When least expected, an answer comes forward that goes beyond a country’s claim, international law and suggests there is a global sense of decency when addressing cultural heritage and patrimony. Dr. Gary Vikan, during one of his last public lectures as the director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and completely not related to the topic of his lecture on his upcoming book on the Shroud of Turin, was asked,
“Should the Elgin Marbles be returned?”
His response is as follows,
Well, I think they should simply because the monument is such an extraordinary monument. And, of course, for Greece, it helps define their Greekness. Not only from classical Greece, but it was on the ‘coinature’ (sic), of the new Greek nation in 1832 (or whenever it was).
But in a way it is not England’s right to define the patrimony of human kind.
It is not contemporary Greece’s right, either. It is just they have a little more DNA of Plato in them than we do, which may not even be true.
Doesn’t mean that something that is meaningful to the aggregate of human kind should be left to the adjudication of the English who ended up with so many pieces of it and the contemporary world of Greece.
People who say don’t give it back, would also say, well, these Greeks are not really Greeks, they are Slavs. By the way, the nation was ruled by people from Austria, Germany, all a kinship. So they have no legitimacy.
But who does?
The monument has legitimacy.
Independent of the people around it or the people who have ended up with pieces of it.
… the museum in Iraq was sacked in Baghdad, the cradle of civilization. So that is all fine.
But, whose civilization is it? It does not belong to the Iraqis. It is all of our interests in that.
So, I met the guy who ran the museum when it was sacked, Donny George. We were in a retreat in Taos, trying to build bridges between the art dealing community, art collecting community and those who were interested in patrimony staying where it is.
And, he was among those who made sure, in the Constitution of Iraq, drafted post Saddam Hussein. Patrimony is a piece to their constitution now. All items that are over 100 years or older are state property. So they can appropriate your grandma’s chair.
That is the way it is.
Who owns history, cultural heritage, art, artifacts that are rooted in the earth? Monuments of peoples and eras long passed have remained anchored or even remained buried despite many wars, migrations, complete disappearance of civilizations due to disease or economic devastation until that point of discovery.
The Acropolis of Athens monument has legitimacy to be complete for human kind. And, “That is the way it is.”
By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C. (Please follow 9 Muses News copyright use policy.)
International Campaigns on the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures
Please let me know of other organizations to add to the list.