The Louvre Abu Dhabi, Exploitation and the Politics of the Museum Industry
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, Exploitation and the Politics of the Museum Industry
With news of the French government signing an unprecedented $1.3 billion agreement with
The controversy that has surfaced in
Absent from this recent intellectual and ideological upheaval are petitions from French cultural figures demanding the museum return art obtained during French conquests. Rykner attempted to dispel discussion of this kind by stating that the majority of antiquities in the Louvreâ€™s collection were purchased throughout the Republicâ€™s history, extracted in accordance with archeological accords between excavating teams and the countries of origin, or within the bounds of international agreements. Allegations that portions of the Louvreâ€™s collection were acquired through plundering are merely myth, he elaborated. Ignored in Ryknerâ€™s argument is the contention that remains surrounding the possession of ancient works by a number of major international museums which acquired antiquities during colonial periods and/or before international agreements were drafted. Questions also remain surrounding the legal obtainment of works, with a number of cases surfacing in recent years concerning the false provenance of purchased antiquities and the underhanded actions of excavation teams.
Not until after World War II, during which a number of European nations suffered from the illegal removal of art during conflict, was a major international agreement issued for the protection of cultural property. The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was signed by a number of Western nations, including
At the Committeeâ€™s meeting in 2005,
Much of the opposition to the proposed Abu Dhabi Lourve lament that the French public will be deprived of its heritage. Three out of eight of the departments that structure the Louvre collection contain art from the Middle East and North Africa and are categorized as such: â€œNear Eastern Antiquities,â€ â€œEgyptian Antiquitiesâ€ and â€œIslamic Art.â€ If this latest transaction with
Not only is the French government maintaining the exploitative policies that built up so much of the museumâ€™s collection, a great majority of the French arts and cultural community have dually accepted that the Louvre is an embodiment of French culture, its questionable history aside. An exhibition of over 70 works from the Louvreâ€™s Egyptian, Near Eastern and Greco-Roman collections due to open at the end of 2007 at the
Showcasing works dating from the third millennium BC through the third century AD, the exhibition examines the rise of the museum and its collections of antiquities under Napoleon, the discoveries and decipherment of hieroglyphics and cuneiform and the Louvreâ€™s leading role in excavating the cradle of civilization at the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century.
With the ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern art it possesses,
True to art world irony, the BBC recently reported that Louvre president Henri Loyrette has announced plans to organize and dispatch a group of curators to the UAE to assure â€œscientific quality of the project and the respect of ethical rulesâ€ (BBC News 3/6/07).
All the more paradoxical is the reasoning that is advocated as
In recent months the UAE has sought to better engage its nationals in local politics, which make up less than 20% of the population. The remaining percentage, the backbone of the local economy, is comprised of expatriates from mostly South Asia, neighboring Arab nations and
Corresponding with these latest political developments is the discussion of how to address the UAEâ€™s â€œdemographic imbalance.â€ In an extensive interview with Asharq al Awsat Sheikh Khalifa assured his public that the Emirati government is aware of the â€œdangersâ€ of the imbalance. He outlined a number of future efforts, including the restructuring of the local economy from a less â€œlabor-intensive oneâ€ into an â€œeconomy that is built on advanced knowledge, technology and skilled labor with the purpose of replacing unskilled labor with modern technology.â€ The UAE president then emphasized:
We have indeed started preparing investment policies and legislation to encourage capital- and technology- intensive industries over labor-intensive industries, which would mean that the upcoming years will witness a large decrease in the unskilled labor force, which is the social sector that affects the demographic imbalance the most. This transformation would also create more job opportunities for citizens (Asharq al Awsat 11/25/06).
In recent years there have been a number of protests and strikes by migrant workers employed in the private sector demanding the improvement of working conditions. When
We are exerting effort on several axes with the ultimate objective of bringing the imbalance down to a safer level that can be controlled and managed through integrated and long-term strategies, programs and plans that can be followed up, measured and evaluated and which serve legitimate national interests instead of taking the form of temporary partial measures.
If these changes are realized, it could mean that millions of migrant workers, â€œthe unskilled labor force,â€ will find themselves unemployed. Not only have many suffered from economic exploitation with the lowest paying jobs available in the UAE, little to no medical care and living conditions that Human Rights Watch has referred to as â€œsqualid,â€ there will now be efforts made to systematically phase these workers out from the local economy, forcing them to leave the UAE.
After years of building extravagant city skylines and civilian infrastructures on the backs of workers allotted few legal rights, the federation will no longer have a need for a large majority of its population. Thus, the UAE intends to create â€œa world-class destination bridging global culturesâ€ while eradicating a â€œglobalâ€ population that has contributed to its existence.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be part of larger art and cultural facilities located in a $27 billion development project consisting of hotels, resorts, golf courses and housing, a fact which raises questions as to who and what â€œcultureâ€ will be added to the region with the museumâ€™s introduction. Leading international architects have been enlisted to design several structures, including Frank Gehry on behalf of a proposed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Placed within this economic context and demographic, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be built for a very specific audience, not unlike the majority of international museums. In turn â€œto be able to add high culture at the high end of international cultureâ€ as Barry Lord insists, not only comes at a high price but at a high human cost.
Moreover, what types of art and cultural scenes can exist, or even â€œthrive,â€ as so many in the regional and international art worlds are projecting, if situated in cities where civil rights are virtually non existent? How far will artists be able to push the bounds of freedom of expression in an environment heavily censored by a government that now plans to severely punish a population that dared to speak out against social oppression?
Despite Mubarak Muhairiâ€™s assertion that the region is â€œin need of such artistic initiatives,â€ what remains apparent is the continual denial of what the
The New York Times has suggested that the French-Emirati agreement could be part of a larger initiative to provide a much-needed cultural safe haven for Muslims and Arabs:
Given the difficulties Muslims have encountered traveling to and doing business in the United States and Europe since 9/11, the project can also be read as an attempt to recreate the experience of the West in a secure zone for Arabs, a kind of mini-Switzerland of the Middle East (NY Times 2/1/07).
Yet it is a major American corporation that recently made news for taking advantage of this â€œsecure zone.â€ Earlier this month Halliburton announced plans to move its headquarters to
Returning to the debate as to whether
Copyright 2007 Maymanah Farhat.
Maymanah Farhat is a specialist in modern and contemporary Arab art. She is the editor of ArteNews, an online newsletter that focuses on Middle Eastern art and culture.