Museum Security Network

IS NATIONALISM AS SUCH A DANGEROUS PHENOMENON FOR CULTURE AND STOLEN/LOOTED CULTURAL PROPERTY?

 

“The charge of nationalism (whether outdated or au courant) is frequently levelled at those seeking the repatriation of cultural treasures to those nations and communities from which they were extracted. But nations have always used their own material culture as a means of constructing and expressing their national identity. There is nothing implicitly damaging or divisive in that. However it becomes so when the objects being used are not indigenous to that country but instead material extracted from other nations during periods of imperial conquest or colonial adventure.” Tom Flynn (1)

 

 

Queen-mother Idia, Benin/Nigeria, now in the British Museum.

Could the demand for her return by the African States participating in FESTAC be nationalistic whilst the refusal by the United Kingdom is not? (2)

 

In recent months, some writers such as James Cuno have been throwing about the accusation of nationalism as if it were such a bad phenomenon for culture or, indeed, as if it were incompatible with culture or somehow bad for cultural development:

“Nationalist retentionist cultural property laws segregate the world’s cultural property within the borders of modern nation-states. Most often, as I have discussed them in this book such laws are focussed on antiquities; that is, on works of art made long before there were nations. National and international laws, regulations, and agreements typically define antiquities as works of art made at least 150 years ago. They claim antiquities found (or thought to have been found) within their national borders as a nation’s patrimony, as important to that nation’s identity and esteem, and not to our understanding of the world. Quite explicitly, they claim them as a nation’s property, as bearing the imprint of a national identity.” (3)

 

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