Ross on the barriers to post-colonial repatriation

“Raven/Sisutl transformation mask by Oscar Matilpi, Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, 1997. In the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.” CC BY-SA 3.0

Sara Ross, a Ph.D. candidate at Osgoode Hall Law has published an article in the American Indian Law Journal titled: “Res Extra Commercium and the Barriers Faced When Seeking the Repatriation and Return of Potent Cultural Objects: A Transsystemic Critical Post-Colonial Approach”. From the abstract:

The repatriation and return of objects of cultural value are often linked to decolonization projects and efforts to repair past wrongs suffered as a result of colonialism. Yet significant barriers hinder these efforts. These barriers primarily take the shape of time limitations, diverging conceptions of property and ownership, the high costs involved, and the domestic export and cultural heritage laws of both the source country and the destination country. I argue that these barriers are relics of colonialism that replicate and perpetuate the continued imposition of Eurocentric and Western legal notions and values on subaltern source countries and source indigenous groups. In order to truly move beyond the remaining relics of colonialism into a context where the culture and values of all groups are accorded equal respect, it is important that these barriers be removed.

Sara Ross, Res Extra Commercium and the Barriers Faced When Seeking the Repatriation and Return of Potent Cultural Objects: A Transsystemic Critical Post-Colonial Approach, SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2755435 (Social Science Research Network), Mar. 28, 2016.

Italy reached an agreement with the Glyptotek

Contents of a tomb from the Sabine Hills, north of Rome
Contents of a tomb from the Sabine Hills, north of Rome

Italy and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art museum in Copenhagen on Tuesday announced an agreement for the return of antiquities taken illegally from Italy.

Objects repatriated include the contents of a tomb from near Fara north of Rome. Those objects had allegedly passed through Robert Hecht, a familiar name to those who follow illicit antiquities. Hecht passed away in 2012, and had been the subject of a criminal trial in Rome in 2005, allegedly for dealing in illicit antiquities.

Robert Hecht described buying the Etruscan chariot from Giacomo Medici:

Continue reading “Italy reached an agreement with the Glyptotek”

Italy Squandered €150m in Culture Funding

La dea di Aidone
La dea di Aidone

The Art Newspaper reported last week after examining EU documents, that Italy has been stripped of €151m in culture funding next year because regions have failed to spend funds allocated. This includes the loss of funding for Aidone, which is the village near the ancient site of Morgantina:

The EU rejected a request for €2.4m from the Archaeological Museum of Aidone to renovate its galleries because of incomplete documentation and the lack of an “economic framework”. The museum was due to welcome back the Head of Hades (400-300BC), a Hellenistic terracotta fragment that was restored to Sicily by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in January. But the sculpture, thought to have been illegally excavated from a sanctuary at Morgantina in the 1970s, remains in limbo in Palermo, partly because the Aidone museum has not prepared a suitable display for it.

This is a really sad development. It seems now very difficult to square the argument that works of art must be returned when the requesting nation cannot properly manage funding that is available. The step here needs to be capacity building for these smaller museums and regions to properly instruct the employees the expectations of grant requests and the expectations.

There may be another side to this story. The English-language reporting of happenings in Italy often have a Northern-European bias. But its hard to put a positive spin on such wasted resources.

We’ll hopefully be in Aidone and Morgantina in a week’s time—we are able to sneak away from my cultural heritage law course in Valletta, Malta. I hope to have some images and thoughts on the site and museum in Aidone soon.

Tina Lepri & Hannah McGivern, Italy squanders €150m in EU grants, http://theartnewspaper.com/news/conservation/italy-squanders-hundreds-of-millions-in-eu-grants/.

Greece reported to be seeking International Justice for the Parthenon

The Ilissos sculpture, on display in London, originally adorned the Parthenon
The Ilissos sculpture, on display in London, originally adorned the Parthenon

With 2016 marking the 200th anniversary of the acquisition of the Parthenon sculptures by Parliament from Lord Elgin, there will likely be a lot of attention paid to the long-running dispute. The Guardian reported yesterday on a legal summary authored by Geoffrey Robertson, Norman Palmer, and Amal Clooney. The possibility of bringing a claim before the ICJ, raising public support, and continuing to generate goodwill towards reunification of the monument in Athens are the major themes of the 141 page summary, available via the Guardian. But the major focus of the claim now seems to be a call for justice for the sculptures, an argument I’ve made as well building on the well-established principle of environmental justice.

The reporting by Helena Smith focuses on the work by advocates in Athens:

As campaigners prepare to mark the 200th anniversary of the antiquities’ “captivity” in London, Athens is working at forging alliances that would further empower its longstanding battle to retrieve the sculptures.

“We are trying to develop alliances which we hope would eventually lead to an international body like the United Nations to come with us against the British Museum,” the country’s culture minister, Aristides Baltas, revealed in an interview.

“If the UN represents all nations of the world and all nations of the world say ‘the marbles should be returned’ then we’ll go to court because the British Museum would be against humanity,” he said. “We do not regard the Parthenon as exclusively Greek but rather as a heritage of humanity.”

But the politician admitted there was always the risk of courts issuing a negative verdict that would wreck Athens’ chances of having the artworks reunited with the magnificent monument they once adorned.

“Courts do not by definition regard [any] issue at the level of history or morality or humanity-at-large. They look at the laws,” said Baltas, an academic and philosopher who played a pivotal role in founding Syriza, Greece’s governing leftist party. “As there are no hard and fast rules regarding the issue of returning treasures taken away from various countries, there is no indisputable legal basis.”

