Colette Loll is founder and director of Art Fraud Insights, a consultancy dedicated to art crime lectures, training, and specialized investigations. She trains Federal agents in forgery investigations and recently was selected to develop a proactive anti-fraud initiative for eBay, the largest online art marketplace in the United States. She is currently serving as a Senior Advisor to the SmartWater Foundation, which is providing traceable forensic protection to cultural objects at risk.
Ms. Loll, as the founder and director of Art Fraud Insights, you’ve worked closely with the online art market, developing a proactive anti-fraud initiative for eBay that identified Suspect Sellers and quantified the vast number of listings in the Art Marketplace that contained deceptive information and were in violation of the Art Selling Policy. Do you sense a growing awareness in the legitimate market about the illicit trade in ancient art?
I think many people are still shocked to hear the scope of it. However, with all the press related to this issue, it is harder and harder for anyone to claim an innocent owner defense. There is no excuse for not understanding the importance of proper due diligence when purchasing antiquities. However, one issue that remains is that the definition of what constitutes “proper due diligence” is still very broad and subjective—and many don’t think this applies to online sales. Obviously, online sales are not exempt from proper due diligence practices.
In his brief, Dr. Brodie warns that cultural racketeering is putting both online companies and consumers at risk of unknowingly facilitating criminal activity, or even funding violent extremist organizations like Daesh (ISIS)? Based on your experience with art dealers and collectors, how big is this risk, and is enough being done to address it?
The risk is not just from purchases made on traditional e-marketplaces, but through illicit e-commerce sites, social media and the dark web. The vastness of these networks is hard to comprehend for the average consumer, especially when they may be new to purchasing art objects online. Through my research at eBay, we discovered that 2/3 of listings in our studied segment of the art marketplace did not conform to
their own Art Selling policy, with misleading, omitted or incorrect provenance information being one of the largest offenses Sellers make. I don’t think enough is being done to shut down the Sellers that are known bad actors. Many of them are well known to the industry for their illicit practices, yet they continue to operate unimpeded by online marketplaces that are reluctant to police their own sites.Or simply don’t have the resources or knowledge to do so effectively. It’s a very time-consuming process to scan listings and report offenders. It takes specialized knowledge.
In response to these risks, Dr. Brodie has proposed a number of possible solutions, aimed at raising consumer awareness and introducing workable regulation. It is his hope that these would encourage the emergence of a legitimate trade, while beginning to rid the internet of looted and faked antiquities. What are your thoughts on these solutions and what else can be done?
I think we need to start with a broad consumer awareness campaign aimed at affecting the demand side of the equation. Like what the Fashion industry did when collaborating on its “You Can’t Fake Fashion” campaign aimed at consumers buying cheap knock-offs online. Luxury brand manufacturers are aggressively trying to fight the growing problem of counterfeits by educating consumers that these products compromise the rights, revenues and reputation of manufacturers, not to mention contribute to unfair labor practices and organized crime activity. The stakes are even higher with illicit antiquities, as our collective cultural heritage is at risk. We need to start making the public more broadly aware—this should start with the major online retailers.
“Everyday someone turns up an antiquity by virtue of chance… then what happens? That is the darkest chapter.” This was the response of Maxwell Anderson, the author of Antiquities: What Everyone Needs to Know, when asked what drove him to write his latest book.
Experts in the field gathered at an event hosted by the Antiquities Coalition on October 26 to discuss this question’s implications, while celebrating the excellent penmanship of Anderson—notably his ability to provide insights into the museum world, in a packaging that is accessible to everyone.
The high-level discourse was representative of the overwhelming support in the field for scholarly work, excellent writing, and raising awareness about the illicit trade.
Antiquities: What Everyone Needs to Know is one of the newer books in Oxford University Press’ acclaimed What Everyone Needs to Know series, and Anderson undertook the challenge of informing his readership about the field artfully, and in a way that successfully continues to instill awareness about the illicit trade to those who delve into its pages.
