After the campaign for raising awareness on the looting of the National Museum of Iraq, there is some hope about the recovering of such a marvellous museum,
The Baghdad Museum, which has been sealed with concrete, is to be reopened to staff. Shortly before antiquities head Donny George went into exile last August, he had all the entrances to the building blocked, because of the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad. Dr George admitted that this could have created environmental problems, but he felt it was too dangerous to protect the museum with just locked doors.
Dr Abbas al-Hussainy, the new director of the state board of antiquities, told The Art Newspaper last month that he is now “very worried about underground water”. This could cause dampness, or even flooding, since the museum is located close to the Tigris. Ivories and cuneiform tablets would be particularly vulnerable. There are also concerns that rats may have multiplied in the museum over the past year.
After facing the dilemma of having to balance security and environmental risks, Dr Abbas has decided that the building should be reopened to staff. In the current security situation, there is no immediate prospect of the museum being open to visitors.
The Italian government recently provided a massive steel security door for the Baghdad museum. Last month a gap was breached in the wall and the new door was cemented into place. Beyond the security door there are two further locked doors, and when we went to press, these had not been entered, so conditions inside the stores still remain unknown.
Dr Abbas also revealed that there have been three attempts by Coalition troops to enter the museum and antiquities office in the past two months. The first two incidents involved Americans. On the first occasion they forced their way into the compound (but not the buildings); there was a similar incident a week later. On the third occasion a group of westerners in civilian clothing brandished an unsigned letter of authority, but retreated on being questioned.
Meanwhile the British Museum is in discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about financial assistance to aid the Baghdad museum and Iraq’s archaeological service. (The Art Newspaper)
However, the reopening of the museum still seems to be very far. In addition to the important budget constraints for the rehabilitation of the building, the recovering of the looted artifacts and the restauration of the remaining pieces; another crucial problem is the lack of security for protential visitors. For this reason at lamusediffuse we have started a project on Flickr called “Museum of Iraq 2.0” on Photos on Iraqi art, artifacts and cultural heritage disseminated in collections from all over the world. Add to this pool all the art works which belonged to the looted National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad or are part of the Iraqi Heritage and currently are in other museums’ collections. We are looking forward your contributions to make this museum and Iraqi culture open to everybody.
Image: Wahish: Beauty, 2006
(See related news from minute 2.44)
Article by: Cara Buckley at The New York Times (December 12, 2007)
BAGHDAD — For a few brief hours Tuesday, three dozen spectators — journalists, local politicians and their guards — gathered at the National Museum of Iraqhere, their voices echoing through its vast, darkened halls. It was one of the few times outsiders had been allowed inside since Baghdad fell, looters stripped the galleries of some 15,000 Mesopotamian artifacts, and the museum became a wrenching symbol of the losses of the war.Aside from a brief opening in late 2003, when officials and other guests were invited in, the museum has been shuttered since the invasion. But there has been a great push to reopen it of late. Its directors have managed to recover 4,000 missing pieces, among them gems, Islamic coins and carved stones. The pace of recovery picked up as word spread that rewards were offered for items returned.Still, the executive director, Amira Eidan, said Tuesday that she could not forecast when the museum might reopen again because restoration efforts had been slowed by insufficient financing. The cost of recovering the artifacts has consumed the bulk of her museum’s budget, and pieces sometimes have turned up at foreign auctions and been too expensive or difficult to retrieve, she said.
The museum still houses hulking centuries-old statues and intricately patterned stone panels, items too heavy for plunderers to haul off. Its most valued items, including pieces of Assyrian gold known as the Nimrud treasures, were saved because they had been sealed in crates and locked in a bank vault.
Yet on Tuesday, much of the museum’s collection remained out of sight. Many of the ancient heavy stone statues were covered in plastic. Dozens of glass display cases sat empty but for thick layers of dust. Workers were mixing epoxy in one gallery, the Assyrian Hall, where walls were lined with great stone bas-relief and little else. The 4,000 pieces that have so far been recovered remained in the museum’s underground vaults.
Ms. Eidan, who had recently said that two halls of the museum would reopen this month, said Tuesday that even if the museum was fully restored, she was not certain that the city was stable enough to ensure a safe reopening. She also lamented the illegal digging that continues at Baghdad’s 12,000 largely unguarded archaeological sites. According to Abdul Zahra al-Taliqani, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, thieves have stolen, and likely trafficked, 17,000 pieces from these sites so far.
American forces have been widely faulted for failing to protect the museum as pillaging swept Baghdad after the invasion. Concern over the museum’s fate peaked again in August 2006, when the museum’s director, Donny George, resigned and left Iraq, saying he had been threatened by extremists with ties to the Shiite-led government.
The museum visit on Tuesday, a media event, was organized by Ahmad Chalabi, the Shiite politician and former exile leader who helped shape the Pentagon’s case for war. By organizing the visit, Mr. Chalabi sought to highlight the museum’s restoration efforts and insert himself in the recovery process. Before a row of photographers and cameramen, he presented the museum’s director with some 400 missing artifacts that he had procured through a friend.
“We need help from international experts,” he told Ms. Eidan. “We have so many more missing pieces, we need to do active search to get them back.”
In violence in Baghdad on Tuesday, two policemen were killed when a car bomb exploded near security booths guarding the homes of Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister, and Saleh al-Mutlak, a member of Parliament.
Mr. Mutlak is the head of the Sunni-Arab party, the National Dialogue Front. Twelve policemen and guards were wounded, though neither Mr. Allawi nor Mr. Mutlak was hurt.
Video: Mosaic, April 14, 2003
- Since April 10, a Candle Light Vigil to remember the looting of the National Museum of Iraq is taking place in different parts of the world. Check SAFE’s website to see where is going to be in your city. Sand up against cultural heritage looting!
- Museums and the Web 2007 starts today in San Francisco. If you are over here, do not miss the meet up of museum bloggers next Friday.
- April 18 is the International Museum Day 2007 organized by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) with “Museums and Universal Heritage” as the topic of this year. Help us to spread the word on this crucial issue for culture.