Judith Dobrzynski tries to track the disposition of Paracas Textiles currently ‘owned’ by the city of Gothenburg Sweden. There are some reports that the objects may be returned, but the interesting aspect is how the objects are being displayed in Sweden, in a way which throws the doors open to the perils of the antiquities trade and the destruction looting can cause.
First, Dobrzynski notes the city council was supposed to vote on April 26th on whether the textiles would be returned:
It’s possible that the decision was indeed made, but the announcement was put off until fall, when an exhibition on the textiles at the Museum of World Culture — called “A Stolen World” — closes. The show states its position pretty baldly: “This is the story of how an unscrupulous policy, the illegal commerce and hunting for antiques strip some cultures of their identity.”
It’s also possible that exactly how to return them is an issue. According to a short item last January on the website of the Museum Security Network (here), “the delicate nature of Paracas textiles makes them extremely sensitive to the environment such as light and vibrations. And to move them could mean damage beyond repair.”
As with many issues of cultural patrimony, there’s no easy answer.
Note the description of the exhibition below. Could we imagine similar objects in the United States on display with such language? The museum of world culture describes these textiles which are currently on display there:
Large quantities of Paracas textiles were smuggled out of Peru and illegally exported to museums and private collections all over the world around 1930. About a hundred of them were smuggled to Sweden and donated to the Ethnographic Department of Göteborg Museum. The accumulation of them used to be a prestigious task, and so, apart from Peru itself, there are Paracas textiles in art museums and private collections all over the world and in many western museums of ethnography. Today textiles from Paracas are among the most sought-after heritage objects in the illegal market.
More is known today concerning the problems associated with looted and smuggled artefacts, and discussions are in progress concerning the line which museums should take regarding dubious items in their collections. How should we relate to this part of history?