Thursday 6 September 2018

Smithsonian 'Saves' Objects, Justifies War in MENA and Beyond

Proxy War in MENA
Richard Kurin [acting director of Smithsonian's Freer/Sackler galleries], 'Two Sculptures of Ancient Women Give Voice to the Protection of Antiquities in War Zones' ('The Smithsonian’s elegant Haliphat of Palmyra and the blue-eyed Miriam from Yemen raise awareness of the illegal trade in and destruction of antiquities') . I would say they rather raise awareness about how some western museums got their sticky hands on bits of foreign grave monuments.  Michael Press has covered some of the issues on his twitter account
an obvious question is raised: how did they enter the Smithsonian collections? [...] The Palmyrene bust was purchased from an antiquities dealer in Aleppo in 1908. (Note: the Ottoman Empire had strict antiquities laws at this point, governing purchase and especially export, but these were widely disregarded by Europeans and Americans) [...] Meanwhile, the sculpture from Yemen was unearthed in the 1950s by the expedition of treasure-hunter Wendell Phillips, who later became rich from oil concessions in the Arabian peninsula [...]
Press comments on the one-sided manner in which Kurin represents the wars in Syria and Yemen and adds:
there seems to be an increasing push to use antiquities (and the desire to safeguard them) as justification for war in MENA and beyond [...] And in the process give a selective presentation of threats to antiquities, thereby presenting a distorted picture of the conflicts. Esp. in Europe and the U.S., where the people doing this manage to hide their own countries' destructive history w/the region's antiquities.

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