I’ve blogged here about the possibility that Singapore’s multi-million dollar Tang cargo shipwreck-artefacts may not be exhibited in USA due to objections from certain academic/museum circles there.
That has now been confirmed. The exhibition in Singapore was jointly done with Singaporean parties and the Smithsonian in USA, and was meant to travel there after the 1st show in Singapore. But no longer.
Straits Times’ Andy Ho wrote an article today (‘Academe’s exhibition of parochialism’) about how shortsighted the nay-saying American academics are (click ‘here‘). He also makes the point which I had made in an earlier blog-post: would the ethically-bound academics prefer for a sunken treasure to stay underwater and be at the mercy of looters, or be hastily salvaged and then be shown in a museum?
But that’s not the point of my post today. My point is that at least in USA, different groups have the balls and platforms to voice their concerns, no matter how parochial or unfair they sometimes seem.
Now that the Tang cargo is not travelling to USA (and most likely not to European countries, as they too would likely toe-the-ethcial-line following USA’s lead), it will leave its current exhibition space at ArtScience Museum and travel to Asian Civilisations Museum. Has anyone in Singapore made any noise about ethical concerns yet? I don’t think so. We are too concerned with philandering starlets and broken trains to even bother with archaeological ethics…
On a related matter, Singapore is not a signatory to any anti-looting conventions/treaties with the United Nation, and we are also proudly one of the major transit points in the global trade in illicit artefacts. Of course the Sentosa Group that owns the artefacts will not get any pressure from the government for buying/owning this controversial cargo, much less having local academics/curators/lawyers protesting its display in Singapore.
I know that a few prominent Singaporeans (doctors, CEOs, and even some very senior public servants) are avid collectors of Ankor sculptures, Buddhist/Hindu statues etc, and most of them are happy to buy artefacts of unclear provenance and proudly display them at home for the eyes of the privileged few. And who’s there to stop them, since no local law has been broken??
With all our world-class museums in Singapore, we are still a world away from being a global leader in being ‘ethical’ in heritage issues. Perhaps it’s because we have nothing in Singapore to be looted for us to care about another country’s stolen treasures? And/or because the trade in looted artefacts makes lots of money for this free port of ours??