Monthly Archives: February 2013

Cultural Heritage? Banksy and the Elgin Marbles

It seems that the shoe is on the other foot. The Banksy Mural that has been removed from the wall of a Poundland shop in North London is up for auction in America. The auctioneer says it is all above board, enquiries have been made and the sale is legitimate. I believe him. No self respecting art auction house would put themselves in the position of selling stolen Banksys. The legitimacy of the sale is not really the point though. Banksy creates street art, not commercial pieces designed to be sold to the highest bidder. He appeals to the general public to spread political messages or just entertain. Marc Shiller uses the phrase “location specific commentary” to describe the works and also this:

“I’m not buying the argument that because Banksy put a piece in public it gives a person the right to steal and resell it,” he said. “When he is on the street he is giving his work to the public to enjoy for a day, a month, a year or more. His position has been that if you take his work out of its context it’s not his work any more, it’s no longer a Banksy.”

From the Guardian

Apparently the auction house has received threatening phone calls and messages about their involvement in the sale of this piece of work. There is outrage, there are also secrets, the seller has not made themselves public. This is within the seller’s right to remain anonymous, but by doing so is creating a furore about who they are and what right they had to remove the mural. For all we know this is Banksy himself trying to prove a point.

Maybe, though we should be looking at this from a different viewpoint. Is this how the people of Greece felt when the Elgin Marbles were removed and put into a museum for the British public to see? Did they wonder who had the right to remove these works that they had access to and could see on a daily basis if they wanted to and take them to another country? I am sure they did (and still do). According to the British authorities all the paperwork was in order and legitimate, nothing untoward had been done. I am not going to go into the minutiae of the Elgin Marbles case, but I want to highlight the longstanding debate about having cultural objects in museums.

I felt that my understanding of this issue was highlighted when I saw Henry VIII’s armour in the Met Museum in New York. I knew it was in there, I had seen it on a (admittedly trashy) tv show. However, when I stood there in front of it, I had a feeling of resentment. Why was it in this museum? What did they know about Henry VIII? Why wasn’t it in the Tower of London or at the Royal Armouries? It is housed in a room with armour from all over the world, but I didn’t have the same feeling about the other pieces in there. It was because it felt personal. I then realised that I was a little more enlightened about how other people must feel about the Elgin Marbles, and now the Banksy.

There are many objects that are in museums that are from other cultures, that must have a specific meaning to peoples and cultures. These objects are part of what makes museums places to go, all part of the experience. I don’t have an answer to the long standing debate, I am a supporter of original objects in museums, but also support the legitimate acquisition of these objects. I just feel that everyone should see something in a museum that gives them the feeling that it is theirs in order to better understand this debate.

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Enthusiasm about museums

After Christmas and a slow start to January, I think I am getting back into a routine with my dissertation. I have made myself try and review a journal article every weekday. On top if this I have been busy organising my museums. I think I have cracked it now! I decided I needed to actually go and speak with some people to help me get on with it, so I took a day trip to Oxford. This was the best idea ever!

Meeting my contacts at the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers, not only helped me plan the logistics of the study, but also helped me to articulate the project and my goals. It gave me the opportunity to explain in person what I wanted to do, how I thought I was going to do it and that I wasn’t entirely sure of the exact outcomes yet, but that was part of the design. The feedback and discussion provided an opportunity to highlight some of the gaps in my plans and create a constructive platform to fix them. I found that discussing the project gave me more confidence in it. My main worry is now that the photos actually come out!

The trip to Oxford also gave me a fun day out. I spent about two hours in the Pitt Rivers Museum and four in the Ashmolean. As it was a Thursday and not a holiday, I had some of the Ashmolean galleries to myself. I went on a tour and had a chat with the museum assistants too. After a tough day (very tough on the feet anyway) I met a friend in the Bird and Baby and had a filling dinner. I am looking forward to going back for a few days and getting the interviews done.

Since I completed what could be termed as a site visit, I have had a surge in enthusiasm, ideas and focus. I now have an excellent selection of fee charging and free museums, run by local authorities, independently or nationally, and my first test subjects visitors are taking photos on Saturday. I have even got a rough plan of the structure of my dissertation. However, I am now not sure that 30,000 words is going to be enough…

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Richard III

A while ago, I posted musing on whether the bones in the car park could be Richard III. I have to admit I was hopeful and excited. I was pleased that they were. Not only because it is an amazing discovery, part of my favourite period of history and I am lucky enough to work for the University of Leicester. But also because, I feel it shows that hard work, research and scientific methods can pay off. Yes, there has been criticism that the University has played up to the press, but this wasn’t a small discovery. I am fairly confident that any other university would have done the same.

The confirmation of the bones now raises more questions, but also answers some. There had always been a difference of opinion about the hunchback and physical deformity of the Tudor portrayal of Richard III. He was the baddie. He was ugly and evil and killed the Princes, his nephews in the Tower. Now some of this has been proven to be true. Richard suffered from scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. It has been said that it may have been well hidden during his reign, it wasn’t a hunchback like the Tudors said, but it had obviously given the Tudors something to work with. The facial reconstruction also shows that the portraits of Richard weren’t far from a likeness, they had just been “edited” to make them look harsh and brooding. Henry VII had a tough job, he had to convince the general populace that he was the rightful king and they should follow him. That process must have begun before the Battle of Bosworth or the Stanley family would not have changed sides.

The story of the Princes in the Tower will always be a mystery. Finding Richard neither confirms, denies or proves who killed them or if they were killed. The only thing that can be proven is that the bones in Westminster are actually the princes. However, this plan has already been vetoed.
The Princes in the Tower
Richard certainly would have benefitted from the removal of his nephews, but they had already been declared illegitimate. I would assume that at the time this may have not been widely accepted. Their disappearance led to a whole host of apparent heirs to the throne after Richard’s time. Let us not forget that they also stood in the way of Henry VII’s claim to the throne. They were at least sons of a king. Henry’s followers could have been as much a part of the conspiracy to remove them, to make Richard look like a tyrant and also clear the path a little more for Henry. Richard was going to be Lord Protector until Edward V came of age after all.

As for the burial…I risk sounding unpopular and biased now…Leicester is most appropriate. We are not rewriting history only reburying close to his lost resting place. Some people have said he wanted to be buried in York, I would be pleased to be pointed to where this is documented (this is without sarcasm, I would genuinely be interested). Westminster is also not where every monarch is buried, some are there, some are in Winchester, some are in St George’s Chapel in Windsor and a whole bunch of them are buried in France!

I have to say for certain, it is an exciting time to be a trustee of the local museums at the moment. I am looking forward to people visiting the city to learn about it’s history and see it’s collections.

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