Emanuel Comino on Ahdaf Soueif’s Resignation

DSCN0148

In an open letter to the Trustees of the British Museum, Emanuel Comino AM, Chairman of the International Organising Committee – Australia – for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles[1] (IOC-A-RPM), said, “We strongly recommend that you urge the British Prime Minister to open negotiations with the Greek Government directed towards solving this cultural property dispute once and for all.”

“We also urge you call upon the UK Prime Minister to support changes to British Museum Act 1963 that will make this possible.”

His comments were prompted by the resignation of British Museum Trustee Ahdaf Soueif.

Writing on her blog Ms Soueif said,

” A few days ago I resigned from its Board of Trustees. My resignation was not in protest at a single issue; it was a cumulative response to the museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency: the young and the less privileged.”

She is quoted elsewhere[2] as saying:

“The British Museum, born and bred in empire and colonial practice, is coming under scrutiny. And yet it hardly speaks.”

“It is in a unique position to lead a conversation about the relationship of South to North, about common ground and human legacies and the bonds of history.

“Its task should be to help us all imagine a better world, and – along the way – to demonstrate the usefulness of museums. This would go some way towards making the case for keeping its collection in London.”

In congratulating Ms Soueif  Emanuel Comino said, “We as members of the oldest Committee in the world campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, applaud Ms Soueif’s courage and principle.”

“Such intransigence also castes the Museum in a most negative light internationally and must be a great source of embarrassment to the government and the people of the British Isles,” he added

“Surveys of your own MPs have clearly shown more than 60% support for the return of the Marbles.”

“A Museum that was adapting to the 21st century would recognise that many opportunities exist for extensive collections of other Hellenistic objects, not well represented in the Museum’s collection, to be made available should a resolution to this dispute be achieved.  New technologies also enable highly realistic 3D laser simulations to be used in place of antiquities that have been returned to their countries of origin.”

“Restitution will allow the Marbles to be relocated in the specially conceived Acropolis Museum.  In this new setting, very close to their origins, the rich contribution of the Marbles to world civilization will have a gravity that cannot be achieved in other artificial settings.”

“Restitution will also allow the British Museum to shed the mantle of insensitivity and the emerging view that it is an institution somewhat out of step with present global developments in Museology. ”

“The call for restitution is becoming stronger and stronger internationally, it will never abate.  As a gesture of goodwill, that will be remembered through the ages, we urge you to call for the restitution of the Marbles now.”

For a full report on Ahdaf Soueif’s resignation go to her blog.

Russell Darnley OAM

Vice Chair and International Liaison Officer IOC-A-RPM

For further direct comment from EJ Comino

+6 1 2  9588 4144 

[1] Emanuel is also Vice Chair of the International Association for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures but is making this statement as Chair of the IOC-A-RPM

[2] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/16/british-museum-trustee-quits-bp-sponsorship-immovability-looted/

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Parthenon Marbles campaigners heartened

British Museum

After quitting as British Museum trustee, writer calls for honest discussion about return of artefacts

Βy Yannis Andritsopoulos, London Correspondent for Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper (iandritsopoulos@gmail.com)

The Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif has resigned from the British Museum’s Board of Trustees in protest at the institution’s “immovability” on returning looted artefacts. She also cited the museum’s sponsorship deal with oil company BP and its treatment of workers as reasons for her resignation.

In a damning critique of the British Museum, published in the London Review of Books, Soueif condemned the institution’s lack of public engagement with the debate around the restitution of cultural artefacts.

Asked whether she thinks that the British Museum should be engaged in talks with Greece about returning the Parthenon Sculptures, Soueif told Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper: “I believe it would be in everyone’s interests for the Museum to engage in open, honest and transparent discussions with everyone who feels they have a claim on objects held by the Museum.”

Asked if she thinks that the Parthenon Sculptures should be returned to Greece, Soueif said she “cannot really comment more specifically,” but added that “these claims can only be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

“In November 2018, a French report commissioned by President Macron recommended the full restitution of looted African artworks. It burst open the debate over the repatriation of cultural artefacts. Museums, state officials, journalists and public intellectuals in various countries have stepped up to the discussion,” said the Booker Prize-nominated author and cultural commentator.

“The British Museum, born and bred in empire and colonial practice, is coming under scrutiny. And yet it hardly speaks. It is in a unique position to lead a conversation about the relationship of South to North, about common ground and human legacies and the bonds of history.

“Its task should be to help us all imagine a better world, and – along the way – to demonstrate the usefulness of museums. This would go some way towards making the case for keeping its collection in London. But its credibility would depend on the museum taking a clear position as an ally of coming generations.”

Soueif became a Trustee in 2012; her term would have ended in 2020.

