By Lubna S. El-Gendi (LL.M. ’12)
In October, DePaul’s Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law will host a symposium to address the underlying legal, ethical and moral reasons and policies behind the return of cultural objects.
In recent years, countries of origin have successfully recovered archaeological and ethnographic objects illegally removed from the country of origin. Indigenous and Native American communities also have successfully recovered cultural artifacts excavated from ancient burial sites. Such recoveries are the result of a patchwork of legal rules, treaties and nonlegal pressure placed on the current possessor. While the museum community and some players within the market community accept that archaeological objects unprovenanced before 1970 should not be acquired without proof of legal export, countries of origin seek to move beyond 1970 as the generally accepted cut-off for repatriation claims and continue to request the repatriation of objects appropriated during imperialist and colonial times or as a result of warfare. The underlying bases supporting repatriation in such cases are often unclear, and the validity of these repatriation claims is hotly debated.
DePaul’s cultural heritage symposium "Restitution and Repatriation: The Return of Cultural Objects" will bring together lawyers, museum professionals, representatives of indigenous communities, and other scholars and experts in the field to examine the reasons behind the repatriation of cultural artifacts. World-renowned historian Lynn Nicholas will deliver the keynote address. She is the author of "The Rape of Europa," a groundbreaking history of the looting of art works during World War II that has become the fundamental account of this era. Her work exemplifies the best of historical research with relevance to restitutionary justice for victims of the Holocaust.
Symposium panels will address the justification of repatriation requests, evidence concerns and researching provenance. An ethics panel will focus on issues museum attorneys need to consider, in light of the fiduciary obligation to conserve museum resources and assets, before agreeing to repatriate a cultural object, as well as issues that arise when a claim is made against an object consigned to an auction house, which has fiduciary obligations to the consignor.
“Restitution and Repatriation: The Return of Cultural Objects” will be held on October 29, 2012, at the DePaul Center, 1 East Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. Illinois MCLE, including ethics credit, will be offered for this event. Please visit law.depaul.edu/art_museum/conference for details and to register.