Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cuno: partage is the solution to antiquities at risk

As one might have expected, James Cuno uses the disasters unfolding now in Iraq to beat the drum once again for restoring the old system of partage. He is right, of course, to say that we should be thankful that even though ISIS destroyed the Assyrian statues in the Mosul Museum and at Nineveh some statues remain safe in museums inaccessible to ISIS' sledgehammers. And surely he is also correct to argue that the most prudent policy for protecting cultural heritage from disasters is to distribute them around the world rather than concentrating them in one place.

The problem with partage as a solution is (at least) three-fold:
a) it ignores other ways in which antiquities might be -- and indeed are being -- dispersed, ways that would not be permanent (i.e., temporary transfers to safer countries as precautionary measures, as Iran is now offering to do, or long-term exchanges), and that would be much more palatable to countries that wish to retain ownership of cultural property they deem part of their cultural patrimony.

b) it does nothing to protect the razing of archaeological sites and the smashing of non-portable antiquities.

c) it does nothing to stop the looting of portable antiquities from museums or the market-driven digging-up of archaeological sites by looters. 

b) and c) would be less troubling if we were not now in the middle of a terrible crisis in which major sites are reportedly being looted and bulldozed. Failing to address those issues and fixating instead on a change in policy that even if enacted now would have zero impact on either b) or c) is insensitive.

It is fine to call for partage as one among several possible long-term solutions based on the principle of dispersion-for-safety's-sake. But what Cuno should also be doing is offering or at least calling for solutions to the immediate problems of stopping the razing of sites and the looting of both sites and museums, and putting some of the Getty's considerable resources into getting the job done.



There is not a shred of evidence to support the allegation or insinuation that UNESCO or the 1970 UNESCO Convention have contributed directly or indirectly to destruction of cultural artefacts.

The suggestion that the 1970 Convention attributes to States the right to destroy artefacts is obviously wrong and dangerous.

At this juncture all efforts should be made to assist UNESCO rather than attack it.
Kwame Opoku



There is no evidence to support the view that UNESCO and the 1970 UNESCO Convention have directly or indirectly contributed to the destruction of cultural artefacts. If anyone has such evidence he should bring it to the attention of UNESCO's governing bodies.

There is no word or provision in the 1970 UNESCO Convention that confers on the State a right to destroy cultural artefacts. The view that such a right is vested in States is very dangerous.

After what Dr. Cuno has written about partage in his book, Who owns antiquity (2008) (pp.14, 55 and 154), it is difficult to see how he can recommend a revival of a system that was plainly in the interest of the Western countries.

An attack on UNESCO at this juncture can only be described, mildly, as unfortunate. All those
Interested in the preservation of cultural artefacts should at this moment lend their support to UNESCO.
Kwame Opoku