Saturday, August 12, 2017

Western Museums try to Forge Deal with West Africa to Return Benin Bronzes


The British Museum will take part in a European summit to discuss the return of art seized from the Benin kingdom, now part of southern Nigeria, by a British punitive expedition in 1897 as “reparations” after it defied the British empire by imposing customs duties. The museums taking part in the Benin dialogue group hope to establish a permanent display in Benin City, Nigeria, using items rotated from a consortium of reputable institutions. The negotiations involve authorities from Nigeria and the neighbouring country of Benin. [...] The fate of hundreds of [...] “Benin bronzes”, housed in institutions such as the British Museum, will be discussed by curators when the group meets next year at the Netherlands’ National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. [...] 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. [...] the largest collection of antiquities from the 19th-century looting of Benin was in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin, while the second largest was in the British Museum.
Ben Quinn, 'Western museums try to forge deal with west Africa to return the Benin bronzes', Guardian 12 August 2017

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Family Gives "One-of-a-Kind" Chilkat Robe to Sealaska Heritage Institute


Robe woven circa late 1800s-early 1900s
A family from Seattle has given a valuable, ancient Chilkat robe to the Sealaska Heritage Institute in an effort to return it to its ancestral home and repatriate it to tribal people. Chilkat weaving is a traditional form of weaving practiced by Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast peoples of Alaska and British Columbia. The donors, who wish to remain anonymous,could instead have sold the robe for thousands of dollars to a private collector ('Family Gives "One-of-a-Kind" Chilkat Robe to Sealaska Heritage Institute'  SitNews August 07, 2017 ).
The process of donating the blanket started when a daughter in the donating family noticed a similar blanket in her AP art history textbook. It was featured there as an important cultural piece as well as significant in the history of art. She then vigorously (and successfully) lobbied her parents to return it to its appropriate owners, the family wrote. [...] The donors purchased the robe in the 1990s, and at the time, an opinion on the piece was offered by Bill Holm, a nationally-recognized expert on Northwest Coast art and formline design. Holm in 1995 estimated it was made around the turn of the century or perhaps in the early 1900s and noted it was very similar to two robes featured in the book The Chilkat Robe by George T. Emmons. Emmons thought the robes in the book depicted an osprey or thunderbird standing with outspread wings, but the noted anthropologist John Swanton believed they depicted a beaver with alder - its food, Holm wrote. Holm said he tended to favor the interpretation of a bird, rather than a beaver, but that “either interpretation can be defended.” A Northwest Coast art expert who studied a photo of the robe on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s behalf thought it might depict a Raven because the beak is not curved.  [...] Holm also noted that the robe was in good condition and showed little fading. [...] The robe will be stored in Sealaska Heritage’s climate-controlled vault and made available to weavers for study.  
'Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee'.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture


Nicholas Thomas, 'How Native Americans are reclaiming their history ' Apollo Magazine,  29 July 2017 [Book Review]

Colwell book
The book by Chip Colwell ('Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America's Culture', University of Chicago Press) discusses the background story to the passing and then implementation of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
Colwell’s stories are not only of the insensitivity and acquisitiveness of early ethnologists, but also of native willingness to sell sacred artefacts (sometimes covertly, in the face of community censure) and of continuing internal disputes. He draws attention to archaeologists who lapsed into professional defensiveness, but points also to growing collaboration – manifest for example in the preparedness of Native Americans to see excavated bones fully analysed, and only then released for reburial. That said, he firmly supports the repatriation process. While advocates celebrated the NAGPRA legislation’s effort to arrive at a ‘balanced’ response to native, scientific, and other interests, he notes that hundreds of thousands of remains are still held in museums, and that there is a great deal more to do. I suspect that even those who begin reading, sceptical for whatever reasons of native claims, will finish the book considerably more sympathetic to them. Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits is inevitably partial, but offers, nevertheless, the best single account to date of negotiations between museums, archaeologists, and native people in the United States since NAGPRA.
The reviewer is a bit defensive of the museums, he writes that while the book makes a compelling case for the return of human remains, the issue with artefacts is less clear.
The assertion that ‘Objects shouldn’t be frozen under glass in a museum, but given to the people who breathe life into them’ rehashes a cliché; it overlooks the many senses in which museum artefacts are often activated, for both small groups and broader publics, through educational programmes, reinterpretation in temporary exhibitions, artists’ interventions, conservation, and study sessions; the principle here is one of recovery and reinstatement of ancestral value.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Indigenous groups in Canada call for National Museum of Scotland to return human remains



Indigenous leaders want Beothuk tribal remains stored in Edinburgh brought home. The museum has said it will take a 'considered view' if  'the proper approach' is made.

