I was asked by Salaam Gateway to write a monthly column about Islamic Art. In this first piece, I looked at the restitution of an important Afghan bowl as a way of framing a larger question about cultural heritage.
It’s difficult to get a grip on the meaning of cultural heritage. Notions of belonging, value, and memory can seem abstract and academic, but the discovery of a trafficked object has pushed these ideas into a more tangible framework. In a case that involved collectors, an auction house, and two museum authorities, the private market worked in tandem with the public sector towards a resolution that didn’t prioritise personal or corporate profit. Instead, a piece of cultural heritage, stolen over twenty years ago, was recovered and restored to its rightful context. The object in question, an Islamic tinned copper vessel, was ripped from its place in the National Museum of Afghanistan and condemned to obscurity for two decades before bobbing once again to the surface earlier this year.
The rest of the piece is here: