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Removal of Parthenon Marbles Was a ‘Creative Act’, Says British Museum Director

Hartwig Fischer has caused anger with his ‘imperialist’ statements after ruling out returning the marbles to Greece

Unmounted youths preparing for the cavalcade, block from the north frieze of the Parthenon, c. 438-432 BC, marble. Courtesy: © The Trustees of the British Museum

Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum in London has sparked controversy after saying that the displacement of the Parthenon Marbles from Greece in the 19th century could be viewed as a ‘creative act’. 

According to the Guardian, the British Museum chief ruled out the return of the 2,500-year-old sculptures in an interview with Greek newspaper Ta Nea, and said that the British Museum offered an alternative way of engaging with the marbles by ‘posing different questions because the objects are placed in a new context.’ He suggested that although moving cultural heritage to a museum moves it outside of its original environment and context, the ‘shifting is also a creative act.’ 

In response to Fischer’s comments, the secretary of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, told the Greek newspaper: ‘The imperialist patronage of the British Museum has no limits,’ and said that the Museum director’s remarks stemmed from a place of ‘astonishing historical revisionism and arrogance.’

Fischer’s argument is that the monument’s history is ‘enriched’ due to its placing split between Athens and London where ‘six million people see them every year.’ He also stated that the government would need to rewrite the laws as the legal owners are the British Museum’s trustees who have a responsibility to preserve the museum’s collection as bestowed to them by the British Parliament. 

An opinion poll conducted by YouGov in 2014 found that only a quarter of the British public wanted to keep the monument. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to return the marbles if his party is elected. Pressured to return the Parthenon Marbles, should the museum finally give way. Don’t miss classicist Paul Cartledge writing on why in the age of Brexit, Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ artefacts has never been more urgent.

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