Museums and Ownership



Stuart Fleischer

ARH 351

Position Paper

Museums & Ownership



Every time you go to an art museum, you get the opportunity to witness a piece of history. The works of art that you see don’t just look nice but they also represent a time period and a culture in the history of human kind. Whenever I am walking through the halls of a museum, with my personal favorite museum being The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, I stop and admire the masterpieces that hang on the walls.  I usually wonder what techniques the artist’s used and what inspired them. I also think about how wonderful it would be to own some of these pieces and put them on the wall of my house, but then I think about how much some of them cost and the dream falls apart because they are probably a little out of my price range. Not until recently however have I thought about how these museums acquired these pieces of work, especially the ancient art. It seems kind of odd to me that museums in New York, Paris, and London all are homes to works of art from the people of ancient Egypt, Near and Middle East, and Greece and Rome. Shouldn’t the descendants of the people who made the piece have a right to be the owners of the works of art that their ancestors created? Should the sarcophaguses of ancient pharaohs belong to people of modern-day Egypt or should they belong in an encyclopedic museum for the whole world to get a chance to see the history of not just their people but people throughout the history of mankind? This is one of the major ongoing debates in the art community today. Who should have ownership over the pieces of ancient art?

I stand on the side of the museums having ownership mostly because most of these civilizations have had so much political and cultural turmoil and change over the many centuries that have passed since the ancient pieces of art were made. Egyptians used to have pharaohs ruling over them and believed in many gods, but now they have a president and are mostly Muslim. Are they still technically the same culture? One could make the argument, but with so much turmoil and the recent uprisings one could also make the argument that the pieces of art are safer in encyclopedic museums in locations that are removed from the political unrest in the areas in which they came. On February 26th, 2015 the terrorist organization ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, uploaded a YouTube video showing several militants attacking the Mosul Museum in Iraq. In the video, they destroyed priceless pieces of art made by the ancient Assyrians and Akkadians that used to live in the ancient Iraqi landscape, some of them pieces being over 2000 years old. ISIS said the reason behind the attack was that the works of art were idols, blasphemous against the Prophet Muhammad, and should be destroyed because they used to be worshiped by the people and that ever happening should be wiped from the history books in their minds. When works of art that are this old are destroyed a part of human history is also being destroyed because the people that made them are no longer around to make another one. Should the people in power have ownership over the arts of the people that used to live over the land in which they rule? I think this recent attack by ISIS is a perfect example of why they should not have ownership over the ancient art. I do not think this attack would have been possible had the pieces of art had been in an encyclopedic museum in New York, Paris, London, or other places with less terrorist activity.

Museums offer so much to the entire world. They give us an opportunity to look back into the past. We get to see what ancient people’s culture might have been like. I think it is a shame that people would destroy ancient pieces of art. We need to protect the ancient art because there is no way to get it back and if it gets destroyed then that is not only robbing ourselves of parts of the truth and history of man kind but also robbing future generations of it as well.



Works Cited



Shaheem, Kareem. “Isis Fighters Destroy Ancient Artifacts at Mosul Museum.” The Gaurdian. The Gaurdian, 26 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.