Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Police Posse to "Raise Awareness" About ICOM "Red List of Afghan Antiquities at Risk"

The Metropolitan Police in the London have announced a special initiative to warn off art and antiquities dealers from purchasing "looted" Afghan artifacts:

As the article states,

12 volunteer 'ArtBeat' special constables drawn from the art world, including one at the British Museum, will help the Met's Art and Antiques Unit police the industry. On Monday they started visiting art dealers, auction houses, museums and collectors across London to "raise awareness" about the stolen Afghan items.

Its not clear whether these "ArtBeat" special constables will mainly concern themselves with potential violations of the U.K.'s Cultural Objects (Offenses) Act of 2003 see:, or whether they will instead act as some sort of posse for ICOM and its "Red List of Afghan Antiquities at Risk."

More about the Red List can be found here:

If the latter, I fear any such operation could quickly degenerate into some sort of witch hunt that assumes a holder of an artifact of potential Afghan origin is "guilty" until he proves himself innocent to the satisfaction of those not necessarily friendly to the concept of collecting.

Certainly, the breadth of the definitions of the "Afghan Antiquities" supposedly at risk should should give one pause. Here, for example is a how the list describes Afghan coins:

Antique coins, of bronze, silver and gold, are hand stamped. Pre-Islamic coins usually include the portraits of the king on one side and the divinities on the reverse. Islamic examples are decorated only with Arabic script.

Finally, note that both the State Department’s ECA and such activists as SAFE are partners in the larger ICOM effort: One certainly gets the feeling that ECA and groups such as ICOM and SAFE work hand in hand to encourage cultural bureaucracies in source countries to take the hard line against collectors. In any event, it should also obviously concern anyone interested in fair play that our State Department is acting in concert with activists who in theory at least are supposed to appear before the ECA's Cultural Property Advisory Committee on equal footing with everyone else.

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