Based on extensive research and trips to Mali, Ethiopia, Sudan, Bangladesh, Cambodia and other countries I have studied for a quarter century the protection, theft and smuggling of cultural and historical treasures of vulnerable states and peoples. With an increasing focus on cultural and historical treasures that massively left for Europe in the colonial days. On November 30, 2016 I successfully defended my thesis
‘Treasures in Trusted Hands – Negotiating the future of colonial cultural objects’
The book will be published in May 2017 by Sidestone Press, https://www.sidestone.com/books/treasures-in-trusted-hands
About Treasures in Trusted Hands
The study charts the one-way traffic of cultural and historical objects during five centuries of European colonialism. It presents abundant examples of disappeared colonial objects and systematises these into war booty, confiscations by missionaries and contestable acquisitions by private persons and other categories. Former colonies consider this as a historical injustice that has not been undone.
Former colonial powers have kept most of the objects in their custody. In the 1970s the Netherlands and Belgium returned objects to their former colonies Indonesia and DR Congo; but their number was considerably smaller than what had been asked for. Nigeria’s requests for the return of some Benin objects, confiscated by British soldiers in 1897, are rejected.
As there is no consensus on how to deal with colonial objects, disputes about other categories of contestable objects are analysed. For Nazi-looted art-works the 1998 Washington Conference Principles have been widely accepted. Although non-binding, they promote fair and just solutions and help people to reclaim art works that they lost involuntarily.
To promote solutions for colonial objects, nine Principles for Dealing with Colonial Cultural and Historical Objects are presented, based on the Washington Conference Principles. The nine are part of a model to facilitate mediation in disputes about them. This model can help to break the impasse in negotiations between former colonisers and colonies.
Europe, the former colonisers, should do more pro-active provenance research into the acquisitions from the colonial era, both in public institutions and private collections.
The new book builds on two earlier ones:
- Goden, Graven en Grenzen: Over kunstroof in Afrika, Azië en Latijns Amerika (KIT Publishers 2001; e-book, Fosfor 2013)
- The Return of Cultural and Historical Treasures: The Case of the Netherlands (KIT Publishers, 2012)
And recently some articles:
- Dutch Heritage Institutions, Return-Practice and Return-Potential, in: Art and Heritage Disputes in International and Comparative Law, Transnational Dispute Management (TDM), (5) 2013, http://www.transnational-dispute-management.com/about-author-a-z-profile.asp?key=2292
- How to Break the Deadlock in the Debate about Colonial Acquisitions?, in: Valentina Vadi & Hildegard Schneider (eds.), Art, Cultural Heritage and the Market, Springer, Heidelberg, etc., 2014, 165 – 181.