A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
África, un continente objeto del robo de arte
02/09/2005 -found at Islas Canarias
Africa, a continent whose art is stolen
Several African countries, like Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Egypt, are becoming scene of organized art looting.
Old works appear "suddenly" in catalogues of the main western auction sales houses. Throw a glance to the pages in Internet of the Sotheby's auctions house in London. Next 30 September '05, during an auction in Paris, the well-known auction house will put on sale a "Commemorative Plaque of Benín " dated 1600. Esteem that will reach a value of between 200,000 and 300,000 euros. The auction of Paris will offer "African, oceanic and pre-Columbian art, coming from a private collection". The market for the African art is international, with buyers and salesmen of United States, Europe and Asia participating in the auctions of Sotheby's. The sales of Sotheby's offer works of art made "at the beginning of XX century or end of the XIX and destined for their use in rituals or ceremonies within the traditional cultures of sub-Saharian Africa", according to the informations of the auctions house. There are no concrete reasons to think that these articles offered in the auction of the 30 of September in Sotheby's can have a doubtful origin, something that Afrol News is not raising. It does not have, on the other hand, guarantees of which could be concluded that the commemorative plaque of the old empire of Benín, located in Nigeria, has been obtained of a legal way.
In fact, when African art is bought, oceanic and pre-Columbian, one has many less possibilities of documenting the origin that when it buys an European work. And the statutes of Sotheby's give clearly the responsibility to the selling owner - not to them - in which they must assure that the art works have been bought legally in their country of origin.
Valérie Jullien, of the Council the International of Museums (ICOM, by its English abbreviations), nevertheless, confirms to the Norwegian newspaper ' Aftenposten' that the buyers, often, take robbed African merchandise home from art famous auctions houses. "Recently, they condemned one of the known New York art retailers to have taken part in robberies in one from the historical areas from Egypt", says Jullien. The African North, main scene of looting North Africa, with its rich cultural patrimony - specially in the valley of the Nile and throughout the Mediterranean coast - has been an important scene of artwork robberies from the pharaonic times.
The robberies on the western part began with "the Egyptian" campaign of Napoleón between 1798 and 1799; the results can still be admired in the Parisian Museum of the Louvre and in other European capitals.
The art robberies were made, initially, during the colonization, but the governments who have taken more preoccupations to their patrimony have controlled a bit after the independence in North Africa.
The governments of the poor countries of Western Africa, nevertheless, have less control on the robberies of their cultural patrimony.
This fact - and the high artistic level of the old empires of Ghana (between VII and XII century), in the present Mali and Mauritania (between XII and XV century) , in which nowadays is Mali, Guinea and Senegal, of Songhay (XV and XVIcenturies ) in present Mali and Burkina Faso and of Benín (between XVI century until 1898 ) in the present southern Nigeria- more and more the region in the front sight of plunderers and art dealers.
The archaeologists complain, in impoverished parts of the west of Africa, whole villages are implied in the robberies and negotiate articles of the excavation sites .
The high level of corruption between civilian employees, at the same time makes the contraband easy of great amounts of old objects outside the country.
Kléna Sanogo, of the Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako (Mali), says that the phenomenon of the looting of cultural objects of Mali "has grown progressively at an extensive commercial level that has reached today a proportion that nobody would hesitate denominating a "cultural genocide".
In addition to the most important factor that is the internationalisation of the art market, Sanogo fault the "spectacular increase of the looting of cultural material" to a zero existence of local conscience and pride in the cultural roots of the region.
Sanogo establishes "the fact that the idea of patrimony, developed around the cultural material and of archaeological sites, does not correspond to the cultural reality according to the local residents. "
The non deliberate destruction of the cultural patrimony is an equal problem to the one of the looting.
The robbery of artistic pieces, a business organized since the 70's years, the robbery of art in the region of the West African has happened to be, something occasional, and became an organized business.
Old local residents once in a while found jewels, old pieces of ceramics and other objects. These articles were sold, mainly, locally. Now, sale channels have settled down and the most valuable articles reach easily international markets .
The illicit excavations of archaeological sites, in weight, are "to a great extent most destructive and the dangerous form" of intentional looting, says Sanogo.
"In fact, the archaeological objects removed from the context fail to take advantage of scientifical studies", complains Jullien of ICOM.
He indicates that "specially in Africa, many of the old societies were total or partially without written culture. The conservation of the material culture is, therefore, essential to document the history of Africa ", he emphasizes.
As much the great interest for old art of West Africa in the international market as the facility with which it negotiates represents the major key of the problem of the looting.
The stolen art is easily available in the market, according to Patrick J. Darling, of the School of Sciences of Conservation of the African Legacy in United Kingdom. - In the 80's, bronzes of Jenne were robbed in Mali, and pieces dated between XV and XVII centuries were robbed in Komaland , Ghana and Bankoni in Mali, and sold.
"Apparently, works of Bankoni still are in the market, but the bronzes of Jenne are more difficult to find now".
The level of these sales, nevertheless, was insignificant in comparison with "the massive affluence" in Europe, at recent times, of terra-cottas of 2000 years of antiquity stolen in Sokoto, in the north of Nigeria - coming from the old cultures of Nok and Kwatakwashi.
Once excavated, exported and sold in the west, it is almost impossible that these old pieces are recovered.
The international right - that is to say, the "Convention on the average ones to prohibit and to prevent the import, export and transference of the illicit property of cultural patrimony", made by the UN in 1970 - only anticipates, in theory, the illegally exported cultural article return.
The main problem is that there are only 92 states participating in this convention, and these include, mainly, to those states where it has had and it continues being a problem of sacking cultural patrimony.
Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Egypt signed the convention, like western states like Italy, Greece, Spain or France.
- This silenced subject will have to be treated, demand Patrick Darling.
"If no, there is nothing of cultural value in Western Africa, being in damage of the entire world."
The news yielded by: © afrol News
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