To read our full book review of Antiquities: What Everyone Needs to Know, click here.
To learn more about the author, and read his other books, click visit his website.
Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson has researched, published, and presented exhibitions of ancient artworks for more than thirty years. He was a curator in the Department of Greek and Roman Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for over six years and more recently at the Dallas Museum of Art. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the New Cities Foundation.
Law enforcement agents, lawyers, and archaeologists have warned that cultural heritage is being used as a terrorist financing tool and weapon of war throughout Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. Moreover, the problem will not go away with the recent defeats suffered by Daesh (ISIS), and may in fact be entering a dangerous new phase.
“It’s business as usual,” said Dr. Amr al-Azm, a Syrian archaeologist, describing the region’s trade in conflict antiquities. While looters may have changed allegiances from Daesh to other armed forces, an active traffic continues, and will not stop with the recent liberation of Raqqa by Syrian Democratic Forces. Dr. Amr al-Azm is a Board Member at The Day After Project, an Antiquities Coalition partner, which is working to support democratic transition in Syria.
He and other leading experts were speaking at “Preserving Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict,” a three-day conference held at Colgate University to explore diplomatic, policy, and legal solutions to the current crisis. The United States has an important role to play in this fight, according to organizer Dr. Michael Danti, who served on the Antiquities Coalition’s #CultureUnderThreat Task Force. “The art market is the largest lawful unregulated market,” said Danti, and it is centered in New York. By closing the American art market to so-called “blood antiquities,” the United States can do much to shut down the global traffic.
“Our laws and policy toward cultural racketeering are failing Iraq and Syria,” said Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, who noted that the international community has not learned lessons from the Cambodian Civil War and other earlier conflicts. She called on all countries to shut their borders to cultural objects from all countries in crisis—not just Iraq and Syria—but also Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen. She additionally urged the international community to incorporate cultural heritage preservation into all peacekeeping mandates and training, as well as post-conflict planning and recovery trust funds, and to prosecute crimes against culture along with other atrocity crimes.
Dr. al-Azm directly addressed those who claimed heritage should not be prioritized during conflict, given the immense humanitarian crisis, saying the two issues were interconnected. “People without their history, without their culture, are lost,” he said. “You have people on both sides of the conflict risking their lives to save this heritage at risk. Because this is not just saving the past, it is about saving the future for Syria, too.”
New York City is reeling from a ongoing legal battle over an ancient bull’s head—believed to have been looted by armed insurgents during the Lebanese Civil War—only to end up at the height of the Manhattan art world. This case made headlines in the Wall Street Journal, and was described in detail by the blog Chasing Aphrodite. To get a better understanding of the latest developments, we’re here with attorney Leila Amineddoleh, who is serving as an expert for the government.
What is your law firm’s role in cases like this?
When working on these matters, I advise governments on cultural heritage laws, interpreting US and foreign legislation and ownership laws. I also offer consultation services relating to legal analysis of art and heritage matters.
So, for this case, on September 22, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos went to the New York Supreme Court to repatriate this ancient bull’s head to Lebanon. In doing so he laid out its history—from when it was carved around 360 BC, to its rediscovery in archaeological excavations during the 1960s, to its alleged looting at the hands of armed militias during Lebanon’s bloody conflict. But then the piece just disappears for 15 years. How can that happen?
Sadly, this is the fate of many looted objects. When objects are stolen, they often enter the black market where they are exchanged with minimal paperwork. Individuals dealing in plundered goods intentionally avoid detection of their wares, and thus they do not document the sale and movement of these valuable objects. And for items plundered during conflict, the antiquities may disappear for decades; dealers often conceal illicit goods because their appearance on the market during an ongoing conflict may raise suspicions by law enforcement officials and art market players.
When the bull’s head finally resurfaces—again almost two decades later—it then goes through the hands of a “who’s who” from recent antiquities scandals and legal battles. Who are some of these people and where can our readers learn more about them?
One of the most interesting aspects of this case is that it involved so many art market participants involved in illicit market. I provided information about some of these individuals on my law firm’s blog. The list of players includes the owners of Phoenix Ancient Art, Hicham and Ali Aboutaam. They have been involved in many legal matters and were profiled by the Wall Street Journal this year. Robin Symes is notorious for his role in the trade of looted antiquities market, and he’s been linked with many other well-known corrupt dealers. Frederick Schultz is a former gallery owner and former president of the National Association of Dealers in Ancient, Oriental and Primitive Art, and he eventually served jail time for knowingly dealing in stolen Egyptian antiquities. Michael Steinhardt, known as “Wall Street’s Greatest Trader,” has defended himself many times over his art acquisitions, including a stolen golden phiale from southern Italy and a looted fresco from Pompeii. (This year, he was not only involved in this case, but also connected to the controversial sale of the purportedly stolen Guennol Stargazer.) Frieda Tchacos was also listed in this matter. She is a dealer with a record of violations for dealing in illicit antiquities. All of these individuals have faced legal action for the trade of looted objects.
The bull’s head eventually ended up on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—who to their credit—realized the piece may have been a conflict antiquity and then sounded the alarm. What responsibility do museums have in cases like this?
As Bogdanos stated in his filing, the Met acted “admirably” by informing authorities about the bull’s head’s problematic past. It can be difficult for museums to ascertain accurate information about objects being donated or sold to their institutions because individuals involved in the trade of loot conceal this information. To avoid the acquisition of stolen art and looted antiquities, museums should be completing due diligence because those institutions are stewards of our shared artistic and cultural heritage.
As a lawyer, what do you find most interesting about the case?
I think the most interesting aspect of this case relates to the Beierwaltes claim that they acted in good faith and weren’t aware of the looted nature of the sculpture. I don’t think it is a credible claim because the collectors are well-versed in the antiquities trade (their collection is worth tens of millions of dollars). I suspect that the collectors either knew about the work’s past or turned a blind eye towards its background.
What can collectors — and the art world more broadly — learn from this?
Collectors should realize that purchasing looted objects is never wise. Law enforcement can seize illicitly acquired items, rightful owners can litigate for restitution, and the aftermath of these legal maneuverings can be damaging, in terms of both reputation and finances. Collectors should use actual good faith to complete due diligence and avoid the purchase of plundered antiquities.
Finally, given the facts of this case, are you concerned that conflict antiquities looted from Iraq and Syria may be showing up on the “legitimate” art market in a decade or two?
I have no doubt that looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria will be appearing on the “legitimate” market within the next decade. These objects are already traded on the black market and on the internet, and it’s only a matter of time before they appear at major art outlets. As in past instances of looted and traded materials, I expect that these items will be accompanied with forged documentation, contrived stories about the works’ presence in pre-existing collections (as in the bogus provenance provided in the matter of the Ka Nefer Nefer funerary mask at the St. Louis Art Museum), or simply claims that objects cannot be repatriated without definitive proof of looting from a find spot. It is a sad state of affairs; unfortunately, the denial of knowledge and lack of good faith only worsens the situation and helps the trade in loot to thrive.
Note: This article contains spoilers for the “Uncharted: Lost Legacy” game.
THE LOOTING AND DESTRUCTION OF ANTIQUITIES AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES HAS PLAGUED COUNTRIES FACING TERRORISM, CONFLICT, AND INSTABILITY FOR DECADES. BUT CONFLICTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA (MENA) HAVE TAKEN CENTER STAGE IN RECENT YEARS FOLLOWING THE RISE OF ISIS.
As with any monumental global challenge, the recent crises have become the topics of popular culture stretching from television comedies, to drama, and even video games.
Images such as the destruction of Palmyra in Syria and the Mosul Museum in Iraq have become iconic reminders of how culture can be used as a weapon of war. Yet while these iconic images permeate the minds of archaeologists and policy makers, the greater American public is (understandably) not paying the same level of attention to the archaeologically-connected details of terrorist financing.
But the popularization of story lines related to ISIS, and to terrorism more broadly, has opened a new public audience to the very real threats facing our history. Threats to cultural heritage have made their way out of academic journals and policy papers and into the homes of millions of viewers around the world.
In the Show: Season 3, episode 2 “The Linchpin” begins with scenes that mirror one found across global headlines in February 2015: a dimly lit museum disrupted by the sounds of smashing antiquities as terrorists film themselves destroying ancient statues with sledgehammers.
In Reality: While the show may depict a fictional terrorist group in Algeria, the premises this is based on are a devastating reality for countries like Iraq where ISIS has committed these very acts, most notably in their deliberate destruction of the Mosul Museum.
Madam Secretary’s “The Linchpin” had more than 9 million viewers on the evening it aired. And while the show is merely a reflection of real life, the decision to make antiquities a central issue of the episode included real policy challenges faced on this very issue today.
In the Show: As the Elizabeth McCord (played by Téa Leoni) and Henry McCord (Tim Daly) discuss the devastation the remaining sites in the country may face, they ponder the options that could help save them. Elizabeth remarks, “State has a program to try and protect UNESCO sites but there’s barely any funding.”
In Reality: Fast forward to the present as the current administration eyes budget cuts to the State Department and critical heritage funding programs like the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH), these budget cuts are a very real obstacle in the way of our policy options to protect culture under threat today.
How much impact has this show had? Even lawmakers have paid attention to the issue as a result of this popular culture exposure. At a June 2017 House Financial Services Committee hearing entitled “The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade,” ranking member of the Committee Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado stated that he only knew about this issue as a result of its appearance on the show: “My experience of this comes mostly from watching Madam Secretary and the episodes they’ve had regarding stolen art and the destruction of antiquities.”
Gaming the Traffickers
While destruction is a central focus of some dramas, the idea of “tomb raiding” and “treasure hunting” draws different audiences. In August 2017, gaming developer Naughty Dog released “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy” for PlayStation 4, and while tomb-raiding games are nothing new, this one has some familiar parallels to what’s happening today.
In the Game: Set in India on the brink of civil war, the game centers on its two heroines (Chloe Frazier and Nadine Ross) securing the precious Tusk of Ganesh so that it does not fall into the hands of the insurgent leader and notorious antiquities trafficker, Asav. As they examine Asav’s stolen antiquities trove, Nadine asks Chloe “How much do you think it’s all worth?” Chloe replies, “Enough to keep his little insurrection going for quite some time.” He has been using looted antiquities to fund his terrorist activity and prolong the conflict, eventually utilizing the Tusk of Ganesh as payment to mercenaries for a bomb he plans to set off and send the country into full blown civil war. In the end, our two heritage (s)heroes defeat the trafficker, stop the bomb, and retrieve the Tusk – which they promptly decide to return to the Ministry of Culture rather than sell to a private collector for a larger financial gain.
In Reality: Of course unlike the game, India is not a country on the brink of civil war, however it is home to one of the kingpins of the antiquities trafficking world – Subhash Kapoor. Kapoor’s global antiquities trafficking operation included Manhattan, where he owned an antiquities gallery on Madison Avenue. As U.S. authorities built a case against him they seized more than $107 million worth of antiquities from India and southeast Asia that were confiscated from his New York warehouses.
Although Kapoor may not have been trafficking antiquities to fund a terrorist insurgency, one trafficker who was using antiquities to fund terrorist activity also served as a leading commander of ISIS. When U.S. Special Forces raided the compound of ISIS commander Abu Sayyaf in May 2015, they found documentsrecording an intricate antiquities trafficking scheme with receipts that amounted to roughly $1.25 million for just a three-month period. The diversified financing resources – including antiquities – utilized by ISIS has helped the group fund one of the most devastating insurgencies to ever hit the MENA region.
