Montreal MFA Repatriates Maori Remains

Last week the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts returned a Toi Moko to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. The Toi Moko is a tatooed and mummified Maori head. This repatriation is the latest in a series of repatriations the Maori have successfully achieved in the past two decades. There is a lot of hard work and negotiation involved in these returns, so the ultimate return is a welcome occasion. At the ceremony the head was not permitted to be filmed or photographed. The head was laid “under a sheer black cloth, it was wrapped in cellophane and packaged in a series of protective boxes for transport. All the while, a group of Maori chanted, prayed and sang during an emotional ceremony”. The Globe and Mail, reporting on the ceremony reported:

In the 19th century, Europeans became enamoured with the heads and the Maori began using them almost like currency to trade for muskets and other coveted objects. While some were sold and traded, others were stolen because of their value as curiosity items. “Before, they were received as works of art. They were people and they are people,” said Michelle Hippolite, co-director of the Museum of New Zealand. “In our culture, remembering that they are people first is what is most important.” The head that ended up in Montreal was obtained by F. Cleveland Morgan in 1949 at the Berkeley Galleries in England, before being donated to the museum. The Maori estimate that they have retrieved about 320 of the 500 known remains around the world, located in 14 different countries. That doesn’t count private collections, but some collectors have come forward after hearing about the campaign to repatriate the heads.

  1. Sidhartha Banerjee, Canadian museum gives back mummified Maori head, The Globe and Mail, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/canadian-museum-gives-back-mummified-maori-head/article5546908/ (last visited Nov 28, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Art Crime and War Course in Hamilton, New Zealand

Hamilton, New Zealand
One of the highlights of ARCA’s Certificate program each summer is a course taught by Judge Arthur Tompkins. For those willing and able to make it to New Zealand in February, which is the Antipodean summer, the University of Waikato’s Te Piringa-Faculty of Law and the University’s Centre for Continued Education have recently announced a forthcoming five-day summer intensive course, entitled “Art Crime during Armed Conflict”.

I cannot recommend Judge Tompkins’s course highly enough, he covers art and war from ancient times in Greece and Rome up to the present Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Here are the details:
Continuing Education Flyer for Art Crime During Armed Conflict

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

France Decides to Return Tatood Maori Remains

Last week the French National Assembly made the decision to return the mummified heads of 16 Maoris.  Maoris kept the tatooed heads and preserved them to honor their forebears.  When Europeans encountered these, many of the heads were taken back to Europe and put on display in museums.  New Zealand has requested these heads—as many as 500 heads may have been taken by colonial powers—since the 1980’s, but the issue gained widespread attention in 2007 when a city council voted to return one head.  The decision was overturned by the French Culture Ministry in part because these objects had ceased to become only human remains but had also become works of art.  The French Assembly has overwhelmingly decided to return the heads to New Zealand within the next year. 

  1. Maori Heads – Top 10 Famous Stolen Body Parts – TIME, http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1988719_1988728_1988720,00.html (last visited May 14, 2010).
  2. France to return 15 Maori heads, BBC, May 5, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8661231.stm (last visited May 14, 2010).
  3. AFP: French parliament votes to return Maori heads to New Zealand, , http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jtL1CzbXXwAe2W9N6IedQHuTPawg (last visited May 14, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Doctrine of Discovery, the US and New Zealand

The Doctrine of Discovery is an international legal principle which justifies property rights over new-found territories. The doctrine is still very much alive today. Russia evoked it when it placed its flag on the Arctic Ocean floor in 2007 to claim the potential oil and gas reserves there.

Robert J. Miller, of Lewis & Clark, and Jacinta Ruru, of the University of Otago, have posted a new comparative law working paper on SSRN, An Indigenous Lens into Comparative Law: The Doctrine of Discovery in the United States and New Zealand.

Here’s the abstract:

North America and New Zealand were colonized by England under an international legal principle that is known today as the Doctrine of Discovery. When Europeans set out to explore and exploit new lands in the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries, they justified their sovereign and property claims over these territories and the Indigenous people with the Discovery Doctrine. This legal principle was justified by religious and ethnocentric ideas of European and Christian superiority over the other cultures, religions, and races of the world. The Doctrine provided that newly-arrived Europeans automatically acquired property rights in the lands of Native people and gained political and commercial rights over the inhabitants. England was an avid supporter of the Doctrine and used it around the world. The English colonial governments and colonists in New Zealand and America, and later the American state and federal governments and New Zealand governments, all utilized Discovery and still use it today to exercise legal rights to Native lands and to control their Indigenous people. In this article, the authors, an American Indian and a New Zealand Maori, use a comparative law methodology to trace and compare the legal and historical application of Discovery in both countries. The evidence uncovered helps to explain the current state of United States Indian law and the New Zealand law relating to Maoris. While the countries did not apply the elements of Discovery in the exact same manner, and at the same time periods, the similarities of their use of Discovery are striking and not the least bit surprising since the Doctrine was English law. Viewing American and New Zealand history in light of the international law Doctrine of Discovery helps to expand one’s knowledge of both countries and their Indigenous peoples.

