>What People Say… about the National Museum of Iraq: Raising Awareness on that Shameful Looting to the Humankind


What people say about the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad is certainly not enough. The shame that the looting of Iraq Museum in Baghdad meant to the so called “civilization” is nothing in comparison with its irreversible loss, better said: our irreversible loss. That crime was something that not only affected thousands of museum professionals, archaeologists, art historians, and researchers from all over the world; that crime was a looting of our history, of our humankind heritage.

The first sentences of the Iraq Museum Database created by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago can give an accurate vision of the scope of the looting,

No other museum can rival the collections of Mesopotamian artifacts in the Iraq Museum. Spanning a time from before 9,000 B.C. well into to the Islamic period, the Iraq Museum’s collections includes some of the earliest tools man ever made, painted polychrome ceramics from the 6th millennium B.C., a relief-decorated cult vase from Uruk, famous gold treasures from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Sumerian votive statues from Tell Asmar, Assyrian reliefs and bull figures from the Assyrian capitals of Nimrud, Nineveh, and Khorsabad, and Islamic pottery and coins–an unrivaled treasure not only for Iraq, but for all mankind.

To the ones who maybe could think that the stolen objects be recovered with a lot of effort, money and politics’ will; we would say that nothing can be done to retrieve Iraqi antiquities to their original state before the looting, nothing. Apart from the massive pillage, lots of art works were literally destroyed and smashed as you could see in the video titled “Remember Iraq’s Heritage, Our Heritage” posted on the social software by non-profit organization Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE.) This organization dedicated to preserve cultural heritage worldwide has organized “A Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum” to raise awareness about that terrible crime.

April 10-12, 2007 will be the fourth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone is organizing a worldwide candlelight vigil to end the looting and destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq, and around the world.

With that aim, SAFE has interviewed Dr. Doony George Houkhanna, former responsible of Iraq Museum in Baghdad’s collection and currently visiting professor of Stony Brook University, in a video that we wish you will hopefully help to spread in blogs, workplaces and classrooms.

On April 10, 2003 news broke that shook the world. During three days and nights, thousands of priceless artifacts from the cradle of civilization were systematically looted from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. As Director of Research, Dr. Doony George Houkhanna has been responsible of the museum’s collection for decades and became a witness to a terrible event.

lamusediffuse, the organization behind e-artcasting project, is an international collaborative team exploring the forms, impact, and possibilities of electronic technologies in contemporary culture. Our mission is improving lives for individuals by improving access to culture through digital technologies and their creations, and in fact, some of us are from Baghdad. Witnessing the looting that our beloved country has suffered and still does exceeds the irreparable impact of the pillage at National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, as it is accurately underlined by Dr. Houkhanna when he speaks about the loss and destruction in Iraqi excavations. As Dr. Houkhanna proposes, “Let’s gather together and see what we can do, so that people will not forget what happened.”

In addition to SAFE, some other organizations have implemented praiseworthy initiatives for the Iraqi cultural relief. Apart from the cited Oriental Institute of Chicago and its comprehensive website Lost Treasures from Iraq, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has implemented a specific webpage entitled Resources on Iraqi Museum Collections in addition to the Emergency Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk, which has been placed among other sad and shameful bunch of red lists on cultural heritage. Do not also forget to check the comprehensive SAFE List of Resources on Iraq.

“A Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum” will take place on April 10-12, 2007 to, “show your support for Iraq. Demand the return of the missing Iraq Museums artifacts. And demand the end of the looting and destruction of the world’s cultural heritage.” lamusediffuse will of course join this wonderful initiative and we will do it in different places.

At the moment, one of the venues in which we will be part of and where can not be a better context because it is a museum professional meeting, the Museums and the Web 2007 International Conference for Culture and Heritage Online at San Francisco. Another venue we are trying to implement will be at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. We will provide you more specific details about it at e-artcasting.

However, in some places this gathering call is going to have no visible face, because life for Iraqis working for humankind’s culture is not easy, as Dr. Houkhanna explains to Cindy Ho in this 38-minute interview to SAFE. We will be there, be sure. We just need you too.

SAFE: Flyer of “A Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum.” 2007
savingantiquities: Remember Iraq‘s Heritage, Our Heritage. Posted on March 20, 2007
namirkh: End of Civilization. Posted on February 15, 2007
BI30: “Stuff Happens!” – Rumsfeld on looting after fall of Baghdad. Posted on August 01, 2006

Providing ‘Free’ Digital Images to Scholars: Met, ARTstor and Accessibility to Online Art Collections

Past March 12, 2007, The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced on its website, a “pioneering initiative to provide digital images to scholars at no charge.” This announcement has been immediately spread by the scholar blogosphere, as for example in the blog of The Chronicle of the Higher Education and The Attic.

