And it’s a question I’ve battled with on many occasions.
There are two sides to this story, each with a strong (ish) argument for and against. Me? I sort of sit in the middle on the fence, which is a bit of a cop out admittedly, but it’s an incredibly complex argument with no real hands-down winner that we can back on either side. The heritage lover in me champions the care and preservation of objects, which justifies a stance that supports the best institutions for the job, i.e. those national institutions such as the BM who are at the forefront of cultural preservation and display. But part of me also champions the underdog – people’s whose cultural heritage has been ripped from them without so much as a ‘please’ or ‘thank you very much.’
Obviously, I am simplifying this incredibly complicated issue, but fortunately the writer in me is able to thrash out these arguments in a medium that I can control. I’ve taken an immense amount of pleasure over the last few weeks in beginning a work of fiction that takes the idea of repatriation as its central theme. I’ve no idea how far I’ll go with it in terms of length etc. and it’s very early stages but it’s given me great satisfaction to explore the theme of cultural ownership and marginalised voices. The genre is likely to be historical fiction, with a mix of voices from the past and present. It’s also been really interesting to do some initial research into some of the great Victorian collectors – whose stories are so inherently mixed up with the repatriation debate. But that’s a whole other thread I think so I’ll leave that one for another time. In the mean-time, watch this space!