Saturday, 29 November 2014

Antiquity Collection: "Preservation" or Destruction?

A nice article about the work of 'The Walk of Truth' ('Looted artefacts from occupied Cyprus returned', In Cyprus: Fri, 28 Nov 2014): "Following
the Turkish invasion in 1974, the cultural heritage of Cyprus has been plundered, churches have been violated, icons have been stolen, and frescos and mosaics have been violently removed from walls and floors. A large number of these artefacts have been repatriated, while many others are still missing. Prior to 1974, there was an attempt to prepare an archive, however the research was never completed due to the Turkish invasion. The lack of a completed archive for the cultural heritage in the occupied Cyprus makes the identification process, and the process of claiming stolen artefacts, often found in private collections abroad, auctions and art trade, an arduous process".
I am left wondering how on earth it is possible to see what Tasoula Hadjitofi is holding in her hand in an "art" dealer's shop and not realise straight away that it is dodgy. You can see at a glance that it is a sheet of plaster from a wall, that is part of a monument, roughly hacked about. This has not been professionally removed as, for example, a stage in an architectonic investigation of a standing building or removed from a threatened archaeological site (in which case, you'd anyway have to explain how they are on the market). You can see that the hoiker has centred attention on the face (with that amazing sideways glance) and in fact has cut through [let's be clear destroyed] part of the rest of the figure to isolate a bit that is not too big to "portableise" [run off with]. In fact you can see that rather than fit a frame to the 'preserved' fragment, the oik dealer has cut the edges of the latter to fit a frame. How on earth dealers and collectors can claim to be 'preserving the past' ('preserving culture') by destroying context and associations, damaging the material substance and turning it into trophy geegaws utterly beats me.

But to come back to the first point, a normal intelligent and informed person sees that in a shop and realises what it is, sees it has been hacked out of a larger fresco/mural obviously in a standing building. WHY would he buy it to take home to have and hold? The invasion was forty years ago, much of the looting followed soon after. Why has it taken so long for a collector with a conscience to come forward and offer the pieces back? What makes people hang on to obviously looted material like this? Is it just greed? Is it just a total lack of morals? Do they kid themselves that whatever unverifiable cock-and-bull anecdote the dealer told them "might" be true in permanent self-delusion?

 It is the same with dugup artefacts, ripped out of archaeological assemblages and sites, destroying context and associations, damaging the material substance and turning the object into trophy geegaws. The rest of us can see this is the wrong way to be treating a precious, fragile and finite resource, you try discussing it with collectors and instead or entering into frank and open debate, they simply start to get nasty. What kind of people are these? What kind of mentalities do they have? Take a look at the way they behave and decide for yourselves.

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