Wednesday 17 February 2010

Antiquity Collecting and International Cultural Exchange

The ACCG press release which argues that ripping off other nations' archaeological heritage so it can be sold to North American collectors is a form of "grassroots cultural excange" prompted me to quote here a portion of the 1970 UNESCO Convention the US dealers and collectors all fear and hate:
"Recalling the importance of the provisions contained in the Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation[...] Considering that the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural and educational purposes increases the knowledge of the civilization of Man, enriches the cultural life of all peoples and inspires mutual respect and appreciation among nations, Considering that cultural property constitutes one of the basic elements of civilization and national culture, and that its true value can be appreciated only in relation to the fullest possible information regarding is origin, history and traditional setting [...] Considering that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is an obstacle to that understanding between nations [...] Article 2 1. The States Parties to this Convention recognize that the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the countries of origin of such property and that international co-operation constitutes one of the most efficient means of protecting each country's cultural property against all the dangers resulting there from. 2. To this end, the States Parties undertake to oppose such practices with the means at their disposal, and particularly by removing their causes, putting a stop to current practices, and by helping to make the necessary reparations.

Now it seems to me that groups promoting the prolongation of the no-questions-asked antiquities trade should be addressing those sentiments. Through exploitation of the tactic of manipulation of the Convention's Article 1 (which they present as an inclusive categorisation, rather than the exclusive one it in reality is)* dealer-lobbyists present the UNESCO 1970 Convention as in some way "nationalist". To label that manipulation a "misunderstanding" would be an understatement. Those who have actually read the whole text and are aware of its background will know that this is far from the case. Instead, from the perspective of the Convention the type of "grassroots cultural exchange" which the no-questions-asked dealers of ancient dugups propose is damaging to international understanding. It would be difficult to explain their notion of one-way "grassroots cultural exchange" in terms of article VIII of the "Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation". Probably they would just reject it out of hand. But that would mean rejecting too its article IV.4 which no doubt they would support. "Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive...".

* Best illustrated by an example. The new Egyptian antiquities law would make possession of unauthorised photographs of certain monuments also cultural property which is thereby declared some form of "national patrimony" (and so I guess taking this to extremes might mean in theory at least you could have trouble at the airport if you are found trying to take them out of the country in the memory card of your camera). Egypt cannot however demand under the terms of the Convention such ("stolen") photos be "repatriated" once taken to another country, because they do not fit into the criteria laid down by article 1 of the Convention defining to what kind of cultural property the document refers. The dealer-lobbyists would have collectors believe something else and many of the latter - much to their shame - are unable to check themselves (perhaps due to a too short attention span to get that far down the convention to read Article 1 themselves), and gullible enough to believe them.

No comments:

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