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  • 22February

    UNESCO on looting

    During a speaker event at the Club de la chasse et de la nature, organised by AMA on 16 February, Édouard Planche, a specialist in the trafficking of cultural goods at UNESCO, addressed a small audience on the subject of the looting of artworks and artefacts in war zones. Planche kicked off the evening’s proceedings with a painful reminder of the ongoing conflict in Syria. The Middle-Eastern country is home to six UNESCO world heritage sites: the ancient city of Aleppo, the ancient city of Bosra, the ancient city of Damascus, the Krac des Chevaliers, the ancient city of Palmyra, and the ancient cities of the North; along with no fewer than twelve sites which are currently being considered for official recognition as world heritage sites, including Elba, Mari, Dura Europos, and Apamea. Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict 290 sites of cultural or archaeological importance have been affected, with 24 destroyed, 104 seriously damaged, 85 partially damaged, and 77 believed to be damaged. Amongst the worst affected are Aleppo, Damascus, the Krac des Chevaliers, Palmyra, Dura Europos, Bosra, Elba, Apamea, and Raqqa. On this sobering note, the speaker moved onto another serious problem: the funding of terrorist activities through the trafficking of ancient artefacts. The dismissive attitude of countries such as Turkey and Israel, and even the Gulf states, has done little to alleviate the issue. To give an idea of the extent of the problem, the speaker explained that the legal trade of antiquities is a $60 billion-a-year industry, whilst the illegal trade is believed to bring in around $6-15 billion. Planche added that: “the trafficking of drugs, arms, and antiquities are all means of money laundering […] if you purchase a Syrian antiquity, you are supporting organised crime”. The only silver lining to the situation seems to be that authorities in charge of the country’s antiquities succeeded in safeguarding the majority of the important collections in secure vaults beneath banks in Damascus prior to the conflict.

    More info : Art Media Agency, Paris, France
  • 18February

    Selfie Sticks

    In a famous lab trial, a chimp named Sultan put two interlocking sticks together and pulled down an elusive prize, a bunch of bananas hanging just out of arm’s reach. Almost a century later, eager tourists have conducted their own version of the experiment. Equipped with the camera extender known as a selfie stick, occasionally referred to as “the wand of narcissism,” they can now reach for flattering CinemaScope selfies wherever they go. Art museums have watched this development nervously, fearing damage to their collections or to visitors, as users swing their sticks with abandon. Now they are taking action. One by one, museums across the United States have been imposing bans on using selfie sticks for photographs inside galleries (adding them to existing rules on umbrellas, backpacks, tripods and monopods), yet another example of how controlling overcrowding has become part of the museum mission.

    More info : sfgate, San Francisco, USA
  • 17February

    Yemen: Sufi Shrine

    Haykal Bafana reported that "Al Qaeda miliatnats [had] destroyed” the 800-year-old tomb of Sufi saint Sufyan bin Abdullah in Al Hota town, Lahij province, Yemen, on January 27. Bin Abdullah was famed for having fought for Saladin in 1187 CE, when he ousted the Crusaders from Jerusalem. Unidentified Yemeni officials "suspect" that Al-Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) conducted the attack, because it has committed “similar” attacks before. However, Yemen Press has specified that a thirty-plus-strong motorcycle gang from pro-al-Qaeda Ansar al-Sharia attacked the shrine that night, bombing and tearing down the building and digging up the grave. As Bafana expanded on Facebook, bin Abdullah’s “grave was dug up and his  corpse  strewn on the ground.” Aside from anger  at the act of violence, the difficulty of protecting such sites and the Islamists’ capacity to strike have caused frustration and pessimism. 

