Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Denver Museum to Return Totems to Kenyan Museum

Sending Artworks Home, but to Whom?
Denver Museum to Return Totems to Kenyan Museum

By Tom Mashbergjan, New York Times, January 3, 2014

The paleontologist Richard Leakey has called their removal a “sacrilege.” Kenyan villagers have said their theft led to crop failure and ailing livestock. It is little wonder, then, that the long, slender wooden East African memorial totems known as vigango are creating a spiritual crisis of sorts for American museums. Many want to return them, but are not finding that so easy.

Now, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science says it has devised a way to return the 30 vigango it received as donations in 1990 from two Hollywood collectors, the actor Gene Hackman and the film producer Art Linson. The approach, museum officials say, balances the institution’s need to safeguard its collection and meet its fiduciary duties to benefactors and the public with the growing imperative to give sanctified objects back to tribal people.

“The process is often complicated, expensive and never straightforward,” said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, the museum’s curator of anthropology.  “But just because a museum is not legally required to return cultural property does not mean it lacks an ethical obligation to do so.”

The museum this month will deliver its 30 vigango (pronounced vee-GON-go; the singular form is kigango) to the National Museums of Kenya

More here.

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