“Qatar returns statues to Greece amid nudity dispute” reports the Guardian. The simple story here was that the Qataris were objecting to the nudity of these ancient works of art and decided to censor history by covering the offending bits of the statues with pieces of cloth, to the indignation of the Greeks. In its reports the Guardian’s website goes on to refer to how a “cash-strapped” and “bankrupt” Greece has been trying to “woo” a no doubt rich Qatar. In the face of the might of money, culture and heritage had to be curtailed. As cash-strapped as the Greeks might have been their culture minister, Costas Tzavaras, did not agree that the Greek heritage should be censored or distorted, so the offending statues were returned home and quite rightly so. I think this ‘money talks’ scenario needs to be a lesson to UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller.
Ms Miller needs to understand this is what happens when money in all its brashness talks without the input of a proper and cultivated appreciation. Without this deep and objective appreciation a proper knowledge of history, heritage and culture goes out of the window. In spite of an abundance of funds the Qatari regime is unable to engage culturally in this example. In this case the Qataris finance, and particularly the abundance of it, was hindering rather than promoting and supporting culture. In our case if we are to go down Ms Miller’s prescription, finance will also be affecting censorship, except in our case the lack of finance, rather than the abundance of it, would be the culprit. Either way a focus on finance or the “economic impact”, as Ms Miller puts it, is a hindrance and misplaced.
The economic benefits Ms Miller refers to in her speech are benefits derived from what has been built up over the course of decades or even centuries of our history and heritage. However our concern today is how we prepare our culture and heritage for the future. Ms Miller is, in essence, expecting the arts and culture to apply short-term tactics for what are meant to be long term, strategic benefits or results. Ms Miller’s short-term economic view can only undermine our long-term ability to engage in the cultural sphere. Firstly, come the future when our economic woes are hopefully behind us, we will have nothing to give because the foresight that led to the establishment of the British Museum or National Gallery for example will be non-existent. The foundations for the future we should have laid will not be there for us to build on. Secondly, our hopefully economic abundance of the future will however have us making undiscerning decisions like the Qataris have made here. Bottom line, money might talk, but heritage, culture or discernment have to be cultivated over time, and cannot be bought. It’s not all about economy, stupid!
By Depo Olukotun