Yesterday marked the London launch of the book The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, edited by Peter Stone and Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly.
The book is being released on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum with the sad acknowledgment that cultural heritage in Iraq is still in a dire state. The book is highly personal, representing the intimate and varied experiences of a number of individuals who were involved at different levels. The contributor list reads like a who’s who of the cultural heritage field.
Though the book’s spotlight is on Iraq, the issues and lessons brought up can be applied to any number of conflict areas. The discussion that followed Prof Stone’s presentation of the book highlighted the need to learn from the mistakes of Iraq and look forward to new solutions and attitudes in order to safeguard the world’s cultural heritage in times of conflict.
In light of the recent high profile theft from a museum in Switzerland there have been a variety of articles and opinion pieces about the theft and what is all means to the Art world in general.
Overall the consensus has been that art thieves aren’t a very bright lot. The thefts are sadly not terribly difficult (museum security naturally being woefully inadequate, given the value of the items) and therefore do not require intense strategic masterminding, nor are the paintings liable to be resold at anywhere near their market value, given the high profile nature of the works themselves.
There has also been quite a bit written about the unlikeness of the Dr. No theory that assumes that some evil genius has commissioned that specific theft for his private collection.
Putting aside the evil masterminds and incompetent crooks, there is a very interesting interview on a website called Foreign Policy that deals with the very practical, lucrative and relatively simple way of handling stolen art.
The interviewee is Art Hostage, an anonymous former stolen art dealer who writes a blog and provides a very different viewpoint for art thefts. His interview shows that there is indeed money to be made from art thefts and that the thefts are often part of a darker criminal underbelly. This is an aspect of art theft that is alluded to from time to time but rarely ever fleshed out.
He also talks about the difference between the high profile cases that make headlines and the numerous every day thefts that occur from private homes and smaller galleries that fuel the stolen art market. These rarely make the mainstream media but are nevertheless important to the black market.
Though these insights are generally applied to paintings it is not hard to make the comparison to the black market in stolen antiquities
An ancient monument in Greece called the Diolkos is being worn away by erosion, industry and neglect. The Diolkos was the ancient pathway used by ships to travel overland on the Isthmus of Corinth, thus reaching Athens more quickly and avoiding the dangerous Peloponnese peninsula. The route was in use for hundreds of years and represents a unique engineering feat.
The Diolkos was excavated in the late 1950s but has been largely neglected since that time. In June the local government agreed to clean up the monument and continue some archaeological work but no further rescue efforts have been planned.
A number of concerned citizens are asking for petition signatures to convince the Greek government to protect and excavate this unique ancient monument.
Click here to sign the petition.
Photo by Rich Pianka
Heritage Watch is an organization committed to preserving Cambodia’s cultural heritage in the face of wide scale looting and damage to archaeological sites and monuments. Founded in 2003, the organization has a number of projects ranging from education, responsible tourism and advocacy.
They are currently seeking signatures for an online petition to convince the governments of Singapore and Thailand to become signatories to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Both Singapore and Thailand are hubs for the trade in illicit antiquities from throughout Asia. They play a role similar to that of Switzerland in the past (The Swiss government signed the UNESCO 1970 Convention in 2003): a port of exchange where antiquities may be freely traded without laws and regulations to protect against illicitly acquired objects.
Click here to sign the petition.