Mad In Pursuit Notebook

Cultural Artifacts. Good and Evil

Researching: trade in cultural artifacts and antiquities. The news stories are all about skulduggery. Looting. Smuggling. Prosecutions. Repatriations to source countries. See my bookmarks at delicious>>>

It would seem politically incorrect to admit that I’ve purchased beads from all over the world — ancient, excavated, used in ritual, blessed — and not just simulations strung together for the souvenir or handicraft trade. Beads and other cultural artifacts have been traded since the dawn of time. We learn about one another by circulating our stuff. I believe that.

ReadingThe Gift by Lewis Hyde. In thinking about creative work as a gift, he explores the “gift economy.” True gifts stay in motion. They transform the recipient, who is then inspired to make her own gift. Gifts freely given — whether talents, artifacts, or gag gifts — become vehicles for the spirit of the group.

My thought: Cultural artifacts circulate the globe as intercultural gifts, a celebration of humanity’s vibrance and creativity. Traded openly and fairly they are vehicles of our common human spirit. But when they are reduced to a commodity by stealing, breaking up (like, lopping heads off statues), entering the black market like so much heroin or illegal arms, the circle is broken.

7.20.09