This new service entitled “Images for Academic Publishing” (IAP) has been implemented in partnership with the nonprofit organization ARTstor. This service,

…will make images available via software on the ARTstor Web site. Initially, nearly 1,700 images representative of the broad range of the Metropolitan Museum‘s encyclopedic collection will be available through the more than 730 institutions that currently license ARTstor. Efforts to expand this accessibility are now underway and will be announced by ARTstor at a later date.

According to The Chronicle of the Higher Education scholars in the USA have to pay high permission rates to make use of museums’ images; a problem that, maybe, does not relate to researchers in some other countries. However, the questions here are numerous.

Although we consider this partnership among The Met and ARTstor a wonderful initiative and we really wish it would be imitated by other museums, we are especially concerned about the accessibility of this project.

This initiative is only applicable “for use in academic publications.” So, what would be considered an academic publication? Are publications outside universities and research centers -but signed by scholars- eligible? How is going to affect this to publishing companies? Are independent researchers considered scholars? About these issues you could read an interesting thread at Musematic.

Our second concern relates to the fact that, till the moment, only “the more than 730 institutions that currently license ARTstor” could have access to this service. In other words, this service is not for the overall academic community, it is just for certain institutions. Moreover, we could guess that although this service is strikingly announced as “no charge for scholars,” becoming an ARTstor member required paying a fee, as eventually it was. But even willing to pay, not anyone could belong to the community because only institutions from, United States, Canada, Australia | New Zealand, and United Kingdom are eligible.
About this, and as a disclaimer, ARTstor explains on its website,

ARTstor participation will be limited, at least initially, to interested institutions in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Intellectual property and copyright law differs from country to country; most of the content in the ARTstor Digital Library will be available to international participants, but some copyrighted materials will not be available due to copyright concerns. In time, we expect to expand the availability of the ARTstor Digital Library internationally.

Eventually, we wonder what the best formula to provide non charged uses to nonprofit organizations is in an online context for art collections. At the end, internet uses of online collections are being regulated by each country’s legal frame and within the strict boundaries of economical power. So, access to online art collections still remain restricted to certain people and areas of the world while the utopia of Web 2.0 as a universal plaza remains still as a dream. This is however, a difficult problem that requires the will of establishing international suitable laws and more partnerships like The Met has done.

However, some other improvements could be easily done for a more accurate policy on who are the potential professional users of online art collections. We wish The Met will extented the IAP service to Museum Professional Associations, from the listed and not listed countries. Do we need to be “scholars” to need access to online collections? We can guess that the members of AFRICOM, AAM, AAMC, COVICOM, ICOM, Museum-Ed, or SMA (just to provide some professional associations examples) would really appreciate and get good benefit of this gesture.

Proporcionando imágenes digitales “gratis” a académicos: MET, ARTstor y accesibilidad a colecciones de arte en internet

El pasado 12 de marzo de 2007 el Metropolitan Museum of Art de Nueva York anunciaba en su página web una “inicitativa pionera para proporcionar imágenes digitales libres de coste a académicos”. Este anuncio ha sido inmediatamente difundido en la blogosfera académica, como por ejemplo en el blog del Chronicle of the Higher Education y en The Attic.

Este nuevo servicio denominado “Imágenes para Publicación Académica” (IAP en sus siglas en inglés) ha sido puesto en marcha en colaboración con la organización sin ánimo de lucro ARTstor. Este servicio:

… hará disponibles las imágenes por medio de un programa informático en la página web de ARTstor. Inicialmente, cerca de 1.700 imágenes representivas del extenso rango de la enciclopédica colección del Metropolitan Museum se harán disponibles a través de las más de 730 instituciones en la actualidad autorizadas por ARTstor hasta la fecha.

Según The Chronicle of the Higher Education, los académicos en Estados Unidos tienen que pagar caros permisos para hacer uso de las imágenes de los museos; un problema que, quizás, no afecta a investigadores en otros países. Sin embargo, las cuestiones aquí son varias.

Pese a que consideramos esta colaboración entre el Met y ARTstor una maravillosa inciativa -y deseamos sin lugar a dudas que sea imitada por otros museos- de este proyecto nos preocupa especialmente su accesibilidad.

Esta iniciativa es sólo aplicable para su uso “en publicaciones académicas¨. De modo que, ¿qué es lo que se considera una publicación académica? ¿Pueden optar a ello publicaciones ajenas a las universidades y centros de investigación, pero firmadas por académicos? Sobre estas cuestiones puedes leer una interesante conversación en Musematic.

