Saturday, 9 July 2016

Yale Gets it Wrong

"On the edge of the Syrian border [sic] near
the banks of the Euphrates River sits a pile 
[sic] of ruins,
all that remains of the ancient city of Dura Europos...".

 Olivia Paschal has written a piece 'Syria, Colonialism, and the Yale Art Gallery' (The Politic, 9th July 2016) which boasts that the Americans have once again saved the world from foreign barbarism.
But when ISIS arrived, the vast majority of artifacts that were once in Dura Europos were gone. Excavations carried out by a joint team of archaeologists from Yale University and Syria in the 1920s and 30s resulted in the removal of buildings, walls, and pieces of art for study at institutions around the world. The majority of the artifacts were concentrated at Yale [...] and in Damascus [...] The excavations done by the Yale team in the early part of the twentieth century likely saved these priceless pieces of religious and cultural history from the merciless destruction of the Islamic State.
And so on. First of all, that the Yale Excavations did not recover and document the precise contexts of "the vast majority of the artefacts". The archaeological work of Yale did not cover the entire complex (city and cemeteries) here. Secondly, although work on the satellite photos in October and December 2014 (, has shown quite clearly that ISIL is not responsible for the looting at Dura (or at least its initial stages in which 75% of the city had been stripped) we still see junk journalism churning out the same old ISIL-focussed story. Why? Can't people think things through?

She then reports that some of these artefacts were stored in less-than-perfect conditions and deteriorated in their transatlantic "safe haven": 
Stuck in storage for decades, the paintings lost their intense color and the artwork deteriorated. The paintings from the church and temple walls “lost so much detail and so much vibrancy of the color that they… are almost non-exhibitable,” said associate curator Lisa Brody in a 2010 interview with the magazine Archaeology. When Yale finally pulled them out to put them on exhibit—first, a traveling exhibit and later a permanent home in the Art Gallery—the museum had to painstakingly retouch them [ie repaint them PMB] so that the art was discernible.Though they had been saved from the malicious forces that destroyed Dura Europos, the artifacts were not safe from less vilified—though potentially equally destructive—dangers. 
This is in the same America which presumes to assess how well other nations are caring for their heritage before agreeing to sign a CCPIA MOU to stop illegal exports entering the US antiquities market with the option to refuse if those countries do not match up to "American standards". Beam and mote, I'd say - look to your own problems first.

Paschal (like many US citizens it seems) is really not all that clear about what the 1970 UNESCO Convention says and does and  (not realising that it is not retroactive) sees it as in some way connected with the repatriation of the "ill-gotten gains" of colonialism ("The United States [sic! She means 'Nations'] Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) maintains a committee for this explicit purpose" - no UNESCO does not, that's another Convention, and artefacts removed during armed conflict is another body of international documents altogether).

And of course because we are in America, James Cuno is brought in as an advocate of "refugee artefacts" (though, to be fair she does call him "outspoken"):
Many experts and historians now wonder if the best place for these artifacts in an era of conflict may not be in their homelands.  In an interview with NPR, James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, said that taking artifacts out of their home country and distributing them to institutions around the world [...].

Yeah yeah, we know. Those "experts" she quotes are mainly, if you look, antiquity dealers and collectors who want to get their hands on more foreign stuff. The post below will attempt to put the Cuno-suggestion into the context of reality.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.