Art / History / iran

How Culture was Stolen in the Last Century

“Portrait of a Persian Painter” Artist Unknown
RECOVERED (Courtesy of the Dar al-Athat al-Islamiyya)

Anthony Haden-Guest writes: “The Kuwait National Museum and the Dar al-Athat al-Islamiyya (the House of Islamic Antiquities) were looted during the seven-month occupation by Iraq. The buildings were then torched. The two museums housed a collection of Islamic art (NB – he calls it Islamic, but some of it must predate Islam) –one of the world’s best–put together by Kuwait’s al Sabah family in the ’70s and ’80s. Some 20,000 pieces–including arms, armour, ceramics, earthenware, seals and decorative arts from ancient Persia, Mamluk Egypt and the Mughal emperors in India and Kuwait of the Bronze Age–were packed in crates and driven to the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad in a 17-lorry convoy.

There was pessimism about prospects for getting anything back, except by buying it in bits and pieces on the black market, but a small team of curators arrived in Baghdad six months after the ceasefire. Between Sept. 16 and Oct. 20, 1991, some 16,000 pieces had been returned.

The massive state-sponsored art theft recalls the behavior of conquerors in earlier wars, including European monarchs and Napoleon. And the intention of Saddam–like that of Hitler–went beyond plunder. He wanted to erase Kuwait’s historic and cultural identity.”

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