Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Katie Paul: The U.S. Market in Cambodian Cultural Property

Katie Paul presented information to the CPAC concerning the US market for Cambodian material (The U.S. Market in Cambodian Cultural Property.). She began with an examination of the website LiveAuctioneers. What was a little shocking was that one member of CPAC had to ask what 'LiveAuctioneers' was... One would have thought the President would appoint people to his advisory committee who knew things like that. Anyway, she found that,
As of October 2017, 231 total listings for Cambodian or Khmer cultural material have been listed this year for auction on LiveAuctioneers from a variety of global galleries. For comparison, the website only had 216 artifacts under the same categories for all of 2016 (January through December). If current trends continue, this indicates a potential increase in listings of 27 percent or more since 2016 by year’s end. [...] The non-U.S. material was listed from multiple countries in Europe, Asia,* and the Middle East, yet U.S. listings alone for Cambodian or Khmer archaeological material in 2017 are greater than listings from all non-U.S. countries combined.
She found that (largely unprovenanced) archaeological artefacts dominated the listings for both U.S. and non-U.S. sold material, with US dealers peddling more archaeological objects than ethnographic ones. Quite obviously the archaeological heritage is more exposed to exploitation for commercial ends than more recently produced artefacts. Interestingly it is the latter that are more closely related to the culture of today's Cambodia, while the archaeolofgical material has the cachet of being related to 'lost' cultures of Cambodian territory - collectors cannot legitimately claim that they acquire objects to appreciate the culture of the foreign lands they come from. She differentiated between "moveable and non-movable artifacts". I prefer the term 'portablised' for the latter as by definition non-movable items from SE Asia cannot appear in a showroom in the US unless moved.
Movable or portable artifacts are typically smaller items such as coins, amulets, pottery, or statuettes that can be easily concealed and transported and often do not have permanent physical attachment to a larger structure. Whereas non-movable or non-portable artifacts are larger, require significant effort to transport, and were often originally connected to structures or monuments as permanent features or attachments such as statues, reliefs, and friezes. Due to the fact that non-movable artifacts are often detached from their place of origin in situ, they tend to show clear signs of forced removal – a process that requires more resources than simply picking up a portable artifact from a site.v
The shocking thing is that both US and non-US dealers are advertising many more portableised big things like statues and reliefs (good for showy displays) than the smaller portable antiquities of daily life. But there is more:
The FBI art squad identifies evidence of forced removal of non-movable artifacts as one indicator of looting (learn how to spot red flags like this one when purchasing artifacts). Using that as a basic point of measure, the non-movable artifacts were then broken down by whether there was general evidence of forced removal, or more specifically, whether the artifact was missing feet or a lower half as evidence that it was removed from its base‚ a common method of illicit removal of reliefs and statues.
The figures show that while on the international market ‘complete’ artifacts (i.e. artifacts with no evidence of forced removal) made up about 40% of the material on sale, in the case of US dealers only 25% have no evidence of forced removal. In other words 75% of the items on the US market look likely (using the FBI criteria) to be looted.

Cambodia Cultural Heritage

Paul concludes that
the United States remains a major market for Cambodian material—including material that shows signs of forced removal and thus has a higher likelihood of being illicit.This emphasizes how important it is for the U.S. to continue to restrict imports for this vast market of potentially illicit cultural material.
This was a very useful piece of work that both consolidates and confirms existing ideas, but also suggests some new directions in the interpretation of commercial offerings. In particular an interesting issue is raised by the place of Thailand (a major exporting country for 'Khmer' art). Thailand is not a signatory to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, making it a popular transit point. This of course directly relates to the lobbyist-whining insistently banging on about the CCPIA's 'first found' requirement. All that has to be done for the no-questions-asked market to launder looted stuff from Cambodia is to load some statues on a lorry among sacks of potatoes or whatever due for Bangkok, get it across the border, get rid of any paperwork and then stick the stuff on sale next day as 'from Thailand'. 'Can't touch you for it' says Tompa and his US dealer compatriots.

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