Showing posts with label Cairo art theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cairo art theft. Show all posts

January 31, 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011 - ,, No comments

Reports of Looting and Theft throughout Egypt

An Egyptian Soldier guarding the Cairo Museum
Like many of you I am following the reports from Egypt with great interest. There is a flood of information on the revolution generally, and also a lot of specific information about the destruction over the weekend at the Cairo Museum.

The situation at the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo seems to have stabilized, with soldiers arresting fifty men who have attempted to break in to the museum Monday. Yesterday Zahi Hawass faxed a report, which was posted on his blog.

 Now reports are emerging about damage and thefts at sites elsewhere in the country. Much of it, I am sorry to say, is disheartening. These reports are very early, and should be taken with a healthy dash of skepticism. Yet we all know that there are places where many of these objects will be bought and sold. The antiquities trade does not distinguish the licit from the illicit. Vast storehouses and sites are at risk. The United States will soon have to consider emergency import restrictions, and monitor the trade as best we can. Yet one can't help but feel frustrated at the destruction which may be taking place.

The Egyptian newsblog Bikyamasr is reporting widespread looting of museums and antiquities thefts all over the country:


According to antiquities official Mohamed Megahed, “immense damages to Abusir and Saqqara” were reported. Looters allegedly have gone into tombs that had been sealed and destroyed much of the tombs and took artifacts.
“Only the Imhotep Museum and adjacent central areas were protected by the military. In Abusir, all tombs were opened; large gangs digging day and night,” he said.
According to Megahed, storage facilities in South Saqqara, just south of Cairo has also been looted. He did mention it was hard to ascertain what, and how much, was taken.
He said Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) officials “are only today [Sunday] able to check on the museums storage, but early reports suggest major looting.”
He called on the international archaeology community to issue a “high alert” statement on Old Kingdom remains and Egyptian antiquities in general, “and please spread the word to law enforcement officials worldwide.”
Looters of museums, “who may be encouraged by outside Egypt entities, may try to use general confusion to get things out of the country.”
His statement comes as Al Jazeera and other news networks reported extensively on the small looting at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo in the past two days as police guarding the museum left their posts. Others allege that the police themselves are responsible for the looting.
The Egyptian Museum is home to some 120,000 items and thousands more in storage in the basement.
 What a sad development if museum security really were involved in the looting. Already it is worth asking the difficult question: what could be done to prevent this in the future, and also thinking about answers. One answer might lie with how the guards were treated. Hyperallergic has translated an interview with the former director of the Egyptian Museum Wafaa el-Saddik, published in the German publication Zeit Online, reporting that the Museum in Memphis has been robbed. The thieves may have been Egyptian security guards, who earn as little as 35 Euros per month.

Good sources of information include:



After the jump, a collection of videos of the situation in Cairo (via)

September 28, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 - , 1 comment

Cairo van Gogh Theft an Inside Job?

The still-missing "Poppy Flowers", by Vincent van Gogh
An Egyptian minister said Sunday that an employee working at the Cairo museum likely participated in the theft.  Habib al-Adly told Egypt's official news agency "There are many circumstances around the theft of the Poppy Flowers that point to the fact that a museum employee participated in the theft or stole it himself . . .  The location and placement inside the museum confirms this".  This may explain why there was such a strong reaction to the arrest and a crack down on the museum's own staff and security personnel, or it may be an attempt to find a scapegoat.  Either a museum employee was complicit in the theft, or there was gross negligence which allowed this work to be cut from its frame.  There are still precious few details, and the work remains missing.

 
  1. AFP: Egypt museum employee behind Van Gogh theft: minister, AFP, September 26, 2010, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iUQB5fPhmiFCuK-JufZ785Af9icg (last visited Sep 27, 2010).
  2. Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Security problems abound in Egypt's museums, Associated Presshttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38884911/ns/technology_and_science-science/ (last visited Aug 28, 2010).

August 28, 2010

More on the Security Breakdown in Cairo

The stolen work, "Poppy Flowers"
 A week ago today the 1887 work Poppy Flowers, by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from a Cairo museum.  Hadeel Al-Shalchi has a very good piece reporting on the security (or lack of it) at the Mahmoud Khalil museum in a piece for the AP which you can read on MSNBC

I'm quoted at the end of the piece, noting that the best way to protect works of art is not necessarily with an elaborate electronic security system.  Those alarms and sensors certainly play an important role, but for a nation like Egypt, an active, engaged security guard who isn't dozing off as these guards perhaps were, would seemingly have been a successful deterrent for the thieves.  They apparently walked in and cut the work from the frame during hours the museum was open.  And I want to make clear that when I was quoted in the piece saying "It's not an exciting job, but you need to take it seriously", I mean that security staff at museums are professionals, and should be given that status.  In Cairo, these guards were certainly not expected or required to maintain an adequate standard, and the theft and damage of this artwork is the unfortunate result.  But hopefully Egypt will learn from this crime, and enact some sound security procedures to ensure more works of art are not stolen in the future. 

When Ms. Al-Shalchi called me to discuss the theft, she told me she had learned that many of the guards may have been praying—this is still Ramadan—while the theft was taking place, that they may have been dozing off, and that the museum was not heavily visited on the day of the theft.  But perhaps most troubling of all were the breakdowns in technology at the museum.  As the piece states, there were no working alarms, only seven of the 43 cameras were in operating condition, and video from the cameras is recorded only when a guard "senses" an incident may be taking place.  As Ton Cremers, founder of the Museum Security Network says, this is not a good state of affairs for the protection of such valuable artworks: "The value of the van Gogh is $40 (million) to $50 million . . .  A complete security system of that museum would be $50,000, and to keep it running would cost $3,000 a year. ... Need I say more?"

Also of interest will be the arguments against repatriation of other classes of objects—such as the bust of Nefertiti—on the grounds that Egypt is not going to be able to adequately care for the object when it is returned.  yet Art theft occurs in every nation, and bad security is bad security whether the museum is in Egypt, Europe, or North America.  Thieves will exploit obvious gaps in security.  As Mark Durney, current moderator of the Museum Security Network, asked this week "Why are some national collections not as well protected as others? Who, in addition to the thief, is responsible for the theft?"  I think that is the right set of questions to ask, yet they need to be asked whenever a museum is unprepared for a theft, whether that museum is in Egypt, or France—where the security system at the Modern Museum may have not been in working order earlier this summer when five works were stolen
  1. Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Security problems abound in Egypt's museums, Associated Press, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38884911/ns/technology_and_science-science/ (last visited Aug 28, 2010).