Antiquities and Archaeology
Peru requests return of Paracas from Sweden
The pre-Columbian textiles were exported before the 1970 Unesco Convention
By Antonio Aimi. Web only
Published online: 17 November 2011
LIMA. Peru has asked the Världskulturmuseet (world culture museum) in Göteborg, Sweden to return its entire collection of Paracas mantles of around 100 items, one of the largest in the world. The initiative is not the idea of Peru’s new president, the nationalist Ollanta Humala, who is expected to advocate a policy of safeguarding the nation's heritage, but rather of the outgoing president Alan García, who made the issue of repatriation a focus of his political agenda in his last few months in office, having ignored the subject for years.
First he suggested that his Mexican counterpart should make the question of repatriation a key theme on the political agenda for the next ten years, then during the Second Conference on International Co-operation for the Protection and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage, held in Lima on 4-5 July, he announced the decision to take legal action against the city of Göteborg on the charge of being an “accessory to theft”. The Swedish authorities were no doubt surprised by this announcement given that in 2010, in a surprising case of museum political correctness, Göteborg museum presented its Paracas collection in an exhibition titled: “A Stolen World”, and then, of its own volition, started negotiations with Peru to repatriate the items which had arrived in Sweden between 1931 and 1939.
The Världskulturmuseet is not in breach of an agreement. The museum, like all other institutions worldwide with pre-Columbian findings of Peruvian origin, finds itself in possession of items exported prior to the 1970 Unesco Convention governing relations between states on the subject of repatriation. Leaving the legal aspects aside, it is clear that Peru’s request raises a series of ethical, political and cultural problems which are neither new nor irrelevant. However, apart from the Paracas mantles, which come with significant conservation issues and already exist in considerable numbers in Peru, the new Peruvian government needs to define its priorities clearly on the subject of repatriation. In this respect, it is surprising that it continues to ignore the United States, and in particular the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which has items—the Loma Negra gold ornaments are an obvious example—which were exported during the years of the Unesco Convention, are unaffected by conservation problems and cannot be found in Peru’s museums.
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