Another bonus of “Lost Legacy” that mirrors real life: throughout the game Chloe can pull out her smartphone to snap pics of the incredible sites she visits – a reminder that documentation, even in games, is always important.
Combating Looting with Comedy
Antiquities trafficking hasn’t just been a source of storyline inspiration for intense games and television dramas, comedy has also taken a stab at the topic. In Season 2 of the Netflix series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, writers used one episode as a way to dig into layers of the antiquities trafficking issue.
In the Show: In Season 2, Episode 3 “Kimmy Goes to a Play!” socialite Jacqueline White (played by Jane Krakowski) tries to think about how she will explain her empty new apartment to others in her social circle so they don’t suspect that she has financial troubles after her divorce. The response she devises pokes fun at how buyers of illicit antiquities may often ignore real warning signs. Jacqueline suggests, “For a few months I could pretend to be dealing with the decorator – or waiting for the wall hangings to get out of Syria. These sanctions are killing me!”
The episode parallels these challenges with the wall hanging that is already in her apartment, a painting she invested her final millions into – one that the series eventually reveals was looted by the Nazis during the Holocaust. As shallow as Jacqueline’s response on her imaginary Syria pieces was, her response to Holocaust restitution is more meaningful. Initially fears giving up the painting because of her financial losses, but she eventually returns the piece after taking a look into her own roots, which are – wait for it – Native American, Lakota Sioux to be exact. Jacqueline finds out from her parents that a “secret society at Yale” finally agreed to return her grandfather’s skull to the reservation. She realizes that her family’s heritage has been pillaged and feels for the Jewish family seeking return of their long-lost, Nazi-looted art.
In Reality: These days, new legislation has made it a challenge to get wall hangings or any other antiquities into the U.S. from Syria. In 2016, President Obama signed into law H.R. 1493 – The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, which prohibits the import of antiquities from Iraq and Syria while their heritage is at risk from ongoing instability and conflict.
Holocaust art has become another target of legislation in recent years. In April 2016, S.2763 – The Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 was introduced in the Senate in an effort to help the Jewish community recover artwork that had been stolen from families by Nazis during WWII. Aside from legislation, groups like the Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) document losses of Jewish art from WWII and help claimants with their retrieval of stolen pieces. In addition, the Jewish Virtual Library provides guidance on how to file a Holocaust art restitution claim, information this process is vital as families continue to recover their lost artwork.
The Native American community has also faced numerous instances of trafficking in their cultural heritage. While there are protections in place to thwart this trafficking at home, artifacts continue to be under threat. On June 21, 2017 U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico reintroduced one such protection. The bipartisan Safeguard Tribal Objects of Patrimony (STOP) Act, would prohibit the export of sacred Native American objects and increase penalties for illegally trafficking Native cultural property. One of the bill’s co-sponsors Tom Udall of New Mexico called the trafficking of Native artifacts “an assault on the cultural identity of Native American Tribes” noting, “Native Americans have been the victims of theft and looting for generations. We have passed laws to stop it, but people are exploiting the loopholes in our current laws to sell these objects as art.”
The writers of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt managed to embed multiple antiquities threats into their series — inception-style. This meta-episode on culture under threat highlights over a century of illicit trafficking in heritage that has deep connections to the communities it belongs to.
American television may have one-off episodes highlighting the cultural issues of our times, but when it comes to antiquities Egypt is never to be out done. This year, Egyptian writer Ahmad Al-Nahhas announced that he has developed an entire show dedicated to the issue of looting. Looting has plagued Egypt’s heritage for centuries, but since the Arab Spring in 2011 the problem has sharply risen as the process has industrialized.
The 30 episode series entitled “Al Lakia” was meant to be more than just a hit television series. The show’s director and writer Al-Nahhas wants to use the series as a platform to help inform the public on the importance on protecting heritage by using a topic that touches the lives of many Egyptians. Though Egypt is a major source country for antiquities, their recent bilateral cultural agreement with the United States signed in 2016 helped curb imports to one of the largest consumer nations for art and antiquities.
