By Samantha Bonilla*
At a ceremony hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art on January 31, 2018, ICOM (International Council of Museums) unveiled its new Emergency Red List, this one dedicated to the Cultural Objects at Risk for Yemen. The event featured four distinguished speakers, including: Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of the MET; Suay Aksoy, President of ICOM; His Excellency Ambassador Khaled Hussein Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the United Nations; and Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Official remarks focused on the history of Yemen and its cultural objects at risk, and how to prevent them from being sold or illegally exported. The Red List was made public on February 1, 2018.
The organization responsible for creating and disseminating the lists, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), is dedicated to preserving, conserving, and protecting cultural goods. There are 141 countries and over 37,000 members from different academic backgrounds that are engaged in museum and heritage-related professions.
This is the seventeenth Red List developed by ICOM, with the support of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The other sixteen Red Lists also relate to property like antiques and cultural objects. The first Red List was presented in 2000 and covered African Archaeological Objects. The purpose of the Red Lists are to help cultural property protection professionals and law enforcement recognize objects that could potentially be sold or illegally traded. The Red Lists are potentially shared among museums, auction houses and art dealers; the Lists include categories of writings, sculpted objects, architectural elements, vessels and containers, coins and seals, accessories and tools, ornaments, and jewelry.
The premise of the list is laudable; however, the artifacts listed are just examples and are not actually missing. The problem with applying the Lists and ascertaining the origins of suspect materials is that some of the items that appear on a given list could be coming from a different jurisdiction.
The reason Yemen was selected to have its own list is because the country is experiencing a humanitarian crisis and an armed conflict that started in 2015. The conflict has displaced millions of people and thousands have been killed out of Yemen’s population of 28 million people.Yemen has endured extreme loss and damage to its cultural heritage. Museums and sites in Yemen have been compromised, such as the Old City of Sana’a, and there have been numerous archeological objects either stolen or illegally excavated.
According to France Desmarais, Director of Programmes and Partnerships at ICOM, Yemeni cultural artifacts are not expected to begin circulating in the art market until a few years from now. However, the list is intended as a proactive tool to alert museum and art market players to the possibility of exposure to Yemen objects.
About the Author: Samantha Bonilla is a graduate student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is currently interning with the Center for Art Law and can be reached at email@example.com