Friday, August 20, 2010

Focus, Special Report: Art Crime in Cambodia

Through the online Museum Security listserv, I've come across this video (here), a newscast from the Focus program, hosted by the France 24 International News network. Centering around the recent return of several pieces of Khmer statuary to Cambodia from the US, under the auspices/pomp and circumstance of the US State department, the video then goes further, discussing some more recent thefts, such as those now occurring from active Buddhist monasteries throughout SE Asia. An excellent teleconference interview is then conducted with Christopher Marinello, of the Art Loss Register in London.

In regards to the ongoing theft of early Historic and Angkorian statuary from more remote outlying temples, Mr. Marinello makes the good, but entirely obvious point that it's all about following the money. People coerced into looting believe they'll be automatically lifted out of poverty forever by the middlemen who con them, private dealers will pay millions and spend inordinate amounts of time planning "thefts to order," and the local law enforcement in many countries, including Heritage Police in Cambodia, are unfortunately still quite underfunded in response. As the video highlights well, the flow of money and artifacts these days is not merely from poorer non-Western countries to richer Western countries, but is transnational in the broadest sense of that word.

In my opinion, resources like the Art Loss Register can be a meaningful aid in the recovery of those large pieces that would most likely eventually be noticed to be missing (if, as noted, individuals and countries come forward to report the thefts), but much less effective in dealing with the no-questions asked antiquities trade that continue to fuel the destruction of prehistoric sites in Cambodia (and elsewhere). I have heard tell via online contacts that a "registry" system was proposed to the members of various dealer and "responsible" collector groups as a way to better sort those licit items in circulation for decades from those recently surfaced, but I have yet to see or hear of any initial implimentation of this idea. All in all, I commend France 24 International News for airing this expose and helping to give more exposure to the looting problem in Cambodia, but would've liked to have seen a segment detailing the threat to prehistoric sites, from which followers of this blog (and Heritage Watch) would know the majority of artifacts come from.

1 comment:

  1. It's a shame people do this. They don't appreciate the art or collectibles at all - they just want the money.

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