Showing posts with label vandalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vandalism. Show all posts

October 16, 2016

Dear Tourists, Remember the motto: “Take only pictures, leave only memories.”

Its an age old adage, a memorable saying which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people: 

Always leave things a little better than when you arrived. Take only pictures, leave only memories. You'll be happy you did

But for some tourists, building memories includes acts of selfish vandalism. 

This week, yet again, tourists have tried to chip away at what remains of the city of Pompeii. As if surviving an earthquake, only to be completely enveloped by the volcanic ash of a volcano wasn't insult enough, two Dutch tourists have brazenly walked off with part of a fresco from one of the most poignant villas of Pompeii.

La Casa della Venere in Bikini 
Nicked from the House of Julia Felix aka La Casa della Venere in Bikini (the House of Venus in a bikini); the villa dates to between AD 62 and 79, and stands on the well-trafficked via dell'Abbondanza.  The villa was reopened to the public this past winter following substantial conservation efforts as the site has already been subject to disrepair and predation. 

After the earthquake struck Pompeii in 62 A.D the owner of this extravagant home, the daughter of Spurius, decided to repurpose her villa, transforming portions of it into apartments, a workshop and a public bathhouse. The home's triclinium had beds made of marble and the bathing complex included an outdoor pool, a calidarium, a tepidarium and a frigidarium.  The villa and its amenities were converted most likely to ease the housing shortage caused by the earthquake and to profit from the fact that Pompeii's Forum and Stabian Baths were undergoing renovations. 

We know the history of the villa's renovations from a notice painted on the façade which read “elegant bathing facilities, shops with annexed apartments upstairs and independent apartments on the first floor are offered for rent to respectable people”.

Its doubtful that Julia Felix would have considered momento-grabbing tourists as respectable.  

Generally speaking, marauding tourists taking more than just selfies hardly take the time to comprehend what it is they are walking away with, perhaps wondering as many do, why the Italian authorities can't seem to find a way to secure a site so beautiful, yet so vulnerable to vandalism. 

One thing is for certain, when visiting sites like these, it is already difficult enough to imagine them in their former glory.  One already has to use one's imagination to understand how spacious and luxurious the place must have been, even by Pompeian standards, when so much has had to be carted off, in part for safekeeping and preservation in part for spoils. 

The thieves probably weren't aware that at one time the villa was dramatically adorned with wall paintings, two of which are now on permanent exhibition in the Louvre Museum in Paris.  The statuette for which the house is nicknamed, is also long missing from the site.  It's on display in the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet) of Italy's National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The gallery houses overly-naughty objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum once considered too erotic in nature for the general museum population. 

Spotted by a tour guide, who grabbed the 8 cm by 8 cm stolen fresco fragment from the culprits and notified the authorities, the two tourists have been charged with attempted grand larceny. 

Italian Newspaper Il Mattino reports that when confronted the tourist tried to tell the authorities 

This is not the first theft at Pompeii, nor is it likely to be the last. 

3 million tourists set foot in Pompeii every year.  Visitors need to remember that they have no right to desecrate ruins for their short term gain. If everyone takes away "a momento", even if found on the ground, in one hundred year's time there will not be a Pompeii - just a pile of rubble.

July 14, 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016 - ,, No comments

“What light through yonder window breaks?” The Case of Corey Menafee and a stained glass window at Yale University

In history as today, vandalism is an act imbued with meaning and the gap between how heritage professionals react to deliberate damage of artworks and the perceptions of the agents of these changes and the groups they represent presents interesting food for thought.  

On June 13, 2016 a cafeteria worker, Corey Menafee, took a broomstick and smashed a historic stained glass window depicting two slaves picking cotton at Yale University's Calhoun College residence hall.  Confessing to the crime, he was arrested shortly thereafter.

Existing US criminal law does not distinguish art vandalism from vandalism in general and typically classifies the deliberate destruction of artwork under the general category of criminal mischief.  In Connecticut the offence falls under the state’s General Statutes § 53a-115a.  This law addresses persons who acted "with intent to cause damage to tangible property of another and having no reasonable ground to believe that such person has a right to do so, such person damages tangible property of another in an amount exceeding one thousand five hundred dollars."

