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The Parthenon Marbles dispute and the debate over cultural repatriation

The Parthenon Marbles dispute and the debate over cultural repatriation
The Parthenon Marbles dispute and the debate over cultural repatriation | GZERO World

Who gets to claim art as their own? It’s a complicated issue, and elite art institutions are undergoing a reckoning over their Indiana Jones-style acquisition tactics of the past. GZERO’s Alex Kliment explores the complex debate of art repatriation and the controversy surrounding ancient artifacts displayed in Western museums. One of the most infamous cases involves the Parthenon Marbles (sometimes called the Elgin Marbles) at the British Museum, which the British took during Ottoman rule. The Greeks have been demanding the Marbles be returned for almost 200 years.

“I think this is really a moral or ethical case,” says Leila Amineddoleh, an art repatriation expert, “Should museums hold onto objects that were taken under either violent circumstances or were taken during a time of looting, theft or when a country was colonized?”


This question of who owns art has become more intensely political in recent years. On one side are the defenders of the “Universal Museum” idea, who say it’s important to have places where everyone can come see art from all over the world in one place. However, critics argue it’s a form of cultural imperialism that denies rightful ownership to the people who created the artifacts in the first place. Ultimately, the debate raises broader questions about museums' responsibility to address historical injustices, balance cultural preservation with global accessibility, and navigate the complex dynamics of ownership and cultural heritage.

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