African Art Is Under Threat

Posted August 2nd, 2012 under Africa, Art History, Mali, Nigeria


“A few weeks ago the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, announced the acquisition of an American private collection of 32 exquisite bronze and ivory sculptures produced in what is now Nigeria between the 13th and 16th centuries. Within days the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments claimed, via an Internet statement, that the objects had been pillaged by the British military in the late 19th century and should be given back”, writes The New York Times.

“More chilling were reports last month of cultural property being destroyed in Timbuktu, Mali, some 200 miles north of Djenne. Islamist groups, affiliated with Al Qaeda, have singled out Sufism, a moderate, mystical form of Islam widespread in Mali, for attack. In Timbuktu, with its Koranic schools and manuscript libraries, they have begun leveling the tombs of Sufi saints, objects of popular devotion.

In short, the wars over art as cultural property take many forms: material, political and ideological. On the surface the dynamics may seem clear cut, the good guys and bad guys easy to identify. In reality the conflicts are multifaceted, questions of innocence and guilt often — though not always — hard to nail down. In many accounts Africa is presented as the acted-upon party to the drama, the loser in the heritage fight, though such is not necessarily the case, and it certainly doesn’t have to be, and won’t be if we acknowledge Africa as the determining voice in every conversation. ”

Read on at The New York Times.

Die Welt/Worldcrunch: In Timbuktu, Protecting Priceless Manuscripts From Senseless Destruction: In northern Mali, Islamist extremists are on a rampage, destroying Sufi Muslim shrines and historical treasures. In a Timbuktu library, a man has vowed to protect his precious manuscripts from the fundamentalist wrath that has taken over the city. Read the story here.

Photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times

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