“The Trustees regret Ahdaf Soueif’s decision to step down from the Board on which she has been a much valued voice since 2012. Ahdaf has made a significant contribution to the Board in all its endeavours and discussions, and has played a crucial role in deepening the British Museum’s engagement with Egypt and the wider Middle East, and with audiences and partners throughout the world,” said Sir Richard Lambert, Chair of the British Museum Trustees.

“Collaboration is about progressing as a whole and it is bigger than any one institution or any one individual, it’s a culture. The British Museum speaks of collaboration but it isn’t listening to Greece’s call for reunification despite the fact that the superlative Acropolis Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary less than a month ago, on 20 June,” Dame Janet Suzman, Chair of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, told Ta Nea.

“We salute Ahdaf Soueif for resigning because of the British Museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern. In her letter she writes: ‘the British Museum is not a good thing in and of itself. It is good only to the extent that its influence in the world is for the good.’ As a campaigning committee we strongly believe that if the British Museum wishes to set its stall out as a great and good universal influencer for the world – it must begin by putting old wrongs, right and the continued division of the Parthenon Marbles is a case in point,” Dame Janet said.

She added that “the revolt against colonial attitudes will not go away. It is high time the British Museum showed the heart within the beast and opened proper dialogue on the best place to display the sculptures from the Parthenon for all to understand that we are living in the 21st century and we can do what’s right by these sculptures for future generations to also take away the lesson that there is such a thing as a fairer world.”

This news report was published in Ta Nea, Greece’s daily newspaper (www.tanea.gr) on 18 July 2019. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Acropolis Museum: A high tech and symbolic space for the treasures of the Acropolis

unnamed-2

The New Acropolis Museum was officially inaugurated on June 20, 2009, and celebrates this year 10 tremendous years of successful activity. It has grown to be one of the best museums in the world and has received over 14,5 million visitors. Between 13 and 20 of June, the Museum has organized a series of festivities to commemorate its anniversary, with as a major event – on June 20 – the opening of the archaeological excavation underneath the museum.

unnamed-5

The architectural remains of Late Antiquity (4th-7th century AD) excavated during the construction of the museum give an unrivalled insight into the everyday life of an ancient neighbourhood at the foot of the Acropolis. From June 21 on, this new archaeological site will be open to the public.

The history of the New Acropolis Museum goes back to the 1970s. The museum built on the Acropolis itself, whose initially construction dates of the 19th century, was by then outdated and could no longer cope adequately with a large number of visitors. Moreover, important restoration and conservation work carried out on the monuments of the Acropolis from 1975 on rendered the exhibition space in the old museum too small to accommodate the sculptures that were being taken down from the various Acropolis buildings to preserve and conserve them from the urban pollution.

In 1976, less than two years after the restoration of democracy in Greece, President Constantinos Karamanlis conceived plans for the construction of a new Acropolis Museum and selected the site upon which the Museum was finally built, located in the historic neighbourhood of Makryianni, a natural extension of the south slope of the Acropolis hill. Between 1976 and 2000, no fewer than four architectural competitions were conducted, before the award finally went to the project by design architects Bernard Tschumi, Michael Photiadis and their associates.

The New Acropolis Museum is a three-story building facing the Acropolis, a transparent construction of structural concrete, stainless steel and marble, with liberal use of glass for the facades and part of the floor,. It achieves an interplay between the museum, where the antiquities of all periods the Acropolis are on display, floating over the in-site excavation, and panoramic views on the Acropolis and the city.

unnamed-1

The concept of the building is ingenious, divided over four levels: the ground floor of the Museum is suspended on pylons over the archaeological excavation; a gentle slope ending up in a monumental staircase connects the ground floor with the first floor; the top floor or Parthenon Gallery is arranged around an indoor court and rotates slightly so that its orientation corresponds exactly to the orientation of the nearby Parthenon temple. The concept of the Acropolis Museum can thus be seen as an evocation of the topography of the Acropolis in ancient times: a Sacred Way leads visitors from the city up the slope of the Acropolis hill, then up the steps towards and through the Propylaea to the Parthenon.

unnamed

The display of the artefacts in the Museum strengthens this image. The ruins of a part of the ancient city of Athens are situated on the lowest level. The finds excavated on the slopes of the Acropolis in secondary temples, shrines, and caves, are on display on the ground floor, along the gently sloping path. The numerous sculptures and architectural fragments – most of them unique treasures of art – found on the Acropolis, including parts of the Archaic temples, the Erechtheion, the temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea, are presented on the first floor and can be viewed from all sides. The ambient natural light in the exhibition rooms, changing throughout the day, particularly suits the sculptures on display. The top floor is dedicated to the surviving Parthenon sculptures in Athens, completed with plaster casts of the sculptures actually on display in the British Museum in London. This juxtaposition of original parts with plaster copies underlines the call for the return of the originals in the British Museum. The display in Athens (unlike that in the BM’s Duveen Gallery) is exquisite, the sculptures can be seen exactly as they were placed on the Parthenon, but in a lowered position for the convenience of the visitor. The glass enclosure provides ideal light and enables direct view on the context of the original environment of the Parthenon Sculptures.

