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International conference at the New Acropolis Museum March 15, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Museums, Shows & Conferences, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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The place, the viewpoint and the general atmosphere of the conference on the return of cultural property for the first international meeting at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

15-03-08_new_acropolis_museum.jpg  The photograph is from the Greek Cultural Foundation’s leaflet ‘The New Acropolis Museum’

Nobody can stop an idea whose time has finally come. This blog has written on several occasions about how the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles has gone from being a national demand to an international imperative, supported by leading figures from around the world who want to see the parts of the UNESCO-listed monument reunited.

But it will take more than being in the right to get back the marbles that Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin, dismantled, stole and took away in 1801, when Athens was under Ottoman rule. With the permission of the sultan, Lord Elgin, then the British ambassador to Constantinople, had the Parthenon friezes cut up and transported to England, where they were bought by the British government. It, in turn, donated them to the British Museum in London where they have remained since.

What was needed, as Melina Mercouri told a plenary session of UNESCO in 1982, when, as the country’s Culture Minister, she initiated her campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, was “a new museum to house them,” given that the existing Acropolis Museum was already full. In order to build the Museum, Mercouri’s husband, the noted American-born French filmmaker Jules Dassin created the Melina Mercouri Foundation, to which he donated his fortune.

The state undertook the project, putting distinguished architect Dimitris Pantermalis at the helm. Renowned architect Bernard Tschumi collaborated with Greek architect Michalis Fotiadis in designing the project that is today coming to fruition opposite the Acropolis.

While the British Museum continues to insist that the Parthenon marbles should stay in the English capital where visitors from all over the world come to see them in the Duveen Gallery, its position is weakening. The upper floor of the New Acropolis Museum will showcase the surviving marbles, together with copies of those in the British Museum so as to show a complete picture of this matchless work of art.

This blog believes that they will return to their place of origin under pressure from the public and governments. One promising indication is that countries and museums around the world are starting to return works of art to the places from which they were removed due to wear, bombardment or illegal activities.

An international conference on the return of cultural property starts Monday, March 17, at the New Acropolis Museum, organized by UNESCO and the Greek Culture Ministry. It is the first in a series of international gatherings organized by UNESCO and its member states to foster awareness and provide a forum for reflection and exchanges on the issue of the return of cultural property.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias will attend the opening of the conference. Culture Minister Michalis Liapis and UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francoise Riviere will greet the participants. The event is coordinated by Vivi Vassilopoulou, the general manager of antiquities and cultural heritage at the Greek Culture Ministry.

For two days, the conference will address the issue, with examples ranging from Italy’s return of an obelisk to Ethiopia to the return by Edinburgh of Aboriginal remains to Australia. There’s a strong feeling among journalists that Elena Korka, the head of the Culture Ministry’s directorate of prehistoric and classical antiquities, will seize upon the opportunity presented by the conference to raise the issue of the Parthenon Marbles, because nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

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