Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Some Light on Collector's Comment on "Shooting up the Heritage"

Elizabeth Becker former reporter and editor at The New York Times and author of “When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution,” takes issue with a recent comment by  Douglas A. J. Latchford, a collector of Khmer art (and reportedly involved in several cases in the news at the moment), that the theft of statues from the Angkor region saved them from being “shot up for target practice by the Khmer Rouge”. She says that she is one of the very few journalists or foreigners to visit the temples at Angkor during the Khmer Rouge regime, and on these grounds contests what Latchford was suggesting (letters to the Editor, New York Times May 4, 2013): 
During their murderous regime, the one thing the Khmer Rouge protected was that temple complex. They killed or worked to death nearly two million Cambodians, but they preserved those magnificent temples as the symbol of Cambodia’s greatness. In those days would-be thieves would have been hard-pressed to spirit stolen art across the heavily defended border to Thailand. When the Khmer Rouge were overthrown in 1979, some Bangkok collectors were again able to fill their homes and shops with stolen art from the Angkor region. 
 It is one of the commonplaces of collecting that the no-questions-asked acquisition of smuggled and looted items can somehow be 'justified' by intimating (or inventing) some 'threat' to the objects ("art") which are in some way therefore being 'rescued' by the collector paying the looters and smugglers for them. Their own selfish concupiscence is therefore rendered in their eyes into an act of selfless munificence, a form of patronage. In this case Latchford, the foreigner, wants us to believe he is 'saving' the "art" from the very people of the land in which it belongs. In the same way metal detectorists in the UK claim saving items from 'plough damage' as the real motive of their hoiking (which in reality is the desire to collect), and deep sea salvagers claim they are saving objects in wrecks from damage to be their motive (when really it is making money), and so on.

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