Revisiting the Repatriation theme

Nereid Monument, a sculptured tomb from Xanthos in Lycia, now in the British Museum in London
Nereid Monument, a sculptured tomb from Xanthos in Lycia, now in the British Museum in London

Text by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia.

Another idle thought crossed my mind as I cogitated upon those ‘repatriations’ which I recently dwelt upon. That of worldwide Public awareness.

It appears that the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism's modus operandi is to generate a higher influx of foreign visitors to generate much needed revenue, to do so, they have identified ancient artefacts as a means to this end. Fine, that is their job. Though, does it necessarily unfold in that way? I propose here that it intrinsically does not necessarily do so.

The physicality of reality

I realise that in our world the plethora of information available upon social media has made certain institutions less relevant than in yesteryear, but, say, all but a few decades afar, before this present time, the road to ‘discovery’ could only be awakened and refined by visiting museums and private collections.

And yet why do people today, with all their electronic gimmicks, still continue to do so, in their droves?

Because one cannot usurp the utter feeling of awe, the gravity of majesty and the emanation of sheer presence. This is where the imagination sparks into life. Not in a two-dimensional medium; lying flat and forlorn upon a magazine page, TV screen or computer display.

Allusions for the shallow

When I return to Britain over the New Year period, I can not but help but notice the volume of, very slick, advertising promoting holidays in Türkiye upon the commercial TV channels. This is blatantly revealing Türkiye’s dependence upon mass tourism, the third largest income generator in the country. And what a spectacular country it really is, I am truly its biggest advocate.

Naturally, these TV advertisements depict deep azure seas lapping golden sand beaches, the heady vibrancy of the nightlife, the exquisite cuisine in an atmospheric restaurant and, of course, inviting visions of ancient historical remains (usually Greek or Roman in origin) just to indicate a cultural aspect to all this hedonism. Though this final aspect is rather assuming some inkling of foreknowledge.

Where do we acquire that foreknowledge? Quite simply, from intimate physical interaction within the museums in our homelands. Being from London, I have been fortunate to have been spoilt by the rich abundance of items from throughout the globe in museums, art galleries, private homes open to the public, et al. Many of which are now being labelled as ‘cultural contraband’! Though are not these the places that ignite not only curiosity but imaginations?

A quick note on the intimacy of the Greek and Roman emphasis in the advertising campaign. We owe much to these impressive civilizations, they deserve a pedestal on which to stand in the hall of human development. Though there were many forerunners that paved the way, again the list is ad infinitum. Unfortunately, many people appear under some deranged delusion that these transient empires are the bedrock of all civilization. They are an important intermediary, not the birth, nor the cradle. Those came thousands of years earlier.

A most welcomed opinion

I recently received a correspondence from a friend, whom is as equally history inquisitive as I, Jay Jean Jackson, discussing this precise subject, where she espouses sentiments of which I am in complete concord. I shall paraphrase.

“Such antiquities housed in the world’s museums do arouse a curiosity. [Which] for some would [wish] to venture further to see a place of origin [in its context] and what remained there. Or [to merely] revel in the ambiance and allow their imaginations to go wild. After all it is the ruins that remain that tell us the true history, not just about building techniques but also of wars and natural disasters – this history is more important than trying to recreate what they (the archaeologists) can of the original, and mostly making a bad job of it”.

I side with Jay’s observation that there is a ‘promotional’ value in museums, they are places of education which positively encourages people to travel to see the original settings. More so than a clichéd 30-second TV advertisement.

Classrooms of the world

Whenever I am visiting the British Museum or the National Gallery, I cannot help but notice the amount of Far Eastern features wandering around, earphones firmly in place, conducting them on a tour of educational enlightenment. I don’t suppose they may possess such distant treasures in Tokyo, Beijing or Seoul (not publicly anyway).

Why entail the expensive cost of travel to such distant disparate venues of original origin if one can find that knowledge in London, or Paris, or Berlin, etc.? These museums are the classrooms of the world. Carefully assembled, researched, analysed and explained. This in turn reflects the need for Europe’s great museums to retain its treasures, hopefully to inspire further travel to the original sites. One couldn’t wish for a better advertising campaign than that.

Therefore, to ‘re-acquire’, to ‘repatriate’, is to diminish an appeal, for it shall remain out of sight, save for 30 seconds over New Year.


Image gallery: 

Troy Exhibition  at the British Museum. Photo (c) Glenn Maffia
Troy Exhibition at the British Museum. Photo (c) Glenn Maffia
Troy Exhibition  at the British Museum. Photo (c) Glenn Maffia
Troy Exhibition at the British Museum. Photo (c) Glenn Maffia
Troy Exhibition  at the British Museum. Photo (c) Glenn Maffia
Troy Exhibition at the British Museum. Photo (c) Glenn Maffia