Friday 13 August 2021

New York "Affluent Gents'" Magazine and the Conflict Antiquities Trade

    Colonial loot on sale in US    

Inside Hook based in New York styles itself as “the go-to news and luxury lifestyle recommendation platform for the affluent, on-the-go gent”. Recently, their journalist Eli London talked to some 'veteran treasure hunters' Zaid Al-Hakim and Kai Hansen, in Los Angeles (How to Buy Cool Sh*t Abroad Without Getting Ripped Off' ["We talk to the veteran treasure hunters at Casa Berbere about what to do and where to go"], Inside Hook 11th Aug 2021 [title later amended to: 'Casa Berbere’s Guide to Buying Cultural Artifacts While Abroad'):
"Casa Berbere is a newly launched ecommerce business looking to bring cultural artifacts from all over the world into your home, no matter where you live [...] expanded to a huge showroom boasting not just rugs, but antiquities from the four corners of the world. They work with a wide network of reputable dealers from Thailand to Tunisia".
The journalist asked them for tips about how US buyers can purchase items in "a responsible, non-exploitative way", the answer was surprising:  
Cultural responsibility varies from region to region. If you are going to a country to purchase something specific, do a lot of research beforehand. Look up items to determine if they are on any export exempt lists. Look up companies. Email people. [...] Buying from someone who takes the time to engage with you is one of the easiest ways to be responsible. It also connects you to them in a way that goes beyond just the transaction, helping to forge a personal connection — that too is culturally responsible [...] if someone is too earnest in showing you anything — a certificate, a government document, etc. — it’s probably not legitimate. The real dealers do enough business where they don’t need to convince you of who they are.
There seems to be a problem here understanding what the paperwork associated with artefacts intended for purchase and export is for. The importers should assure themselves that the item is licit and then pass that on to their customre who can then legitimate their possession of it in any eventual resale. 

Asked if there were "any underrated regions collectors should look to explore" Casa Berbere announced:
 We are focusing on Southern Turkey for the moment, along with Tunisia. We are also planning a trip to Iraq. Now, we recognize many of these areas are unstable, and we would not recommend going there unless you have contacts on the ground, but this is also where the greatest opportunity to find treasure exists. 
The ATHAR project posted a reaction on Twitter starting here. According to them, there are a number of problems, for example Tunisia one of the countries they mention working with, doesn’t legally allow the sale/export of antiquities (and there is a CCPIA MOU on the topic between the US and Tunesia) so it is not clear how "reputable" the dealers Casa Berbere collaborates with really are. "The US-Tunisia MOU to stop the import of antiquities from Tunisia was signed due to a surge of antiquities looting in the country. The US is a major market for those looted goods". There are also comments on
"the sourcing of material for this new e-commerce platform for Casa Berbere’s “museum quality” pieces, which @InsideHook makes it a point to discuss. Lots of talk here about digital sourcing and authenticity. Zero about provenance or legality [...] What’s interesting is that it appears the owners of Casa Berbere are aware of expert restrictions and the existence of fake documents. That being the case, we have to assume they’re aware of the MOUs restricting imports of antiquities from Tunisia, Turkey, and Iraq… BUT" [...] Casa Berbere owners say that they are focusing on Tunisia, southern Turkey, and Iraq.* All places rife with looting and antiquities trafficking. All have laws banning antiquities sales and MOUs banning antiquity imports to the US. HIGHLY irresponsible of @insidehook to promote..
ATHAR point out that @insidehook in apparently promoting Iraq as "needing attention from collectors" "must have missed the 17,000 stolen Iraq artifacts being returned by the US" and in focussing attention on purchasing cutural artefacts from southern Turkey, they are promoting buying from a "known territory for antiquities trafficked from war-torn Syria (a war crime), and just this week Turkish authorities arrested 92 for trafficking antiquities to the US". Noting that the article beings with a picture of two "Nigerian" leaopard statues with no provenance stated for $10000, ATHAR suggest "Casa Berbere must be unaware of the fight to retrieve bronzes" from this region, "Nigeria has been fighting desperately to retrieve the priceless antique bronzes that were stolen during colonialization and distributed to wealthy museums across the world". As for
Any outlet that promotes antiquities collecting from southern Turkey and Iraq because that’s “WHERE THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY TO FIND TREASURE EXISTS” is irresponsible. The opportunity exists because of conflicts. @InsideHook is quite literally promoting a war crime.
What is even more disturbing about this is that its editors providing news and advice "for the affluent, on-the-go gent" are apparently totally unaware of the issues raised in the trade in such items. One almost expects that with such lack of awareness, we will possibly find elsewhere in their website we will find artcles about ivory tie-pins and toilet seat covers made of real leopard skins. * In the case of iraq, the document is not actually a CCPIA MOU.

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