Museums are home to millions of artworks and cultural artifacts, some of which have made their way to these institutions through unjust means. Some argue that these objects should be repatriated (i.e., returned to their country, culture, or owner of origin). However, these arguments face a series of philosophical challenges. In particular, repatriation, even if justified, is often portrayed as contrary to the aims and values of museums. However, in this paper, I argue that some of the very considerations museums appeal to in order to oppose repatriation claims can be turned on their heads and marshaled in favor of the practice. In addition to defending against objections to repatriation, this argument yields the surprising conclusion that the redistribution of cultural goods should be much more radical than is typically supposed.
An interesting argument, and it sounds to me like he is making a case for cultural justice.
Orhan Pamuk was a keynote speaker at the International Council of Museums conference in Milan this week. In his address to the conference he called for a different kind of museum. He offered a vision for what museums could be if they put aside their universal mission.
The Turkish author of the terrific The Museum of Innocence (Vintage International), set the literary foundation for a very different kind of museum. The museum occupies a house in the Çukurcuma neighborhood of Istanbul, near the Pera Museum. Each display cabinet is full of objects from time depicted in the novel, which echo the neighborhood’s antique shops. The museum highlights the lives of the characters depicted in his novel, and is a powerful argument that museums which only focus on grand universal cultures and themes have missed the mark:
All museums are genuine treasures of humankind, but I am against these precious and monumental institutions being used as models for the institutions to come. Museums should explore and uncover the population as a whole and the humanity of the new and modern man that emerges from the growing economies of non-Western countries. I address this manifesto in particular to Asian museums that are experiencing an unprecedented period of growth.
The aim of the great state-sponsored museums is to represent a state and that is neither a good nor innocent aim. Here are my proposals for a new museum, some themes on which we must reflect now more than ever.