It’s a great read, and the doctrine of discovery has a lot to do with the difficulty cultural policy makes had in formulating a cohesive national and international legal regime to handle, regulate, and restrict the trade in cultural objects. Much of the very restrictive cultural patrimony laws in many nations of origin can be directly attributed I think to the massive cultural and economic drain which took place when European colonists discovered new lands.

(Hat tip)

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Public Art Thefts (UPDATE)


Publicly displayed art is at risk as well it seems. In Austin, Texas thieves dismantled the base of this 10 foot Gibson guitar called “Sharp Axe”, and carted it off. I’m not sure how you don’t get spotted carrying a 10 foot fiberglass Gibson guitar. Were some Austin revellers having a bit too much fun on Sixth street perhaps? It’s one of a number of sculptures around Austin as part of a GuitarTown public art project. It was found later in a local restaurant. I guess if something looks good enough, somebody is always going to want to take it.

A similar situation occurred in New Zealand. Today it was reported that at the New Zealand Fringe Festival, artist Mat Hunkin had his public art stolen in broad daylight, the first day it was installed. It was the first day of a 5 day massive comic strip, so things don’t bode well for the other 4 days. He didn’t sound too depressed though, “Sure, it’s not Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ or anything like that, but I’m kind-of stoked that someone liked it so much that they would nick it in broad daylight. Who knows? It might end up in Sotheby’s art auctions one day.” Indeed, perhaps it will. They’ll have to wait until the statute of limitations has expired and or they manage to scrounge up a good faith purchaser though. Curiously, for an up-and-coming artist, a theft may be a great way to raise your profile.

UPDATE:

It seems that this was not a theft at all. As Victor Engel commented, “‘Sharp Axe’ was never stolen. It apparently fell off its weak mount onto its face, breaking the neck of the guitar. Another Elephant Room customer and I moved it into the entryway to the Elephant Room at around midnight Sunday for safekeeping and notified the bartender.”

That story makes much more sense of course, but labelling something an art theft makes it much more newsworthy.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Marischal Museum Returns Maori Remains

The University of Aberdeen’s Marischal Museum has decided to return 9 toi moko, or preserved, tattooed heads. According to the press release, “the University follows a standard procedure when responding to a request for repatriation… [it] involves an expert panel who will consider various issues, for example the history, the status of the people making the request and the importance of the item”. The toi moko will now return to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, where they will be cared for under the “protocols established by their Maori elders”. Human remains are a difficult issue, but it appears that the University has gone about this repatriation in the right way. Sometimes the remains have been embalmed in toxic chemicals such as arsenic, or formaldehyde; thus making it difficult to simply bury them. Often times specialist are required. In addition, though this certainly does not appear to be the case here, when native groups seek the return of remains or other objects, it sometimes highlights the dichotomy between the way their ancestors lived and their lives today. Also, institutions need to be careful which tribe they are returning remains or objects to. Often, there may be multiple tribes with a claim. For those interested in this area, Michael Brown’s Who Owns Native Culture is an excellent place to start.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Thefts in Auckland New Zealand


Thieves have stolen a Charles Goldie portrait and an Oxford Lectern bible from Auckland University’s library over the holidays. Like most Universities, it seems Auckland shut its doors over the holidays, and the theft was not discovered until employees came back from their holiday break. It’s unclear how the thieves will attempt to sell the two objects, as they would be easily recognizable by any dealer. However, those claims are made every time there is a high-value robbery such as this.

Perhaps police are trying to discourage the thieves from attempting to sell the objects, or perhaps the theft was made to order. Regardless of how difficult these objects are to sell though, they keep getting stolen. The portrait, “Planning Revenge” was recently returned from Canada. I cannot find an image of that work, but this is a work called “A Noble Relic of a Noble Race”, which might be similar. Sadly, the work was recently returned to New Zealand, after spending the last 70 years in Canada

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com