    More info : Hyperallergic, New York, USA
  • 16February

    Myanmar to prepare Mrauk-U
    Myanmar’s government and Arakan State authorities will adopt measures to preserve the old Arakanese capital of Mrauk-U to prepare the site for nomination for the UNESCO World Heritage List.
    Ministry of Culture’s Archeology Department general director, Kyaw Oo Lwin, told The Irrawaddy media that the department has worked with state authorities since late last year to carry out digital mapping and improve preservation of Buddhist temples and palace grounds, which are part of a government plan to nominate the site with the help of UNESCO officials and other foreign experts.
    More info : TTR Weekly
  • 03February

    India's libraries

    The year 1193 was one of terror for Nalanda's Buddhists. Mohammed Bakhtiyar Khilji's marauding soldiers burnt thousands of monks alive and beheaded a thousand others in the region. However, for Buddhism itself, the year was nothing short of catastrophic. For although the religion was on the decline in India by then, the destruction of Nalanda's great library was, for Buddhism, "the final coup de grace", according to historian Charles Allen.It marked the "virtual obliteration of every page of a thousand years of Buddhist history on the subcontinent.Thus, India's Buddhist past was all but lost -and very soon forgotten," Allen says in his book Ashoka. Perhaps no other event in Indian history emphasizes as much the importance of public libraries to society. At a time when India's wealthy spend crores of rupees to insure prized art and collectibles, `uncovered' public libraries -home to the cultural and historical moorings of any society -epitomize both apathy and irony . Premier public institu tions such as The Asiatic Society of Bombay , the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room and the Delhi Public Library stand vulnerable to all kinds of mishaps, be it theft, fire or flooding.

    More info : Economic Times, India Times, Gurgaon, India
  • 02February

    More on Kushan buddhas

    In 2005, Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum was offered a rare sculpture of a Seated Buddha carved from red sandstone in the second century. It was from India’s ancient city of Mathura, the second capital of the Kushan empire, and one of only a handful of such sculptures to have appeared on the market in recent years. The dealer selling the sculpture was Nancy Wiener, whose eponymous Manhattan gallery has been a leading seller of Asian art for years. Her clients include the Metropolitan Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Asia Society and prominent private collectors. Wiener’s mother Doris was a renowned Asian art dealer who Christies’ called “one of the most distinguished tastemakers in this collecting category.” The Royal Ontario was keen to buy the Seated Buddha – until curator Deepali Dewan called the expert who had authenticated the sculpture for Wiener. Donald Stadtner, an authority in Indian art, told Dewan that he believed the statue had been illegally exported from India and given a phony ownership history to cover its tracks. After talking to Stadtner, the Royal Ontario Museum decided pass on the sculpture, Dewan confirmed in a recent email. Months later, Wiener offered it to the National Gallery of Australia for USD$1.2 million.

    More info : Chasing Aphrodite Blog, by Jason Felch, USA
  • 01February

    Mosul library attack

    When Islamic State group militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people's ideas. Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books -- including children's stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science -- into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts. "These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned," a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press.


    More info : CTV News, Toronto, Canada
  • 27January

    Iran: objects returned

    Antiques which had been discovered in Khurvin, Savojbolagh County, Alborz Province, had been gradually transferred to Belgium in 1965 by a French woman who had acquired an Iranian nationality due to her marriage to an Iranian professor.
    After the Iranian government was informed of the existence of this antique collection in a Museum in Ghent, Belgium, it filed a lawsuit in the Belgian courts in 1981 and made the claims that these artifacts had been illegally transferred out of the country, belonged to the government of Iran, and as such must be returned home. After some 30 years, the Belgian court finally ruled in favor of Iran in September 2014 and the antique collection was returned to Iran on Thursday December 25, 2014.


    More info : Mehr News, Tehran, Iran
  • 23January

    India to aid Vietnam
    India will send experts and give a five-year subsidy of about US$2.5 million for renovation of the towers in the My Son sanctuary in the central Quang Nam province.
    According to Dinh Hai, director of the Quang Nam Culture, Sports and Tourism Department, these details were included in a memorandum on preservation and renovation, signed by the leaders of the two countries last year.
    India will send experts, materials, facilities and equipment for the task, while the province will spend nearly VND20 billion ($9.5 million) to pay the salary for 85 workers involved the project and offer accommodation to the Indian experts during the period, he added.
    More info : Viet Nam News
  • 15January

    Worldmuseum threatened

    The Minister of Culture of Austria decided  at the last moment to stop the refurbishment of the new Worldmuseum in Vienna. The museum had just closed to start an ambitious renewal. See director Steven Engelsman's announcement on the museum's website. During a recent forum the move by the minister was heavily criticised.

    More info : Weltmuseum Wien
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