recentpopularlog in

Copy this bookmark:





to read

bookmark detail

African Art Is Under Threat in Djenne-Djenno - NYTimes.com
August 2, 2012 | NYT | By HOLLAND COTTER.

Ethical battles surrounding the ownership of, and right to control and dispose of, art from the past rage on in Africa, as in other parts of the world....the wars over art as cultural property take many forms: material, political and ideological. On the surface the dynamics may seem clear cut, the good guys and bad guys easy to identify. In reality the conflicts are multifaceted, questions of innocence and guilt often — though not always — hard to nail down. In many accounts Africa is presented as the acted-upon party to the drama, the loser in the heritage fight, though such is not necessarily the case, and it certainly doesn’t have to be, and won’t be if we acknowledge Africa as the determining voice in every conversation...finding sculptures in situ, in their historical context...unauthorized trade in such art had been illegal since 1970, when Unesco drew up its Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. But the digging went on, and getting art out of the country — through porous borders, with a payment of bribes — was (and still is) easy. ...Certain archaeologists, the McIntoshes among them, were aghast at the ruinous plundering and took action. They were convinced that any Western attention paid to Malian antiquities increased the market value and encouraged looting. With this in mind they proposed an information blackout on any and all “orphaned“ Inland Niger Delta objects, meaning any that had not been scientifically excavated — most of those in circulation... The antiquities wars were not easy on dealers, collectors and museum administrators. Not only were their jobs threatened and acquisitive passions blocked, but they acquired unfortunate reputations. Once esteemed as cultural benefactors, they came to be seen, in some quarters, as hoarders and thieves.

Where does Africa itself stand in all of this? Is it merely the battleground on which science and commerce clash, a passive stretch of turf to be either righteously conserved or carved up and parceled out? Or is it — could it be — an active, gainful partner in cultural exchange?

It could. Art-alert countries like Nigeria and Mali have stockpiles of objects in storage. Selections of them could be leased out to Western institutions, or even swapped for temporary loans of Western art. The idea that Africa would not be receptive to such exchanges is wrong. It has fine museums (in Bamako, in Lagos), impressive private collections (one is documented in Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie’s superb book “Making History: African Collectors and the Canon of African Art“), and at least a few sharp critics (check out Kwame Opoku at modernghana.com).

There’s no reason to think that concepts of art in Africa and the West — I use these generalities for convenience only — have to jibe. But clearly a sense of the complex value of patrimony is strong and can be pushed further. The time is long past due to be compiling comprehensive digital databases not just of art from Africa, but also of art that’s still there. Not only would this be an invaluable, promotional resource for international study, it would also be a lasting record of types of ephemeral art, or of things too fragile to move, or of objects that have, in the event of political instability, a good chance of being lost.
Africa  art  collectors  collectibles  Mali  ethics  museums  books  embargoes  contraband  archeological  dealerships  art_galleries  art_history  Nigeria  threats  Islamists  antiquities  Timbuktu  sub-Saharan_Africa  heritage  history  stockpiles 
august 2012 by jerryking
view in context