Saturday, 5 September 2015

NPR asks Cuno to Tell us (again) about his "Refugee Antiquities" idea

This is what this should be about too
As conflict continues and escalates in the MENA region, we seem currently to be witnessing a phase of interest (mainly from the US) in evacuating the world's antiquities and art to use to look after for the brown-skinned folk. The latest example is an interview mostly with Dr James Cuno president of the J. Paul Getty Trust (NPR Staff, 'As ISIS Destroys Artifacts, Could Some Antiquities Have Been Saved?' September 5, 2015). This focuses of course on ISIL and its destruction of artefacts in Syria (eh, what about Iraq?), which gets mixed in with the notion of western institutions somehow 'acquiring' (other) artefacts to "look after them". NPR asks "But should museums in one country be safeguarding artifacts extracted from another? Or is it more important that those objects stay where they came from?" and James Cuno is enlisted to provide all the answers on the basis of the letter he wrote (March 11th, 2015, 'Deploring ISIS, Destroyer of a Civilization’s Art') to the New York Times earlier this year. There he says:
"This unconscionable destruction is an argument for why portable works of art should be distributed throughout the world and not concentrated in one place. ISIS will destroy everything in its path."
But first of all, to what extent is ISIL destroying those portable works of art, as opposed to higjhly visible upstanding monuments and buildings as at Palmyra? Is Cuno not generalising rather too much on the basis of scant information (as far as 'portable' objects go, at the moment, a few videos of sledge-hammering of Palmyra busts basically)

Cuno told NPR's Scott Simon about why he believes "many" portable cultural artefacts should be   taken out of their source countries
It distributes the risk to them, to their survival, over many places. I like to say that it is the case that calamity can happen anywhere, but it won't happen everywhere simultaneously. But when things are preserved and kept in one place, it puts them at greater risk. [...] We do take refugees; I think we could take refugee objects as well. 
The article is illustrated by a photo of Dura Europos "one of the many important archaeological sites militants of the self-styled Islamic State have ransacked and damaged". This totally ignores the fact that satellite imagery out in the public domain and written about buy myself and Andrew Hardy says quite the opposite, most of the visible looter holes were dug before the ISIL takeover of the region.  But why let real facts get in the way of a story? This is  just the usual Cuno atavistic one-sided special-purpose pleading which has been discussed by others many times before (to no avail the guy just keeps churning out the same spiel regardless). He mix-and-matches the two tropes, ISIL-destruction and ISIL-selling. He totally ignores the issue of ISIL-digging which produces the portable works of art he's like to be able to "save".
Anyway, just how many Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the War (not just with ISIL) has the US actually accepted? How many have been given safe refuge in the shadow of the Getty villa? Dr Cuno is worried a few old stone busts might get cracked and is willing to find them a home to "look after' them, but most of us feel that there really are other things NPR should be asking about here, human lives matter, Syrian lives matter, Iraqi lives matter. Palmyra and its old ruins and busts matter, but let's not waste too many resources trying top "help" grtaven images and concentrate on stopping the war and the destruction of lives and all kinds of property, not just that which can be dragged away to the hidey-holes of elitist art gallery directors.

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