Tuesday, May 1, 2012


The Loot Stops Here
Continuing the story of the Khmer stone sculpture removed from auction.
By Tess Davis, LA Times, April 25, 2012.

For the direct link to the editorial, please go to:  http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-adv-davis-khmer-loot-sothebys-20120425,0,2456835.story

My comments:

To be clear, I am not condoning the looting of cultural objects.  But, I do want to make a few points, often missed in the debate over cultural patrimony.

Many of these source countries are currently subject to government complicity in the antiquity trade, corruption, wars, insurrections, natural disasters, and lack of funds, thus preventing the preservation of existing objects and the safe return of other objects that may have removed illegally. 

There are too many examples of cultural objects being destroyed or damaged in source countries, because of the above conditions, most notably the destruction of ancient Buddhist art in Afghanistan during the Taliban era and the looting of the museum in Bagdad during the US invasion.

Without a market for antiquities, many if not most of these objects would be left to ruin or deliberate destruction and rarely if ever seen and appreciated.  It is common that most major works of art are eventually donated or sold to public institutions, allowing for further appreciation and study by a wide audience.  On that note, will more people see and enjoy an object safely displayed in a major international museum versus a local museum in a source country?  Will that local museum have the ability to safely conserve and protect that object?

Who actually owns this cultural property?  Why do the current residents of a region, many who are not the actual descendents of the creators of this art, have that privilege?  Why does any one country have dominion over works of art?   Doesn’t it make more sense to treat all cultural property as belonging to humanity as a whole?  Is it not human culture that is the provenance of art?

I believe that works of art should be appreciated by the widest audience possible.  Unless there is clear evidence of theft, I propose that instead of permanently returning cultural property that they are loaned back to sources countries, on a temporary basis, in exchange for the loan of other objects in their collections.

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