From market country media to source country series, it’s clear that the issue of antiquities in popular culture won’t be going away anytime soon, ensuring new audiences and demographics continue to be exposed to the importance of saving our past through their consumption of popular culture. Whether on eBay or at a gallery in Manhattan, buyers of antiquities should always beware of where their artifacts come from.
World-renowned archaeologist Zahi Hawass is the former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities and Director of Excavations at Giza, Saqqara, Bahariya Oasis, and the Valley of the Kings. Dr. We would like to congratulate Dr. Hawass on being named ‘Man of the Year; by the Telemed Foundation.
If you could have lived in any era in any civilization, when and where would it have been?
I would like to live during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu, the builder of the great pyramid. I lived in front of the great pyramid for years and tried to reveal the secrets of this great king for years. I have also worked on a book with Mark Lehner about the pyramids. Sometimes, I feel like I am living in this period, 4500 years ago. Once they crowned me with the crown of upper and lower Egypt like Khufu.
What is your most treasured possession?
My hat. I brought my hat from a store in Los Angeles to protect me from the sun in the field. Since then I have made many important discoveries with my hat. To the world, this hat has become a part of me. A company in China made a copy of my hat and that cost $45. All of the profits went to opening the new children’s museum. There is also an American company that sells a copy of my hat. Their profits got to a hospital in Luxor.
If you were not in this line of work, what would you want to be?
When I was young I wanted to be a lawyer, a diplomat, a police officer, and an adventurer. I joined the faculty of law, only to learn that I did not want to read about law. Then, I went into a government job, but the people there were not ambitious. I went into archaeology accidentally when I was 19, and when I made my first discovery, I found myself. Once, when I was giving a lecture, a young girl asked me about my passion. I said if you have passion you can do anything. I became all of the above defending Egyptian archaeology. If you went back and asked me what I wanted to be, now I know I would say an archaeologist.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
The happiest day of my life was when I had just returned to Egypt from the University of Pennsylvania. I opened I new tomb and found a statue of a dwarf. When I held the statue in my hand, I felt like I was holding my first son. I found a secret door inside this pyramid and through this door I found a tooth and the tomb of Hatshepsut. This was also very important to me because this was my answer to the people who claim aliens built the pyramids.
What s the last book you’ve read—that doesn’t have to do with work?
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. This is the second time I have read this book. It was made into a movie with Gary Cooper. The court case in this book is incredible and shows how people are dedicated to their values in this life. They do not let their values go and they fight for it.
WASHINGTON, DC, October 19, 2017 — The Antiquities Coalition congratulates, Audrey Azoulay, the French candidate, on her nomination to be the next Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). If confirmed by the full Unesco membership of 195, she will be the second women nominated to this post after Irina Bokova, her immediate predecessor.
Director General Bokova, during her time at UNESCO, has positioned it as the leading international institution in the fight against cultural racketeering. She has raised awareness about how violent extremist organizations, in addition to the tragic loss of life, have targeted the physical structures and historic artifacts that represent our shared history. We commend her for her actions and wish her well in future.
We welcome the leadership of Ms. Azoulay, the former Cultural Minister of France. Under her term, France announced a major initiative with the United Arab Emirates to protect cultural heritage, including the creation of the ALIPH fund to support conservation and preservation of historic sites and artifacts. We hope that the protection of cultural heritage will continue to remain a top priority of UNESCO under her leadership.
On the topic of leadership, we are disappointed that the United States has chosen to withdraw from UNESCO. The United States has been a key player in promoting education, cultural, and scientific pursuits around the world—and UNESCO has been an important part of this strategy. It is ironic that this action takes place in part of the American position alleging “anti-Israel bias” at UNESCO—just as the organization’s first Jewish Director-General is about to take office.
We urge the Administration to reconsider its position.
