Sunday 29 May 2016

Greedy Collectors and their Cultural Victims

A thing of beauty, or something else?
With regard to the fuss the US is kicking up about a coming sale of Native American artefacts in France, and given their own attitudes to appropriating as 'global heritage' the artefacts of other communities, it would be interesting to hear a US collector's reaction to what Bambi Kraus, president of the National Association for Tribal Historic Preservation Officers in Washington, a Tlinget Indian from south-east Alaska has to say (Paris auction house turns deaf ear to Native American appeals PRI's The World May 27, 2016).
The sale of these important cultural objects goes against our entire way of life, and way of thinking about being native and today's global world view. They are not just art pieces rather they are cultural objects.
So, a bit like a Greek temple antefix or Egyptian mummy case. She goes on:
They were made for a specific culture and were not to be shared with the outside world. “Many were stolen from Native communities. Many were sold out of duress because there was a lot of fighting over resources when Western expansion was coming up against Native people in the world. I know from my own personal history as a that they were being forced to change their way of life and they were being starved to death, and there was very little they could actually do to preserve their culture," she says. 
Discussion then turns to a specific item, an  Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield Ms Kraus [as an aside: some lady says the shield was stolen from her home, but provides only an affidavit, not police report]:
It was important to them as a ceremonial piece, and was for their community only. It was made for their use and it should have no value outside of that community. And that's one of the questions that I have been trying to answer, what makes these items valuable?
So what does make these items worth stealing from the communities? I think the answer is pretty obvious:
So, if that is just rawhide and paint, why is that so valuable to someone who wants to collect it for its beauty rather than its value to that community?
Collectors' greed. Collectors' greed and desire to posess this as a trophy as a symbol of their domination of that community of 'Others' is what lies behind communities losing historical items which form the basis of their culture and identity. It is the same with rawhide shields as Greek pots, Egyptian tomb figurines, mummy beads, Roman coins and a host of other collectables. It would be interesting to hear an articulate collector's view, though hopefully one who'd go deeper than adopting a trite self-justificatory American Exceptionalist position. But, I suggest none of us need hold our breath waiting.

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