Hartwig Fischer, the Director of the British Museum has given an interview to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea, in which he commented that the removal of the 2,500-years-old Parthenon marble sculptures from Greece was a creative act.
His comments have provoked angry reactions from art lovers around the world. Many people from Greece and other parts of the world believe that the Parthenon marbles belonged to the Greek and their removal by the British in the first part of the 19th Century is equivalent to stolen.
Greece has repeatedly urged the British Museum to return the marbles — known as Elgin marbles — but every time, the British Museum refused to do so, reports The Guardian.
When the reporter asked Fischer about the argument that the return should be seen as a rejoining of the sculptures, Fischer said the British Museum sees the interaction with the marbles differently, “posing different questions because the objects are placed in a new context.” He added, “We should appreciate this opportunity. You could, of course, be saddened by the fact that the original environment has disappeared. When you move a cultural heritage to a museum, you move it outside. However, this shifting is also a creative act.” He drew an analogy with the Acropolis Museum created in Athens, “Nothing that we admire at the Acropolis Museum was created for the Acropolis Museum. They are close to the original environment, but they have again moved away from it and have been transformed through this act.”
The marbles were removed from Greece in the early 19th Century by agents of the 7th Earl of Elgin, the act of which, many do not see as creative. Lord Byron likened it to vandalism, lamenting in verse in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, “Dull is the eye that will not weep to see / Thy walls defac’d, thy mouldering shrines remov’d / By British hands.”
Fischer’s comment has drawn international outrage. George Vardas, the Secretary of the International Association for Reunification of Parthenon Sculptures, tweeted, “Seriously. What was so creative in the destruction of the temple and looting and pillage of a nation’s keys to its ancient history?” To him, it was “astonishing historical revisionism and arrogance,” and he commented, “The imperial condescension of the British Museum knows no bounds.” Fischer firmly rejected the claim of Greece as the legitimate owner of the marbles. “The objects in the collection of the British Museum are owned by the museum’s commissioners,” he said.