Sunday , October 2 2022

Are museum items to be returned to the countries they came from? | Letter | Culture



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Simon Jenkins quotes "French art historian André Malraux" as an authority when he claims that "a museum … has always been an artificial concept, a wrinkle of objects that are not in context but of it" (Stolen objects do not belong in our museums , November 24th). Malraux himself seems to have been complicated in his attitude towards "stolen objects", as well as in his political and intellectual life.

An episode that made him an early fame was an attempt to steal and sell four sculptures from the Banteay Srei Temple in Angkor, Cambodia. During a visit in 1923, he and a friend "lost the … with a plan to sell the stolen goods in the art markets of London or New York" (The Many Lives of André Malraux, Apollo, August 26, 2017). When imprisoned, arrested and imprisoned, French intellectuals protected the termination of his sentence, and he would appear as an avid collector of eastern antiques and (to cite the Apollo article again) "a protection of world heritage from neglecting domestic populations."

Overall, Malraux seems to be a curious ally because Sir Simon has agreed to his campaign against museums – like "mausolees", which are only concerned with "acquisition, ownership and status" – given that this future Minister of Culture (under the Charles de Gaulle presidency) does not seem to have been discouraged from "wrinkling of objects" in its context.
Prof Nick Havely
oxford

The case of returning the beautiful statue should be considered for its benefits, as well as others such as Parthenon Marble. My first choice for return would be the beard of the sphinx, which is not meaningful in the British Museum, but would do much more on the sphinx's chin. But Simon Jenkins does not reinforce the case by linking it to the rise of nationalism (he does not use the word and hides it behind the phrase "National National Confidence Policy").

The motive for internationalism was best made by the great Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. He never visited England until World War II as a guest of the British Council. He spent a lot of time at the British Museum, where he especially admired the Assyrian sculptures, powerful but barbaric, and Persian miniatures, exquisite but epic. Also, of course, Elgin marble, which exemplifies the Greek ideal of nothing in excess. "If time had a home," he wrote, "and if it was a prince Prince, to love and remember his beautiful past moments, the British Museum would be that home."
Oliver Miles
(British Ambassador to Greece, 1993-96), Oxford

Simon Jenkins claims that President Emmanuel Macron has the right to demand return of historical items from Africa, Asia and South America. In principle, this seems to be an honest recovery. And then then? Is he sure that these countries demand that they return? Why did it come from a French president, not an African or Asian?

During a visit to London a few years ago, I took the Catholic Archbishop Sokoto in Nigeria, Matthew Kukah, to Britain's galleries at the British Museum. As we watched the Benin bronzes and ivory masses, I asked him if they would be returned to Nigeria. He said, "I think it would be best if they stayed here."

His argument was that if you sent them back to a museum in Nigeria, some would require them to return to the temporary places where they once were or they would be stolen. In addition, he said that few people in Nigeria will be interested.

The last point has been made in my visits to museums in Africa over the past 40 years. Outside of Egypt, Kenya and South Africa, few tourists and school groups go to museums. They are gloomy places, built quickly by the outgoing imperial powers of the 1960s as part of an independence package. Today, governments hardly support them. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni would knock down the museum in Kampala. I understand that many Africans in their generation are ashamed of their past.

The obvious solution is that the objects should be replicated or rotated across the world's museums.
Richard Dowden
London

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