Helena Smith, Greece Looks to International Justice to Regain Parthenon Marbles from UK, The Guardian, May 8, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/08/greece-international-justice-regain-parthenon-marbles-uk.
Derek Fincham, The Parthenon Sculptures and Cultural Justice, 23 Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal 943 (2013).
Christopher Hitchens, A Home for the Marbles, The New York Times, Jun. 19, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/19/opinion/19iht-edhitchens.html.
Michael Kimmelman, Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light, The New York Times, Jun. 24, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/arts/design/24abroad.html.
John Henry Merryman, Whither the Elgin Marbles, in Imperialism, art and restitution 98 (Cambridge Univ Pr 2006).
David Rudenstine, Lord Elgin and the Ottomans: The Question of Permission, 23 Cardozo L. Rev. 449 (2001).

Athenians’ Group Seeks Justice for the Parthenon Sculptures

The Parthenon Sculptures at the Duveen Gallery, in the British Museum
The Parthenon Sculptures at the Duveen Gallery, in the British Museum

An Athenian cultural association has brought a claim before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg seeking the return of the Parthenon Sculptures held by the British Museum. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s decision to purchase sculptures stripped from the Parthenon from Lord Elgin. At present most of the surviving sculptures rest in London at the British Museum.

Alexander Herman for the Institute of Art & Law blog summarizes the allegations:

The claim is aimed at the United Kingdom and alleges violations of the following rights under the European Convention on Human Rights:

cultural identity as an aspect of «the right to respect for private life» (Article 8 of ECHR);

cultural identity as an aspect of «the freedom of conscience» (Article 9 of ECHR);

the right to access cultural information, as an aspect of «the freedom of expression» (Article 10 of ECHR);

the «right to an effective remedy» (Article 13 of ECHR); and

the right to property, in the sense of integral public access to the monument (Article 1 of the Additional Protocol to ECHR).

The Athenians’ Association, which has existed since 1895, argues in a statement that it hopes to “raise international public awareness and to have justice rendered” and “hopes that the truth will prevail, that the monument will be restored and that history and tradition will shine forth for the good of mankind”.

I’ve laid out my argument as well, that cultural justice demands the reunification of this work of art.

  1. APPEAL OF THE «ATHENIANS’ ASSOCIATION» BEFORE THE EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR THE ACROPOLIS SCULPTURES, Σύλλογος των Αθηναίων (Feb. 18, 2016), http://www.syllogostonathinaion.gr/prosfigi-gia-ta-glypta-tis-akropoleos/appeal-of-the-athenians-association-before-the-european-court-of-human-rights-for-the-acropolis-sculptures/.
  2. Derek Fincham, The Parthenon Sculptures and Cultural Justice, 23 Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal 943 (2013).

Cambodia and Museé Guimet reunite Khmer statue

7th century sculpture of Harihari
7th century sculpture of Harihari

One of the powerful symbols of the gulf separating museums and source communities are the fragments of sculpture which populate so many galleries. It is the best interest of these museums and the source communities to cooperate when possible, which makes the news from Cambodia welcome.

This 7th-century Khmer head has been in the possession of the Museé Guimet for almost 130 years. But now the Art Newspaper reports the statue and the rest of the statue will be reunited:

The head, which has been in the Musée Guimet’s collection since 1889, will remain in Cambodia for the next five years, says the museum curator Thierry Zéphir. It will be reattached to the decapitated body of Harihara, which the National Museum of Cambodia acquired in 1944, after the museum’s conservation team—led by Bertrand Porte of the French School of Asian Studies—confirmed they were a match.

The head was discovered in the late 19th century in a ruined temple at Phnom Da by Etienne Aymonier, a French colonial administrator and the first archaeologist to survey the remains of the Khmer empire. The Lyon industrialist Emile Guimet acquired the fragment, along with other Cambodian artefacts shipped to France for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, for his ambitious new museum dedicated to the religions of the Far East.

The head of the Harihara statue, which represents the combined gods Vishnu and Shiva, will be on display to the public at the Cambodian national museum today.

  1. Hannah McGivern, French museum reunites head with decapitated Khmer statue (2016), http://theartnewspaper.com/news/conservation/french-museum-reunites-heads-with-decapitated-khmer-statue/ (last visited Jan 20, 2016).

The ‘Getty Bronze’ forfeiture stalls badly in Italy

Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa
Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa

I’ve written a great deal here about the ongoing dispute between the Getty Museum and officials in Italy over this ancient Greek statue.

In the wake of a pair of regional court rulings in 2010 and 2012 in Pesaro, Italy there seemed a chance that Italy would secure a trans-Atlantic forfeiture of the athlete (which I considered in an article).

But now those Italian court orders have been ruled in violation of the European convention on human rights because the cases were not heard in open court. This should not come as a great surprise, as the Italian court of cassation remanded the case to an Italian constitutional court in 2014, and a favorable result seemed remote. And Italy is now left with an embarrassing and incomplete forfeiture effort, which was only ever going to be the first step of a legal strategy which would be given high marks for degree of difficulty. So this “Fano Athelete” as the Italians describe him will likely not be taking a trip to Italy any time soon.

At present the bronze is a part of the “Power and Pathos” exhibition currently on display at the National Gallery in Washington.

  1. EU law rejects Getty Lysippos restitution verdict, http://theartnewspaper.com/news/eu-law-rejects-getty-lysippos-restitution-verdict/ (last visited Dec 31, 2015).