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US Senate votes to bar import of Syrian antiquities

14 April 2016

Our daily round-up of news from the art world

Senate votes to ban import of antiquities from Syria | Yesterday, the US Senate voted by unanimous consent to ban the import of almost all ancient art and artefacts from Syria, reports the New York Times. The motion is a response to fears that trafficking in art and antiquities from conflict zones may, whether directly or indirectly, be profiting ISIS and other militant groups in the Middle East. Meanwhile, a task force of specialists has urged the US to step up its activities combatting looting and smuggling in the region. The task force’s report, issued on the same day as the legislation was passed, advocates appointing a senior director to oversee US attempts to tackle looting and trafficking, claiming that the current approach is ‘decentralized and implemented on an ad hoc basis.’ The report also supports the deployment of air strikes to protect sites of cultural importance.

Protests in Iran over mooted privatisation of Tehran Art Museum | Demonstrators gathered outside Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art at the weekend to protest an alleged government decision to hand its running over to the Roudaki Foundation, a private company established under the supervision of the culture ministry. Though Iran’s culture ministry has denied any such plans, documents published by a local news website reportedly suggest otherwise.

Artist arrested in Zimbabwe over play casting light on political scandal | Artist, theatre producer and actor Silvanos Mudzvova has been arrested by Zimbabwean police after staging a play based on President Robert Mugabe’s revelation that around $15 billion in revenue from one of the country’s largest diamond mines may have gone missing. Details remain murky, but All Africa News reports that Mudzvova, a graduate of London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, was detained outside the country’s parliament building while staging a performance of a play entitled ‘Missing diamonds, I need my share’. Politically motivated demonstrations are subject to harsh crackdowns in Zimbabwe. Last year, an activist was kidnapped after calling for Mugabe to retire. He has not been seen since.

Auction house withdraws Dutch Old Master painting from sale over looting fears | Vienna auction house Im Kinsky has postponed the sale of a 17th-century Dutch Old Master painting at the request of the French culture ministry, which believes it was looted from the Schloss family by the Nazis during the Second World War. According to The Art Newspaper, Bartholomeus van der Helst’s Portrait of a Man (1647) was featured in the Im Kinsky catalogue with an estimate range of €12,000 to €18,000 and a catalogue note acknowledging its disputed provenance (the consigner bought the work in good faith in 2004).

Recommended reading: ‘Border Wall’ competition sparks outrage | The New Republic has run an intriguing piece on a competition to design a ‘border wall’ between the US and Mexico. The idea of the barrier – one of US presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s campaign pledges – has itself been the subject of immense controversy, and the competition, launched by the Third Mind Foundation, has provoked still more debate within the architectural profession.