As a result of his actions, Menafee was charged with first-degree criminal mischief, which is a felony, as well as second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.  For his actions, under Connecticut law, Manafee faces up to five years in prison on the felony charge and up to two years of incarceration on the misdemeanor offense.  

Menafee apologised for his actions and subsequently resigned. 

The residence hall's namesake, John C. Calhoun, is significant in that he was a well known 19th century American statesman and political theorist from South Carolina who served as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.  Calhoun was an outspoken supporter of slavery as well as an 1804 graduate of Yale University.  For years students concerned staffers alike have advocated against the name and imagery of the building, saying that it takes a heavy toll on all persons of color who live and work within the historic building. 

But despite the illegality of his actions, students, alumni and members of the New Haven community chose instead to rally around Menafee.  Taking to social media, they voiced their support for his actions and created a petition calling for all charges to be dropped. Other supporters established a GoFundMe account, set up to help him raise money for his defence.

Based on the sensativity of the issue, Yale University released a statement that it would not advocate for Menafee to be prosecuted and would not seek restitution for the loss of the stained glass artwork. 

Additionally, the destruction to the historic window led to a new review by Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Places of other historic windows in answer to petition created for the Yale administration which stated that artwork such as the window “conveys disrespect toward black perspectives, and serves a barrier toward racial inclusiveness.” 

On Tuesday July 12th Yale issued the following statement:

“After the window was broken in June, the Committee recommended that it and some other windows be removed from Calhoun, conserved for future study and a possible contextual exhibition, and replaced temporarily with tinted glass. An artist specializing in stained glass will be commissioned to design new windows, with input from the Yale community, including students, on what should replace them.”

Acts of violence against art such as these explore and challenge society’s ideas of what constitutes “civil disobedience” or “vandalism”.  It also exemplifies why we occasionally deem some crimes against art, such as the deliberate damage to symbolical art which records painful pasts, as acceptable, while other destruction is opposed as negative.

In today’s conflict-filled world, where war is no longer about conquering territory but about changing the perceptions of those under your control ancient statues and historic sites are mutilated or smashed because they are seen as pagan idols. In the past, deliberate attacks against statues depicting Saddam, Stalin and Lenin underscored the end of dictatorial regimes. Each of these examples show how society's interpretation the destruction of art can be a political symbol, and as such, as a weapon for change.  Each shows that art vandalism can be interpreted as positive or negative depending on the eyes of the beholder.

The broken window at Yale reminds us that context authorship and intention of the vandal often play an important role in how society perceives, interprets, accepts, rejects or adjudicates an criminal act deeming one as backward, another as revolutionary, or in the case of Yale's stained class, perhaps a wrong that long since needs to be righted.  It probes the concept of when art destruction is acceptable and when it isn't and forces us to rethink the ways that we interact with art and react to its power to shock or subdue.

By Lynda Albertson

December 25, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013 - ,,, No comments

A flaming Swedish Christmas tradition – the annual burning of the Gävle-Goat

by A. M. C. Knutsson

On Saturday the 21st of December the Gävle-Goat was again found in flames after unknown men engaged in a 4 a.m. torching session of this enormous straw creation. The men have yet to be found but the police are searching vigorously for the culprits. If found they would be charged with inflicting gross damage to property.

The burning of the Gävle-goat is a ritual reaching back to 1966, the year when Stig Galvén prompted the first straw goat to be erected in Slottstorget in Gävle, central Sweden. The Yule time straw goat has a long tradition in the Scandinavian culture. It reaches back to pre-Christian days when the god of War, Thor, was said to have a carriage pulled by two goats; Tanngnjost and Tanngrisner.[1] The goat has long been associated with fertility and farming, as such the last wheat sheaf of the year was thought to embody the harvest spirit. As such it could be formed into a goat to boost next year’s crops.[2] As the Nordic countries were converted to Christianity, the goat became increasingly associated with darker powers. None-the-less the Yule goat maintained a prominent role in the Swedish Christmas celebrations. Long before Santa Clause’s arrival at the Swedish shore it was the Yule-Goat who was in charge of distributing gifts to children during the yuletide. He, however, was not quite as jovial as the present day Santa, and parents often threatened unruly children with the Yule-Goat.[3] As late as the end of the 19th Century when Santa Clause finally managed to navigate to the northern countries, it was the Yule-Goat who pulled his sledge. Nowadays there is little left to remind us of the goat but the straw Yule-Goats found in most Swedish homes.