Give back those human remains seems a pretty proper request to make to any institution holding such things...
Chief Nonosbawsut and his wife Demasduit died in Newfoundland in the early 19th century, at a time when the Beothuk tribe was being wiped out by colonial expansion. Scots-Canadian William Cormack took the skull and other goods from the grave of Nonosbawsut - who had been shot dead by British officers in 1819 when asking for the release of his captured partner Demasduit - and sent them to Edinburgh. Demasduit, captured by British troops and renamed ‘Mary March’, died in 1820 - and her remains were also later taken to Edinburgh. [...] All Indigenous groups in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, have signed a letter requesting the return of the remains. “[...] Premier Dwight Ball of Newfoundland wrote to the National Museum of Scotland requesting a return of the remains in 2016 - but saw the attempt rejected based, according to the museum, on Scottish legislation. According to CBC in Canada, part of the issue was with identifying "a community descended from the original owners” to make a valid application. However, with the Beothuk people wiped out this is not possible.
This is so wrong:
 6.4 Any request for the transfer of human remains should be submitted in writing to the Director. This request should set out the claim clearly and give as much information and supporting evidence as possible. In particular: • Full endorsement from the National Government and recognised National Agency (Museum) would need to be provided. • The community of claimants would need to demonstrate that it is a direct genealogical descendant of the community whose remains are under claim and/or that it continues to share the same culture (spiritual beliefs, cultural practices) attributed to the community whose remains are under claim. It would also need to provide evidence of cultural importance, including cultural and spiritual relevance, to the community making the claim and identify the strength of the connection of the community to the remains, and the consequences of their return. • The community of claimants or representatives acting for this community would be expected to demonstrate that they are fully supported by all the potential claimant groups.
One wonders whether the original acquisition of those remains was accompanied by so much paperwork of the same type. Maybe NMS could show us the requests of the  Beothuk elders and direct descendants to dig up their chief's head and look after the remains of 'Mary March' in their museum and are fully supported buy all the groups. Can they?

The Beothuk are the aboriginal people of the island of Newfoundland. They were Algonkian-speaking hunter-gatherers who probably numbered less than a thousand people at the time of European contact.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property


To deal with cases outside the scope of the 1970 Convention or other international agreements, UNESCO set up in 1978 the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation. This platform of negotiation, mediation and conciliation intends to facilitate the restitution of important cultural objects, such as the Parthenon sculptures, and to develop means to prevent and raise awareness about the combat against illicit trafficking.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

American Numismatic Society to Repatriate 94 War-Looted Coins to the Salzburg Museum


The American Numismatic Society (ANS) is handing over a group of 94 coins stolen from the Museum Carolino-Augusteum of Salzburg in 1945.
This group of coins came to the ANS in 1995 after our late Benefactor, Mr. Chester L. Krause, brought them to the attention of the curators. Mr. Krause had learned that these coins were rumored to have come from a museum in Austria in 1945 and donated to the ANS the funds to purchase them, so as to ensure that they could be returned to any rightful owner rather than being dispersed on the market. The ANS accepted the gift and acquired the coins in order to preserve the group intact, while curators Alan Stahl and William Metcalf immediately began inquiries with colleagues in Austria. In the last year of World War II, the coins from the Salzburger Museum Carolino-Augusteum were moved to underground storage for protection. After the end of the war, the American occupation authorities took custody of those coins; when they were returned to the museum in 1946, over 2,000 coins were missing. Publications from before and after the war made it clear that the coins the ANS had acquired closely matched some of the missing coins from the Salzburger Museum, but no clear proof was available at that time. [...] recent work has been able to match a few coins with earlier photographs and many others, which have inventory numbers written in ink on the surface of the coin, with an old card file in the Salzburg Museum bearing similar numbers. This work has demonstrated that the group of coins can in fact be identified as a small but valuable portion of the coins stolen from the Salzburger Museum over 70 years ago. 
 'The American Numismatic Society to Repatriate 94 War-Looted Coins to the Salzburg Museum', The American Numismatic Society May 23, 2017/