Nuestra segunda preocupación hace referencia al hecho de que hasta el momento, sólo “las más de 730 instituciones en la actualidad autorizadas por ARTstor hasta la fecha” tendrán acceso a este servicio. En otras palabras, este servicio no es para el conjunto de la comunidad académica, sino para ciertas instituciones. Lo que es más, podíamos adivinar que aunque este servicio ha sido llamativamente anunciado como “sin cargo para académicos”, formar parte de ARTstor requería el pago de una cuota, com al final ha resultado ser. Pero incluso queriendo pagar no todo el mundo puede pertener a la comunidad pues sólo pueden hacerlo instituciones de los Estados Unidos de América, Canadá, Australia/Nueva Zelanda y el Reino Unido.

Sobre esto, y a modo de descargo, ARTstor explica en su página web:

La participación en ARTstor estará limitada, en principio y por el momento, a las insituciones interesadas de los Estados Unidos de América, Canadá y el Reino Unido. Las leyes de propiedad intelectual y copyright difieren de país a país; la mayoría del contenido de la Biblioteca Digital ARTstor estará disponible a participantes internacionales pero algunos materiales con copyright no lo estarán debido a asuntos de copyright. Con el tiempo, esperamos ampliar la disponibilidad internacional de la Biblioteca Digital ARTstor.

Finalmente nos preguntamos cuál es la mejor fórmula para proporcionar usos gratuitos a instituciones sin ánimo de lucro en el contexto de las colecciones de arte disponibles en internet. Al final, los usos de las colecciones en internet están siendo regulados por el marco legal de cada país y dentro de las estrictas delimitaciones del poder económico. De modo que el acceso a las colecciones en internet todavía permanece restringido a cierta gente y a cientas áreas del planeta, mientras la utopía de Web 2.0 como una plaza universal todavía sigue siendo un sueño. En cualquier caso, éste es un problema de difícil solución que requiere de la voluntad de establecer leyes internacionales apropiadas y más colaboraciones como la hecha por el Met.

No obstante, otras mejoras pueden ser fácilmente hechas en aras de una política más acertada sobre quiénes son los potenciales usuarios profesionales de las colecciones de arte en internet. Así, deseamos que el Met amplíe su servicio IAP a las asociaciones de profesionales de museos, tanto de los países que están en la lista, como de los que no. ¿Necesitamos ser “académicos” para necesitar acceso a las colecciones en internet? Podemos imaginar que los miembros de AFRICOM, AAM, AAMC, COVICOM, ICOM, Museum-Ed, o SMA (sólo por dar algunos ejemplos de asociaciones profesionales) apreciarían y aprovecharían enormemente este gesto.

Proyecto fotográfico 2.0 de National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool ha organizado un proyecto fotográfico Web 2.0 para documentar la ciudad de Liverpool, llamado “Stewart Bale 2.0” y basado en la colección de fotografías de Stewart Bale Ltd., una compañía de publicidad e impresión especializada en fotografía comercial y arquitectónica cuya colección posee National Museums Liverpool.

La organización del proyecto invitó a fotógrafos tanto profesionales como aficionados que utilizan Flickr, a recrear las fotografías de la mencionada colección. Esta iniciativa tiene forma en la actualidad de exposición de fotografía en internet  y constituye un magnífico ejemplo de cómo la Web 2.0 (una nueva generación de servicios en internet que permiten la colaboración, la participación compartida y el etiquetado social); no sólo puede atraer nuevos espectadores a los museos de arte, sino que sus colecciones pueden ser revisitadas por miradas contemporáneas.

Como se puede ver, no es necesario que los museos tengan colecciones de arte contemporáneo para entender el carácter contemporáneo de sus audiencias y su relación con la tecnología. Afortunadamente, ya van siendo muchos los museos que así lo están entendiendo.

Imágenes: Stewart Bale: Comienzo del muelle, 1959 (original) (izquierda); Pete Carr: Comienzo del Muelle, 2006 (derecha)

2.0 Photographic Project by National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool has organized a Web 2.0 photographic project to document the city of Liverpool, called “Stewart Bale 2.0” and based in the Stewart Bale Ltd. Photographic Collection, an advertising and printing business in Liverpool that specialised in commercial and architectural photography, whose collection is owned by National Museums Liverpool.

The organization invited both amateur and professional photographs using Flickr, to recreate the photographs of its collection. This intitave currently is an online photography exhibition and is a perfect example of how Web 2.0 (a new generation of Internet services that enable collaboration, shared ownership and social tagging) can not only attract new viewers to art museums, but their collections can be revisited by contemporary looks.

As it is sawn here, it is not necessary having a contemporary art collection to understand new audiences and their relation with technology. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of museums understanding it in this way.

Images: Stewart Bale: Pier Head, 1959 (original) (left); Pete Carr: Pier Head, 2006 (right)


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