Tuesday 15 May 2012

Ka Nefer Nefer: Right and Wrong in St Louis

The problem with US museums is that in their greed for more and more trophy art, some of them obviously have difficulties separating right from wrong. Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St Hilaire today discusses the next distressing development in the SLAM case ('SLAM Opposes Governments Motion to Reopen Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask Case', May 15th ). The American lawyers serving the Museum oppose reopening the case of United States v. Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer.  The grounds for this apparently are that federal prosecutors "did not state any new evidence that should reopen the case", "failed to explain any exceptional circumstances that would prompt a reexamination of the dismissal", and "did not submit an amended complaint when it had the chance". I invite readers to take a look at what the state actually did say.  In particular I found this quite disturbing. SLAM's lawyers say the US government:
failed to show that Egyptian law declared ownership over cultural property prior to 1983.[...] "[O]ne of the marked deficiencies in this case [is that] until 1983, there was no Egyptian law that unequivocally established Egyptian ownership of items like the Mask.  It is well settled that such a clear declaration of ownership is necessary before exportation of an article constitutes theft
Eh? They themselves in their case for dismissal refer to the "suspected location in 1966" which was a museum storeroom (NOT the private collection where SLAM claims it was legitimately kept). We are not talking about who (now) "owns" this archaeological artefact, we are talking about an archaeological artefact that on this evidence has been stolen from another museum's collection. It is well established everywhere else except the state of Missouri perhaps that theft is theft. "Period", as the Americans say.
St Hilaire quotes several passages from SLAM's memorandum of law, quoted below with legal citations omitted, to "provide both a sketch and the flavor of the museum's arguments". Only for those with a strong stomach and the best arguments conceivable that it is time for the US to drag its outdated heritage legislation into the twenty-first century

Theft is theft. Buying stolen goods is still buying stolen goods. Shame on you SLAM. Shame on St Louis.

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