Monday, February 12, 2018

ICOM Red Lists-- Far More Transparency Needed

The Art Newspaper has reported on the unveiling of  the latest ICOM/US State Department Bureau of Cultural Affairs "Red List," this time for war torn Yemen.

If recent history is any guide, the US State Department funded list will now be used to help justify and frame US State Department promulgated "emergency import restrictions" on anything and everything of a type identified as "Yemeni" with the aim to suppress collecting any such artifacts in the near future.

As an ICOM official stated, "We are now strongly advising collectors to avoid the objects on the list altogether, or at least to be extra cautious and thoroughly check the legality of provenance,” says France Desmarais, the director of programmes and partnerships at Icom.  Only the Yemeni government is authorised to issue documents for the export and import of cultural goods, so how likely is it that collectors will be able to obtain such licences? “It’s difficult, but not impossible,” Desmarais says. “It is important to respect the sovereignty of nations, so if it is required by law, we must abide.”

Given the stated intent of such lists, their proliferation and their US Government funding, there needs to be far more transparency about how these lists are created, who creates them, their funding, and how they relate to US law which reserves US "independent judgment" in such matters.

Moreover,  publication of the Yemeni Red List raises particular questions whether such objects that may be seized by Customs authorities should be returned to a country in the midst of a civil war or offered "safe harbor"and whether artifacts of Yemen's displaced Jewish community should be returned at all.

Efforts to seek more specifics about these lists were met with a dismissive reference to an accompanying press kit.  The International Council of Museums is a NGO with ties to UNESCO.