A Stolen World

As I write this blog post, my friends Leif and Ingrid are back in Tanzania. I know that they are having a good time, because again they publish their experiences online at www.metafari.blogspot.com. Yesterday morning, they saw a lion just across the lawn from their hut in the Mikumi National Park.

If you travel northwest from Tanga in Tanzania, you will come to Mombo. Go a further 30 kilometres and you will reach the Nanyogie Maasai village. This is where Leif and Ingrid went to talk to the people about life, livestock, warriors, dreams and the rapid development in the world.

From my office window, I can see the big sign on The Museum of World Culture in Göteborg encouraging people to come and look at their new exhibition: A Stolen World – The Paracas Collection. It shows 2,000 years old funeral textiles from Peru that come from looted graves. In the beginning of the 1930ies large quantities of these textiles were illegally transported to museums and private collections all over the world. Sven Karell, the Swedish Consul in Peru at that time, smuggled hundreds of these textiles to Sweden and donated them to the Ethnographic Department of Göteborg Museum.

Besides showing these beautiful pieces of art, the exhibition confronts the visitor with questions regarding what to do with this stolen treasure. How are we to handle what our ancestors did? Does what was done in good faith, make up for the fact that it was illegal? But what about having better opportunities to preserve these important items, helping us understand history and appreciate other civilizations?

The famous Danish design company Stelton recently released what they call their Maasai collection with beautiful mugs and baskets in vivid nuances of red, blue and aubergine. There is no mention of collaboration with the Maasai people. But is this really a case of stolen culture? We are constantly inspired by the things we see around us. Can a community claim their right to some colours, their trademark?

I think we really need to think long and hard about how we handle intellectual property issues and how we pay tribute to the creativity of people, no matter country or century. Don’t you?

No comments: