Who Owns Culture?
Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo, Claire Fox and Giles Fraser.
It may not have the same impact as the Elgin Marbles, but a slightly battered bronze statue of a cockerel has re-ignited a row that has potentially profound implications for our museums and opens a Pandora's Box of moral dilemmas. The statue in question sits in the dining hall of Jesus College Cambridge, but it was originally from the Benin Empire, now part of modern-day Nigeria. It was one of hundreds of artworks taken in a punitive British naval expedition in 1897 that brought the empire to an end. In the same way that Greece has pursued the return of the Elgin marbles, Nigeria has repeatedly called for all the Benin bronzes - which it says are part of its cultural heritage - to be repatriated. The students at Jesus agree with them and are demanding the cockerel be returned. But to whom? There are dozens of high profile campaigns around the world to repatriate cultural artefacts, but the legal issue of rightful ownership is complex and made more so by the value of the objects in question. Does the fact that many of the finest treasures in our museums were acquired during the height of our imperial history mean we're duty bound to return them? If we accept the principle that art looted by the Nazi's should be returned, why not, for example, the Benin Bronzes? Artefacts like the Elgin Marbles are important because they are part of the story or humanity itself. Can any one country claim ownership over that? Would artefacts that have been returned to their original setting take on a new and more authentic cultural meaning that we in the West may not be able to understand, but which is nonetheless important to those who claim ownership? Should repatriation be part of a wider cultural enterprise to re-write our national and imperialistic historical narrative? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Prof Constantine Sandis, Mark Hudson and Andrew Dismore.