Friday, 1 June 2012

"Notre Gorgone" in Tunisian Villa

There have already been accusations that former Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family had for their own personal gain and enjoyment been plundering the nation's antiquities, particularly the ancient site of Carthage. It seems however that their collection contained stolen items from outside the country. It seems one item found (with 164 others) in the house of Ben Ali's son-in-law, Sakher el-Materi, a massive white Hellenistic marble sculpture of a Gorgon's Mask with hair of writhing snakes, had been stolen from an ancient fountain in Annaba (site of the ancient city of Hippone), in Algeria back in 1996. The object had been excavated by French archaeologist Choupaut in 1930. According to the Algerian newspaper Liberté, the metre-tall Gorgon's Mask was first spotted by Saïd Dahmani, the former director of the Hippone antiquities museum, in a television program filmed in el-Materi's house after the fall of the regime. Ultimately, 164 plundered archaeological objects were discovered in the residence shared by el-Materi and Nesrine Ben Ali.
Authenticated by experts from the Algerian culture ministry, the artifact is key evidence in el-Materi's ongoing trial for archaeological plundering and trafficking, Le Journal des Arts reports. (Ben Ali is living in Saudi Arabia and el-Materi has been granted permanent residency by Qatar, but both are being tried by Tunisia in absentia, and Ben Ali has already been sentenced to decades of prison time ;for crimes including corruption and torture.) 
Given its size and weight, the sculpture would not have been easy to remove. "Writing for Liberté, Mohamed-Chérif Lachichi presumes that local authorities were complicit in the theft and has accused the Algerian culture ministry of complacency in the face of persistent looting".
After the sculpture was discovered, residents of Annaba started a campaign to insist that it be returned to their city, even creating a Facebook group called "Notre Gorgone". Tunisian culture minister Mehdi Mabrouk confirmed to the Tunis Afrique Presse agency that the Gorgon's Head is being "protected and guarded at the National Institute of Tunisian Heritage and will be returned to the Algerian authorities after the legal proceedings are complete".
, 'Former Tunisian Dictators Son-in-Law Accused of Looting 700-Pound "Gorgons Mask" Sculpture From Algeria', Art Info 30th May 2012.

Hana Menasria, 'Vers le récupération du masque de la Gorgone!' Liberté Algérie 28 Mai 2012

You Tube video: 

See now Dorothy King's coverage of this story and its background: Looted from Algeria to Tunisia

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