The New Acropolis Museum is a thematic archaeological museum, geographically limited to the finds of the Acropolis, the slopes of the hill and its monuments, chronologically limited to artefacts dating from the earliest period to Late Antiquity. It is a “living” museum, constantly in motion and constantly replenishing its exhibition with new finds, as a result of the ongoing archaeological research and the restoration works conducted in the area by members of the Greek Archaeological Service.

In just 10 years, the Acropolis Museum has grown into a leading world museum, with a highly scientific programme, a very competent restoration, and conservation department, strong cultural-museological management, and a suite of dynamic projects for the future. Therefore, one can only regret the more deeply that not all surviving parts of the Parthenon Sculptures – a number of them are dispersed in other museums and collections besides the British Museum – are today reunited in this beautiful museum.

unnamed-4

The most important collection of Parthenon Sculptures abroad is actually on – poor – display in the British Museum in London. They were “taken” by the British diplomat Lord Elgin with a view to decorating his mansion in Scotland, at the beginning of the 19th century, at a time when Greece was under Ottoman rule. In the process, several were destroyed. Financial problems too meant that he had to sell the Sculptures, which finally were purchased from Lord Elgin by Act of the British Parliament and entrusted to the care of the Trustees of the British Museum. The young free Hellenic State began negotiations for the return of the Sculptures as early as 1842. A crucial turning point came in 1984 when Melina Mercouri, then Minister of Culture, made a formal request to the British Museum for the return of the Sculptures to Greece and simultaneous a request to UNESCO, which was immediately entered on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Committee on the Return of Cultural Goods to the Countries of Origin. The claim from Greek governmental side for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures is regularly repeated, without reference to legality, but the stance of the British Museum Director and Trustees – a harsh ‘no’, without even a willingness to enter into formal discussions – remains unchanged until today.

unnamed-3

The reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum in Athens is not only a claim made by Greece. It is supported by International Cultural Organizations and by individuals worldwide. The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures (IARPS), founded in 2005 and consisting of 20 national committees, spread over 18 countries, supports the claim for reunification, in close collaboration with the Greek authorities, who do not wish to engage in litigation at this moment, but prefer a policy of cultural diplomacy. A policy line that the IARPS respects. New approaches are therefore necessary to reach a breakthrough in the dispute. As the Parthenon Sculptures were made for and constitute an intrinsic part of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis – an emblematic building, symbol of Western Democracy and recognized as a World Cultural Heritage, it is above all, a moral obligation to return and to reunify all the surviving Parthenon Sculptures in the Acropolis Museum, where they are in direct visual contact with the Parthenon temple. Only in this way they can continue satisfactorily to fulfill their mission: testimony to the great craftsmanship of the ancient sculptors in the 5th century BC and a reminder of the origins of Democracy.

Dr. Christiane Tytgat
Historian – Archaeologist
President International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures
President of the Belgian Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflections on the imperative of reunification

 

We have produced this audio-visual work to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum.

This work begins with a contemplative mood built using static images yet conveying the impression of movement with panning and zooming techniques.

Revealing dynamic relations between the ancient monuments of Attica[1] and their biophysical environment, the work moves on into the Acropolis museum. Here it exposes the museum’s creative use of this dynamism.

Cutting to the British Museum, the work becomes more disjointed, the music more discordant.  Then images of protest dominate.

The only voiced segment follows.

Marlen Godwin, Secretary of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM), reads a poem written by Mrs Eyvah T. Dafaranos.

Next, Dame Janet Suzman, Chair of BCRPM reads from an interview with the current Lord Elgin.

The work closes with a simple installation created by a Greek Australian.

Lina Palera’s beautiful music, Seikilos Epitaph With the Lyre of Apollo from the Lyre 20 Project [2], lifts this work blending flawlessly with the images. There is some beautiful lyre music throughout.


[1] See: British Museum Diminishes the meaning of the Parthenon Marbles

[2] Attribution Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From our founder and chair, Emanuel J Comino AM

In April of this year, accompanied by Russell Darnley OAM, I was privileged to attend the International Conference on the Parthenon Sculptures, by invitation of the President of Hellas HE Prokopios Pavlopoulos.

IMG_7883

HE Prokopios Pavlopoulos addressing the International Conference on the Parthenon Sculptures.

It was a great honour, not only to speak at this conference but also to be elected as the Vice Chair of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, (IARPS) following the conference.

