Thursday 2 December 2021

Tackling the Global Antiquities Market of the 2020s - Working with a 1960s Mindset

UNESCO report on the fight against illicit antiquities trafficking just out. The Fight Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property: for a Strengthened Global Dialogue; summary of the conference 2021.The commong agenda of priorities is both preductable and disappointing.
- Working towards universal ratification of the 1970 Convention
- Enhanced international cooperation in applying the Convention
- Raising awareness and training professionals in the cultural sector and the art market
- Supporting the restitution of seized objects.
So, basically, faffing around rehashing the mode of approaching the problem embodied in a fifty-year old "convention" that is not fully honoured by all the nations that are states parties (USA for example applies it selectively). The 1970 Convention reflects the form of the antiquities market at the end of the 1960s and has very little application to the current form of the antiquities market. This seems to me to be a conclusion that UNESCO could draw itself from the reading of the four-yearly national reports (1970: Art 16) they get - if they even read them and states parties put any effort into writing them properly. The vague Art 3, that should be a crucial element of discourse, remains a dead-letter definition by virtue of the fact that the majority of states party to the Convention (let alone anyone else) do not apply the crucial Art. 6,7 and 8 consistently (or at all). Article 11 does not cover all the eventualities, as for example Syria, Iraq, Yemen etc are not under occupation by a foreign power. Article 9 is abused by the USA and, as far as I am aware, the measures outlined have not been implemented anywhere else in teh past 50 years, even if it were clear precisely what the waffle-text means.

Most importantly, in my opinion, while lip service is paid to Article 10, it has never been properly and consistently implemented at a state level in any of the states party to the Convention (would be glad to be corrected on that if I hhave maligned anyone there). And this article 10 is iteself a very good example of the poor drafting of this whole document, it includes vague mentions of three separate, and crucial, issues treated together (public awareness, a [permanent?] register of items passing through ["antique"] dealers' hands, and this is the only place in the whole document that mentions the damage done by looting).* The report mentioned one of these issues: "Raising awareness among the general public is also a major challenge and requires thorough media coverage of events concerning the protection of cultural heritage. This observation led UNESCO to draw up and publish a manual for journalists. This need to raise awareness among the general public is also behind the creation of the International Day against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property, the first of which took place on 14 November 2020, as well as France’s organization of an exceptional exhibition at the Louvre featuring works that had been looted and later seized by the French customs."So, again, really about smuggling rather than the looting and issues concerning collecting as a whole.

Certainly, the time has come to try and collaborate, internationally (and why not under the umbrella of UNESCO?) in the creating of a new Convention, one that addresses the present state of the market (including its rapid internetisation since 1995), that addresses the new generation of sellers and buyers - very different from the 1960s. Tragically there is not a word about this in the recommendations of this report. Why? Aswering that will tell you a lot about UNESCO and ICOM/ICOMOS et al.

* what is pretty generally not recognised is that this document is not about looting (though see preamble point four, articles 5(d)?, and 10(b)) but only smuggling and "illicit transfer of ownership" (i.e., commerce). Yet it is the looting of sites that should be an equal concern, yet is almost totally sidelined in the existing document.

Vignette: This is the world the 1970 Convention was written for: Leonid Brezhnev and Mohammed Reza Pahlavi meet in 1970.

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