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The week in art news – fears grow for the safety of cultural workers in Afghanistan

Plus: Jean-Luc Nancy (1940–2021) | and Amsterdam returns Kandinsky painting to heirs of former owner

27 August 2021

Earlier this week hundreds of artists and organisations signed an open letter calling for the US government to include cultural workers in the category of at-risk individuals who must be included in evacuation plans in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The letter from Arts for Afghanistan joins the growing calls for the protection of Afghans working in the culture and heritage sectors as well as sites of cultural heritage. Last week in a statement Unesco said that it was ‘closely following the situation on the ground and is committed to exercising all possible efforts to safeguard the invaluable cultural heritage of Afghanistan’. Deutsche Welle has a report on what it describes as a ‘precarious’ situation for cultural workers in Afghanistan at present.

The French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has died at the age of 81. Born near Bordeaux in 1940, Nancy took up a teaching post at the Université des Sciences Humaines in Strasbourg in 1973, where he would remain for the next three decades. Nancy wrote extensively on visual art and film, with subjects ranging from Heidegger’s art theory to the work of Caravaggio and On Kawara; his essay ‘L’Intrus’ (The Intruder, 2000), in which he recounted the experience of undergoing heart transplant surgery, formed the basis of Claire Denis’s 2004 film of the same name.

Amsterdam city council has agreed to return a painting by Wassily Kandinsky, held in the Stedelijk Museum, to the heirs of its former owners. The move brings to an end a nine-year legal battle; the descendants of Robert Lewenstein, who sold the work at auction in 1940, have long argued that the sale was made under duress as a result of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, though last December a Dutch court ruled that the city had bought the work in good faith, upholding an earlier decision by the Dutch Restitutions Committee. The decision taken by the council follows the introduction by the Netherlands of new guidelines on disputed art earlier this year; in a letter to the council, mayor Femke Halsema and the alderman for culture, Touria Melani, stated: ‘In view of the long time period and the importance of redressing injustice, we will return the work without a new intervention by the Restitutions Committee.’

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