About the Antiquities Coalition
The Antiquities Coalition unites a diverse group of experts in the fight against cultural racketeering: the illicit trade in antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organizations. This plunder for profit funds crime and conflict around the world—erasing our past and threatening our future. The Coalition’s innovative and practical solutions tackle crimes against heritage head on, empowering communities and countries in crisis. Learn more at theantiquitiescoalition.org.
As the founder and Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition, Deborah Lehr leads a diverse team of experts in the fight against the looting and trafficking of cultural heritage by organized crime and terrorists. Under Deborah’s leadership, the AC brings together ministers, and business leaders to preserve and protect the world’s shared cultural heritage.
If you could have lived in any era in any civilization, when and where would it have been?
Shanghai in the 1920-30s. It was a vibrant time in China with the transition from the Qing dynasty to a fledgling “democracy.” Shanghai was an interesting combination of East and West at that time with significant Western companies like AIG being founded there, an influx of White Russians, leading writers and artists always passing through, and great music, especially the jazz at the Peace Hotel. It was also the time – and place – that the Chinese Communist Party was founded. I would have loved to have been the US Consul General there.
What is your most treasured possession?
My most treasured possession is a blanket crocheted by my grandmother. My mother is English, and we would spend every summer when I was growing up in my nan’s thatched roof cottage in a small village by the seaside. My nan would spend her spare time knitting or crocheting and I was the fortunate recipient of a lot of her efforts.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Probably the stacks of cake tins that I have – in all shapes and sizes – and the cake decorating equipment. I love to decorate cakes, although I don’t have the chance to do it as often as I would like anymore. My personal favorite cake that I designed looked like a Chanel purse.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
I am most proud of the creation and success of the Antiquities Coalition. It started as an idea stemming from an archaeology class that I took with the amazing Dr. Eric Cline, and has continued to grow. We have a team of talented and dedicated women that have helped build the organization into one that is working with governments and institutions around the world in the fight against antiquities looting and trafficking. I still have to pinch myself sometimes about the work that we are doing and the difference that it is making.
Anuraag Saxena is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA and lives in Singapore.
Indian and Asian antiquities are illegally procured and sold around the world. Anuraag co-founded the India Pride Project as a response. Anuraag focuses on restitution, advocacy and awareness building programs to bring back India’s stolen heritage. He has been published in both, mainstream and niche publications; and has been invited to speak at Universities and Conferences across the world.
The work of the India Pride Project—in conjunction with high profile media investigations and criminal prosecutions—shows that India’s rich history has been a big target of looters and traffickers. Do you think this is a recent development, or has it been ongoing and just recently brought to light?
India has historically been a victim of colonisers and mercenaries from across the globe.
Let’s not forget Christopher Columbus was looking for India, when he lost his way to America. Funnily, in his “letter of first voyage” explaining why he was looking for India; he mentioned the word “Gold” 17 times, while mentioning “Lord” and “God” only once.
The Mughals and the British actually got to India; and enriched their coffers for centuries. So in short, India’s wealth and heritage has been the subject of civilisational conquest and plunder for ages. The greed is ages old. However, the format is new.
We now have heritage-criminals; looters, traffickers and many more; that are part of a complex machinery delivering illicit heritage globally.
As an example, more than 50% of heritage imports into the USA last year, were of Indian origin. There’s got to be a reason, for the world to want our heritage.
The looting has been described as an ‘attack on faith’. Could you describe what that means and the effects that heritage crimes have on the public in India and beyond?
Indian temples have been central to our way of life, much like churches are in the west, where significant events in your life have a church as a focal point. Think christening ceremonies, weddings and funerals.
Temples, on the other hand have been all that, and much more. We’ve had Gurukuls (schools), Natyashalas (performance arts) in temple premises. We’ve had temples run custodial functions, as repositories of inscriptions and original manuscripts. Thousand-year-old libraries if you will.
We’ve even had social-activism come out of temples. You know, while the world is still denying climate-change, India had the Chipko movement (literally “hug a tree”) decades ago.
