Musee Guimet controversy

December 1, 2007
By

[Rezwan, Germany.]

Shahidul News has a touching story on the protest to halt sending Bangladeshi artifacts to Musee Guimet, France.

Reasons:

  • Some media in Bangladesh started the conspiracy theory raising doubts on the transparency of the process.
  • Allegations that “Musee Guimet in Paris incidentally also holds thousands of stolen/illegal objects from China and the rest of Asia,” and it may steal the artifacts replacing with carbon copies especially when the Bangladeshi ones were not individually and clearly marked rather listed with homogeneous counts.
  • However, there are other sides of the story.

    Rumi Ahmed answers the skeptics with a question answer style:

    What is the “Sonar Bangla” exhibition?

    This exhibition is scheduled to showcase 189 pieces of Bangladeshi ancient art, over four months from October 2007 to March 2008 at the National Museum of Asiatic Art, the Musee Guimet, Paris. It has been planned for several years, and has involved extensive negotiations between the governments of France and Bangladesh.

    It is being held at one of the most prestigious venues for Asian art in the whole of Europe, a major national museum which holds an important permanent collection of South Asian art. It recently held very well reviewed exhibitions of Afghan gold and Cambodian ancient art.

    It is the first major international exhibition of Bangladeshi ancient art — the first opportunity the world will have to see our national heritage, and to see it in all its diversity and richness. It will show a face of Bangladesh which is little known in the west. It is likely to generate not only new interest in Bangladesh, but to catalyse further research and perhaps also future cultural exchanges and engagement.

    Why are some people objecting to the exhibition?

    As each objection has been met and responded to, new ones have been generated. It seems that the real objection of many of the “experts” is that they were not involved/consulted.

    1. The Musee Guimet is not a state museum [stated by the writ petitioners' lawyer].

    The Museum is a national museum, and regulated, like all other national museums by the Director Museums, an official of the Ministry of Culture. It’s not very difficult to find this out, just go on the website of the French government.

    2. The Musee Guimet is not well known and has a dubious past.

    The Museum is internationally renowned as one of the leading European museums of Asian art.

    3. The artefacts listed for exhibition include unique pieces and these are too valuable too travel, so only replicas should be taken [stated by "experts" eg Prof. Shafi].

    International exhibitions do not show replicas, but only originals. Visitors to art exhibitions are interested in seeing original, unique pieces. Please check the details of the Tutankhamun exhibition, the Pompeii Exhibition, the Arts of Persia Exhibition etc. all held in major international venues, and more recently the Gupta sculptures exhibition held in Paris.

    The artefacts if sent in the original will be copied while abroad, and the French Government will keep the originals and return the copies and no-one in Bangladesh will know the difference. [Dr. Yuree, and also Prof. Shafi] In addition to a clause in the agreement that the artifacts will be returned within four weeks, the French government has passed an order — as is usual — clearly stating that under no circumstances could the artefacts be retained in France on conclusion of the exhibition. It should be noted that while many artefacts have been and continue to be smuggled out of Bangladesh, this is invariably by individuals and is hardly likely in the context of a government to government agreement.

    6. The French would never allow the Mona Lisa or Picassos to travel [Prof. Nizamuddin, an "expert" and petitioner seeking injunction].

    Of course the Mona Lisa has travelled abroad as have many Picasso artworks (including to India).

    7. The removal of the artefacts will hamper research [Prof. Shafi of Jahangirnagar Univ].

    Quite the contrary. It will enable new interest in the artefacts to be generated. Physical examination of individual items is not always necessary for research.

    Concerns for clarification.

    One of the government officials who is supposed to travel with the exhibit has earlier been accused of theft of artefacts [raised by writ petitioners and their lawyer].

    There is an absolute prohibition of any unique antiquities being taken abroad.

    This is a misreading of the law. Antiquities may be sent on “temporary export” “for purposes of exhibition etc

    9 Responses to Musee Guimet controversy

    1. Akash
      December 3, 2007 at 8:41 pm

      I am sorry that I find the reactions of some of the cultural elites of Dhaka, as well as the quasi-journalistic fray of well-known photographer Shahidul Alam, rather questionable. Mr. Alam’s “touching story” is patchy and emotional but strays far from the powerful nature of such exhibitions at major museum sites, ah well, in Europe and US. It is true many European museums in the past have been involved in illegal acquisitions of artifacts, but I cannot say that is so say at present times. One cannot also deny the powerful impacts of such museum exhibitions. Witness the “Festival of India” that Indira Gandhi sponsored all over the world for a new reception of Indian culture. I for one would look forward to an exhibition of arts from Bangladesh, something no major museum has carried out anywhere in the world. There have been enough exhibitions with artifacts from Indian museums. About ten years ago, an exhibition on Mexican artifacts at the Met in New York city drew over capacity crowd. Yes, we should be concerned about our own artifacts (don’t even know what that means as most of them lie in deep storage, and the scholarly product of our historians is dismal), about how these objects are lent out, about their return when they are lent, but to behave with such quasi-nationalist virulence really works against various ways of cultural representations of the nation.

      Anyway, here is the announcement of the exhibition at Guimet (and Guimet is not a sad museum as Mr. Alam makes it out to be):

      http://www.museeguimet.fr/masterpieces-of-gange-delta

    2. bala
      December 5, 2007 at 4:40 pm

      Akash,
      I see at least one sane voice.
      I though all bangalis has become insane.
      I saw shishir’s name there. I knew Shaheedul alam and his great work with Drik.
      Even my friend Nayeem Mohaimen seems to be joining the crowd. After His so many years in NY and I am sure watching Inca and Egyptian exhibitions in NY. Even he is in the crowd !!!
      Did Mr. Shaheedul got pissed off that the museum people didn’t show him enough respect.
      You can’t get personal, if you are doing a journalistic work.
      Should have a thicker skin.

    3. Pathik Nabi
      December 24, 2007 at 6:30 pm

      This caretaker government has failed miserably. The French government also cannot shed itself of its responsibility in the theft since it had actively pressed for clandestine passage of the valuables by Air France. The CTG was so deep into this conspiracy that it had arranged the secretive operation on our holy Eid day. The outgoing French ambassador and the foreign advisor of the unconstitutional military-backed junta should immediately be fired and taken into custody for interrogation by the joint interrogation cell and Interpol. There is definitely something sinister about this fiasco. All including the French and Bangladeshi high-ups must have received huge kickbacks from global museum piece robbers and dacoits who have links and agents working under international agencies, embassies and NGOs to steal precious priceless historic relics from poor countries. This crime syndicate must be busted as it has creeped it’s way into the caretaker setup in Bangladesh. After this incident, I have developed strong distaste and disgust for anything French. To me the French have disgraced and insulted our culture and heritage. It is unpardonable.

    4. Iftheker Mohammad
      December 24, 2007 at 7:34 pm

      They are the thieves, the traitors. Why Supreme Court has given a stay order on High Court rule? That makes a room to those thieves to smuggle out priceless archaeological treasures of Bangladesh. A phrase in Bengali , “Chorer maaer boro gola.” The official French comment on this issue is noting but hypocrisy. We demand the withdrawal of that France embassy official and resignations of responsible adviser of the ministry concerned.

    5. Dr. Zaman Mozumder
      December 25, 2007 at 7:07 am

      I have some knowledge of French Museums and I have visited many of them many times. I have great appreciation of their collection. Many people call me a Francophile. But I am absolutely devastated by the news of artifact lost at the ZIA airport at Dhaka. The statues lost are literally priceless.

      I am also saddened by the fact that at one point of time I was also a Secretary of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. I do not have information other than those available in news media and television. I think the whole matter was treated casually from the GOB side and they did not understand what they were dealing with. The nation will have to search their soul why and how the whole thing had happened. The nearly national mourning on the loss of Vishnu murti yet again show the secular psyche of Muslim majority Bangladesh.

      Let us hope that the heritage statues of Bangladesh will be recovered soon.

    6. Iftheker Mohammad
      December 25, 2007 at 8:14 am

      Shame on La France, Shame on CTG

    7. Imran
      December 25, 2007 at 6:41 pm

      The government officials involved in this transaction to send the artifacts to this “private” & c”controversial” French museum should be thoroughly investigated. We need to find out “why” they were so eager to make this deal and pushed so hard to move the artifacts abroad even after concerned citizens of the country cried foul. I believe that there was an “other” motive to do so by the government officials involved. The Cultural Affairs Adviser, instead of talking big like he would take the blame & may resign, should find out what these Bangladesh officials were after.

      Amazing to see how less our own officials care for our own treasures!

    8. R Sulayman
      December 28, 2007 at 7:58 am

      I was watching a talk show in the television on Guimet Controversy and thought to view the web page of Guimet. I visited instantly the site, and shocked seeing the images of the Himalyan region. Few days back, I bought a book from Kathmandu written by Lain Singh Bangdel (He was a student of Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin in Kolkata Art College in 1938-42), entitled ‘Stolen Images of Nepal.’ I found minimum 2 images are looking alike what Bangdel ji mentioned as stolen.

      The history of Guimet was based on unique artifacts mostly from Asia. Most of them are collected from the thieves. Mr. Guimet was a traveller. He collected some pieces from India & the Himalayas. He bought some pieces, and rest got as gift (what a joke!). The site mentioned this ridiculous information.

      I had a chance to visit Paris in last August 07. I was recommended to visit some museums & historic places of Paris, as the house of poet Appoloniere, Sorbon University, Bertrand Russell’s coffee shop & others. Its shocking that none of my friends told me to visit Guimet. Its not at all a worthy place to Paris Elites.

      Its also shocking that all the DGs of National Museum were not competent. Most of them were slogan-doer of parties in power. They show salutations to the white skinned foreigners. An artist-cum-DG were in the power when the package of Guimet came to Bangladesh. He played a pivotal role to sign this agreement. Our artist in Paris Shahabuddin even doesn’t know about this mockery.

      The artifacts of Bangladesh belong to the generations to come. Its not for the present nor of the past. So, we must do the needfuls to preserve those. Its not a French envoy to give us lessons how to take care of our assets. Its not a duty of some known faces of our society, who always advocate for the foreign nations.

      Thanks to the care taker government, at least they have felt the public sentiment. Guiemt has cancelled the show. Now we want back rest of our artifacts.

    9. William A. Dexter
      March 10, 2008 at 9:02 pm

      I am interested in contacting persons in your country, involved with the study of Fossils and other areas of Paleontology. I am very willing to share my studies and research with others in this discipline! Thank you, William A. Dexter PhD
      Retired Professor of Geology. (University of Texas.)

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    *