OPINION

Trophies of violence

Trophies of violence

Dear Sir or Madam,

It is with great pain, but also pride and hope, that I write to you. This is not a letter of accusation but the heartfelt expressions of a Greek man, born and raised in Athens. 

I remember vividly the first time that I saw the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum. I was 10 years old. Mesmerized by their extreme beauty, I felt a sense of familiarity as well as an inexplicable, abstract kind of anguish. Now, 50 years later, this anguish is not abstract anymore. It is the pain of displacement, of witnessing artworks that have been violently removed – ripped without defense – from their original body. Is this the message that art should transmit to a child?

Why were they there? By what right? By whose decision? The answers are too numerous to list, but two of them are at the top of my mind: abuse of power and legalization of art theft.

Imagine if London were occupied after a disastrous war and the occupiers ripped down and confiscated the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, then displayed it somewhere else in the world. London is liberated and St Paul’s is mostly reconstructed – but the occupiers refuse to send the dome back. Imagine if someone “legally” removed a piece of Michelangelo’s Pieta – and that piece is now in a museum wonderfully displayed – but the museum refuses to reunite it with the original work.

In Athens today, the supreme monument to democracy still stands. The Parthenon is wounded, burned and looted, but it’s still there, an eternal reminder of the strength of the city’s history and culture. And yet, the sculptures that completed this architectural masterwork are still missing. They are in another country – displayed elegantly but far from the light of Attica. They have been turned into trophies of violence.

Is this what the British Museum wants to stand for? 

I respectfully ask the British Museum to begin the process of the returning the Parthenon Marbles to Athens. Now is the moment. 

Sincerely yours,

Konstantin Kakanias, artist