Museums and looted art: the ethical dilemma of preserving world cultures
How can western ‘universal’ museums acquire and display artefacts without stoking the illegal arts trade and reproducing colonialist narratives?
Monday 29 June 2015 13.03 EDT Last modified on Monday 29 June 2015 13.36 EDT
Every month produces new cases of the “repatriation” of antiquities from American museums to their countries of origin.
In late May, Italian authorities displayed 25 looted artefacts retrieved from the United States. They included some objects smuggled by the infamous dealer Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2004 for selling thousands of stolen pieces of Greco-Roman art from Italy and the Mediterranean. A few weeks earlier, the Cleveland Museum of Art returned a 10th-century statue of the Hindu god Hanuman to Cambodia. The idol had been hacked from the Prasat Chen temple in Siem Reap in the 1960s before journeying via a litany of dealers into the holds of the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1982.
In April, homeland security agents relieved the Honolulu Museum of Art of seven ancient Indian artefacts believed to have been acquired through Subhash Kapoor, a New York-based art dealer.