu/chmoot for additional details or to register a team. Contact the Competition Board at email@example.com with any questions.
Attorneys interested in serving as judges or brief graders should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. CLE credit is available for attorneys who participate as judges.
It is getting harder and harder to keep up with all of the cultural heritage law events and conferences which are happening. One of the best resources is the opportunities list put together every week by Donna Yates on her excellent blog. In the next few days, there are two excellent heritage law events, first in New York, and another in Washington D.C.
First off is the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Annual Conference on Friday March 25. It includes panels on the Parthenon Sculptures, Restitution, Conflict-Related looting, and digital heritage. The full schedule and speakers are available here.
And then next week on Tuesday and Wednesday a conference titled “Intersections in International Cultural Heritage Law” at Georgetown University Law Center offers six panels on topics including human rights and cultural heritage, International criminal law and Heritage, the World Court and the Temple of Preah Vihear, and the ongoing situation in Syria and Iraq.
I was able to arrange my schedule and will be at both events. I’ll try to tweet the noteworthy comments and happenings, so you can follow along, but more importantly, if you are there, I’d be very happy to grab a beer or a coffee.
Given that 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s decision to purchase the sculptures from Lord Elgin, it is apt that this years problems deals with two issues over whether a U.S. Court would have jurisdiction and should hear a suit between the British Museum and the Acropolis Museum.
Co-sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, the National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court Competition is the only moot court competition in the world that focuses exclusively on cultural heritage law issues. The Competition provides students with the opportunity to advocate in the nuanced landscape of cultural heritage, which addresses our past and our identity, and which has frequently become the subject of contentious legal debates and policies. This dynamic and growing legal field deals with the issues that arise as our society comes to appreciate the important symbolic, historical and emotional role that cultural heritage plays in our lives. It encompasses several disparate areas: protection of archaeological sites; preservation of historic structures and the built environment; preservation of and respect for both tangible and intangible indigenous cultural heritage; the international market in art works and antiquities; and recovery of stolen art works.
This summer I’m slated to teach a two hour credit course on International Cultural Heritage Law in Malta through South Texas’ Malta program, alongside courses in Comparative Tax; and Democracy, Politics and Courts.
The course will examine the intersection between law and material cultural heritage. It will show how domestic and international law works to resolve disputes over ancient sites, works of art, and antiquities. A particular emphasis will also be the legal instruments which prohibit the intentional destruction and wholescale looting of ancient culture. We will examine international conventions, domestic laws, and analyze the prominent cases which have arisen over cultural heritage disputes.
If you are a law student interested in summer study opportunities, I hope you’ll consider it.
The excellent Art-Law Centre has announced its call for papers for its “All Art and Cultural Heritage Law Conference” to be held in June 2016 in Geneva.
From the call:
This conference will host two panels: ‘Cultural Heritage in the Crossfire: Reality and Effectiveness of Protection Efforts’ and ‘Art and Cultural Heritage: What Is the Role for Ethics?’. The aim of the conference is to take stock of, and to further contribute to the recent discussions regarding the protection of cultural heritage from damage and the role of ethics in the art world. In particular, the Art-Law Centre is interested in papers pursuing normative, empirical, comparative or theoretical approaches. We welcome contributions from law and other disciplines, including philosophy, criminology, archaeology and history.
Paper proposals should be emailed to the Art-Law Centre’s team email@example.com 29 February 2016. Successful applicants will be notified by 14 March 2016, and would be required to submit a summary of their presentation by 23 May 2016.