Friday 23 January 2015

"When Should Antiquities Be Repatriated to Their Country of Origin?"

The New York Times for some reason invites public discussion on: " When Should Antiquities Be Repatriated to Their Country of Origin?" January 21, 2015.

It's the usual old stuff. James Cuno, president, J. Paul Getty Trust goes off on his usual tirade about Artifacts as Instruments of Nationalism ("Legal claims can be adjudicated. But national identity claims can only be argued because national cultural property is a state-based construction"); I presume he'll not be pledging his allegiance to the American flag, or taking his grandchildren to see the Liberty Bell and the Constitution in its nitrogen-filled display case. Philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah has been roped in to present one of his party-pieces: There Is No National Home for Art ("Art from everywhere can matter to people from anywhere. Those of us who live in the city of the Metropolitan Museum know that extremely well").

I really do not see why these people have problems with allowing others the right to feel that cultural objects coming from their country belong to their heritage and that they should be part of the decision-making process about what leaves. It is almost as if these polemicists are ignoring it in pursuit of their own aims. The Black rhino today forms part of the fauna of a number of national territories. It is for these countries to benefit from this in return for taking as best care for that resource as they can. There is "no national home for the rhinoceros". The Black Rhino belongs to everyone, to you, me, Dr Cuno as well as Slasher D'eath the ivory wholesaler. The question is whether that means that the needs of Mr Slasher or Dr Cuno override those of others in this regard. Do they override the needs to conserve the rhino population in, say, Tanzania? Put in those terms asking the question "when" their rights override a Tanzanian desire to protect and restore what they have looks a little different.

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