Our Campaign

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum, it is an appropriate time to review how far we have come in campaigning for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

IMG_7806

Delegates to the recent International Conference on the Parthenon Sculptures gathering in front of the Acropolis Museum for the opening on Sunday 14 April 2019.

When I established the IOC-A-RPM in 1981, it was the first group outside Greece to campaign for their return. Back then the British used argued that there was no place to display all of the Parthenon Marbles in Athens.  This is an argument they can no longer use.

I remember the Greek Minister for Culture, Melina Mercouri, very well.  She helped begin the modern movement for return. I met with her when she came to Australia in March 1983, and she encouraged me to do whatever I could to support the new British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles (BCRPM).

She really raised the profile of this campaign and I will never forget her. We can never thank her enough.

Over the last 43 years, I’ve carried out an on-going program of talks and lecture all over the world, for community groups, schools, universities, conferences and many more.

Some of the work has involved writing books and pamphlets. In the digital era, we maintain an active presence on Facebook, Instagram, and  Twitter. 

As readers of this blog will know, we have both directly organised, and assisted in the organisation, of three international conferences on the Parthenon Marbles over the last seven years (2012, 2013 and 2015).

The work ahead

There is still much work ahead of us, and there is no single or simple strategy for securing the return of the Parthenon Marbles.

Sometimes people suggest the way forward is taking the United Kingdom government to court. Our view is that this is a dead end, with slim chances of success. Litigation has also been rejected by Greek governments of all political persuasion.

I have spoken with three Greek Ministers for Culture, from three different political parties. They all gave me the same answer, Greece is not interested in going to court only in seeking return diplomatically, politically and through UNESCO. We support Greece’s position. If the strategy changes, we will continue to support them.

Greece has already achieved much diplomatically. Every three years the UN General Assembly adopts a Resolution entitled ‘Return or Restitution of Cultural Property to the countries of origin’. It is introduced by Greece and is an important tool in Greece’s Cultural Diplomacy. The Resolution encompasses restitution of the Parthenon Sculptures. It was last adopted on December 13th, 2018.

UNESCO is another important area of Greece’s cultural diplomacy. Parthenon Sculptures are an important focus of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP). In May 2018, the ICPRCP called upon Greece and the UK to reach a settlement of this long-standing issue, taking into account its historical, cultural, legal and ethical dimensions, while recalling that the Acropolis of Athens is an emblematic monument of outstanding universal value, inscribed in the World Heritage List.

When we consider the diplomatic and political possibilities there are many. Educating public opinion is key. Knowledge of the issue has already led to a huge shift in world opinion and now sees a majority of people in many countries, including the UK, favouring return.

The future

Support for return is increasingly strong and creative, amongst the so-called millennials.

The BCRPM  has extended support  Petros Papadopoulos who has been addressing crowds in the Parthenon Room of the British Museum. In his address Petros said:

The Parthenon sculptures that have been held in this room, right here, where time has frozen for 200 years, these artefacts cannot be fully appreciated in this situation. How can they, when they’ve been decapitated, in bits and pieces all over the world? There is an urgent need for this monument to be reunified…this is not a Greek matter, it’s a matter for the world, it’s a matter for humanity.

inside the British Museum. Petros is part of a new wave of campaigners calling for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. We applaud this initiative. It is the first of many.

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 13.32.12 (1)

Following on from this, we have been cooperating with the BCRPM to support singer-songwriter Héllena Micy who will be releasing the song The Parthenon Marbles (bring them back), to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of the new Acropolis Museum, on June 20.

There is great scope for creative use of the arts in the campaign as Héllena’s work reveals.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Acropolis Museum outstanding in every way

Since the formation of this committee in 1981, our members have made frequent visits to both the British Museum and over the past 10 years since it’s inception, the Acropolis Museum. It goes without saying that the Acropolis Museum is peerless, an outstanding example of world’s best practice in 21st Century Museology.

Fair and morally imperative

Opening the recent international conference, The reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos affirmed that the, “reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is institutionally fair and morally imperative.”

Co-organised by the Presidency of the Republic, the Ministry of Culture and Sport, the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures and the Acropolis Museum, the event was held in the Museums amphitheatre

The Parthenon’s colourful frieze

One of the highlights of the visit, apart from the remarkable presence that all of the sculpture have at the foot of the Parthenon, were the new audiovisual displays. We wasted no time in capturing a few moments of the display on an iPhone. Apologies for the poor quality images.

Posted in Athens, Greece, Parthenon, Parthenon Marbles, Parthenon Sculptures | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Song About the Parthenon Marbles

 

A brilliant and sincere exposition of the case for the Reunification from @HellenaMicy, broadcast on Facebook live for World Heritage Day ΕΠΙΣΤΡΟΦΗ

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment