Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Role of Museums as Guardians of Heritage & Culture

International Museum Day 2015 is celebrated today the 18th day of May.  The Museum Day was established by International Council of Museums ( ICOM) in 1977 with the purpose of enhancing interest among Public about the role of Museums in the development of society.  Over 35000 Museums of about 145 countries participated in this event in 2014. The theme of this year is              ” Museums for a sustainable society." The President of ICOM,Prof.Dr Hanz-Matin Hinz  says :           “ Museums must be able to guarantee their role in safeguarding the cultural heritage, given the increasing precariousness of ecosystems, situations of political instability, and the associated natural and man- made challenges  that may arise. “

A dictionary defines the meaning of the word museum as ‘ a  building or institution dedicated to the acquisition, conservation, study,  exhibition and educational interpretation of objects having scientific, historical, cultural or artistic value.’  The Geneva convention of ICOM held at Austria, Vienna in 2007 defines a museum as ‘ a non-profit permanent institution in the service of society and its development open to the public , which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purpose of education , study and enjoyment.’

ICOM offers training in Museum management, disaster preparedness and response.  Its international training centre is at Palace Museum, Beijing, China.  It has got network with many museums of the world and organises a symposium every year. It is planned as Tasmania this year. It publishes red list of endangered objects of Heritage value and has helped to get back the stolen objects from many countries and restored to their original places.

Having said that, we have few points to ask at this juncture in connection with World Museum Day. While appreciating the efforts of the International Council in raising awareness among the public, it should also be admitted that many more preventive steps are to be taken to stop the illegal trade of cultural and religious goods.  It may require strengthening of International Law and   start addressing the issue at the root level. How safe and secured are our ancient places of worship is the first question. What action has been taken by the   respective Governments and the International body to stop the illicit trade by anti- social elements?  Have anybody advised the media to stop giving the international value of the stolen items? Did they tell them not to give details such as how the theft was made and the modes operandi  of the Police. 

The annual symposium may even call for the participation of representatives of the Ministry of Art & Culture from different countries and Police force   inclusive of   Interpol. Thirdly, the art lovers should stop circulating the pictures of antique items in social networks which may give clues to the wrong doers. The arrested culprits must face more severe punishment than now.

While the definition of a Museum reserves the right to acquire and exhibit, many stolen items take asylum in Museums in the name of donation.  Is it ethical to smuggle an antique item and sell it to a Museum which in turn describes it as a gift!! Therefore it is suggested that the Museum must immediately alert the Interpol on receiving an offer from the seller. This will stop the illicit trade to some extent.  Hence the use of the definition helps the Museum to continue showing its antique items without realising the affinity of people towards them. The objects stolen from places of worship should not come under this definition. It will be great if Museums, the custodians of Heritage take relevant steps to give back those stolen antiques to the respective countries.