So you see, a Temple is much more than a “place-of-worship”, as some other cultures may define it. This holistic, beautiful, social-fabric is torn, when you remove the deity or vandalise a place-of-worship. The good news is, the corollary is also true. Which is probably why my video went viral; and it resonated with ordinary individuals, that were proud to see their heritage come home.
So the next time, when an idol is stolen from India, don’t just look at it in terms of the price tag. Also know there’s a backstory – of schools, libraries, social-movements and families that have been destroyed; and now need healing.
What have been the successes of the Indian government in combating this issue, andwhat are some improvements that can be made with their approach?
Half a dozen countries have started returning heritage-objects to India. A dozen heritage-criminals are being prosecuted across the country, as we speak. A new Bill is to be tabled in Parliament, that will strengthen law-enforcement around heritage-crimes.
So you see, from a broad brush perspective, things are moving in the right direction after 70 years of indifference. Without complicating the issue too much though, all that the Government needs to do now is:
Emulate best practices that have worked in other countries; and
Bring in experts with established intent and credentials, who know how to solve the issue.
But you see, countries like India are still dealing with issues like poverty, food-security, healthcare and basic education. I can see why some might feel heritage-crimes are a “higher-order” problem. Which explains why I’ve had to set up India Pride Project as a volunteer-led effort; to support the larger national endeavour.
When I look back, it makes me really proud. Its been a fascinating journey elevating this subject (heritage-crimes) from an inward looking, theoretical-exercise; to pretty much a mass movement that plain, simple citizens associate with.
In your opinion, what are the next steps that should be taken in protecting India’s cultural heritage, not only be governments but by the art market and the general public?
Let me now wear a larger global hat.
The most serious threat to the issue is the bundling of art-crimes and heritage-crimes into one category. The last two decades have shown us that criminals that deal in stolen heritage, are very different from those that steal art. Illicit heritage is procured differently, handled differently, sold differently, and bought by different sets of buyers.
The narrative though, doesn’t capture this huge difference. We’ll be doing ourselves a favour by acknowledging the difference and updating the narrative globally.
Secondly, the global focus on this issue has been largely academic. While there is a space for speeches and platitudes, there is a long, cumbersome process of restitution that follows. No one cares for it because it is boring. In a sense, we are edifying the diagnosis, but ignoring the treatment.
The end result though, is that the art/heritage community is incentivised to chase the theoretical dream. At the risk of sounding provocative, let me just say this – I really hope that someday, do-ers will be as celebrated as researchers.
In his latest book, Antiquities: What Everyone Needs To Know, Maxwell Anderson aims to provide a toolkit to help readers make informed decisions when confronted with issues having to do with heritage and antiquities. His insights are especially relevant today as looted antiquities from conflict areas continue to enter the art market at increasingly higher rates.
Anderson successfully provides a look into the world of antiquities, defining important concepts, and creating a reference book that is accessible to those both in and out of the field of heritage. The question and answer format creates an easy to follow argument, while underlining the important questions that we all should be asking when dealing with antiquities. The book is divided into three parts: Legal and Practical Realities, Settled Law and Open Questions, Scenarios and Solutions. This division created a natural flow, which helps readers understand the complex issues surrounding the field of antiquities.
Anderson effectively makes the argument that there is no simple answer to best practices for cultural heritage by bringing together insights from archaeologists, museums, and auction houses, crafting an overall, well-rounded view.
This book is an important resource for anyone with an interest in antiquities and heritage protection. Antiquities: What Everyone Needs To Know, should be a staple in classrooms and home libraries alike, in order to stay informed and up-to-date on the issue of cultural heritage protection.
“Well written, concise, informative and timely; chock full of expert insider knowledge. This is a must read for all who are interested in the past and concerned about protecting our mutual heritage in the future.” Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson has researched, published, and presented exhibitions of ancient artworks for more than thirty years. He was a curator in the Department of Greek and Roman Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for over six years and more recently at the Dallas Museum of Art. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the New Cities Foundation.
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