When the Gävle-Goat first appeared in 1966, it was then a symbol recognisable to all Swedes, however its scale was something quite new. The goat was 13 meters (42.6 feet) high and 7 meters (23 feet) long, weighing an impressive 3 tonnes. Since then every year a gigantic straw goat has been installed on Slottstorget around the first of advent. On New Years Eve of 1966, Galvén’s goat was the first of many to feel the power of the flame.[4] As opposed to most other vandals, the first one was caught and charged with inflicting gross damage to property. This was followed by two years of peace for the goat after which it again was torched on New Years Eve 1969. Whilst many forms of vandalism have afflicted the Goat throughout the years the most common by far is arson. When the goat burnt on the 21st of Dec 2013, it was the 27th time the poor beast has met its end by the torch.

In 1985 the goat met with a new level of fame when it was included in The Guinness Book of World Records for its impressive 12.5 meter height, which was later beaten by the 1993 goat, which towered 16 meters above ground. Since 1986 two Yule-Goats have been found in Gävle, as two competing associations have been building them: the Southern Merchants (constructing the Gävle-Goat, the bigger goat, usually targeted by arsonists) and Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa (Constructing the Yule-Goat). Only two years later, the goat had met such repute that English bookmakers took up the challenge of the goat burning and ever since it has been possible to bet on whether or not the goat will burn. As the renown of the goat rose so did the police efforts to secure it. Whilst in 1990 volunteers had guarded the goat, by 1996 the first web cameras had been installed and it was now possible to follow the destiny of the goat online. The fame of the goat was such that in 2001, an American from New Orleans, having taken the burnings of the goat as a permitted tradition decided to torch it. A civilian caught him almost immediately and the police had to rescue him from the wrath of the people of Gävle.[5] The man later received a fine of 100 000 Swedish crowns (approx. $15,000) and a month in jail.[6]

Apart from the attempts at destruction by fire the most notable attack on the goat came in 2010, when two unknown men offered the goat’s guard 50 000 Swedish crowns (approx. $7,500) to leave the goat for a few minutes. The plan was to kidnap the goat and by helicopter bring it to Stureplan in Stockholm.[7]

Whilst flame-retardants have been used for some years, including this year, the goat has burnt to the ground for the last three years. In the Facebook group ‘Vi som vill bränna Gävle-bocken’ ('We who want to burn the Gävle-goat'), a comment appeared just a day before its destruction. “All who have guessed that the goat would burn today, maybe it is time to take matters into your own hands?”[8] A few hours later the goat was in flames. From its twitter account the Gävle-Goat announced “I'm so sad my friends that I have to leave you now! Thank you for this year! Take care and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”[9]

[1] "Mytologi (Nordisk)". Nordisk familjebok, 1913. Read 23 December 2013
[2] Karin Schager, Julbocken i folktro och jultradition, (1989)
[3] Caroline Lagercrantz,, (26 Jan 2007), Read 23 December 2013
[5] Dennis Larsson, (24 Dec 2001), Read 23 December 2013
[6] Josefin Karlsson & Niklas Eriksson, (21 Dec 2013), Read 23 December 2013
[9], Read 23 December 2013

Further Reading:
"Mytologi (Nordisk)". Nordisk familjebok, 1913. Karin Schager, Julbocken i folktro och jultradition, (1989)
Karlsson, Josefin & Niklas Eriksson, (21 Dec 2013)

The YouTube video above is from Gävlebocken 2012.

February 19, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - ,,,, No comments

Dr. Joris Kila Reports on Feb. 1 Fire that Damaged the former American Embassy at the Historic Villa Casdagli in Cairo

Old interior picture of Villa Casdagli Hall
and Chapel. Photo by Jeremy Young.
This is a report from Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman of the International Cultural Resources Working Group (IMCuRWG) and adviser to the Austrian Committee of the Blue Shield and the Association of the National Committees of the Blue Shield (ANCBS).

Dr. Peter Lacovara, a US Egyptologist working in Luxor, sent out an alarm early this month after vandals torched the former American Embassy, the Villa Casdagli, in Cairo on February 1. Alerted by the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, Corine Wegener, president of U.S. Blue Shield, contacted Dr. Kila who was spending a week in Cairo to report on the damage. The fire set on Friday night was not extinguished until early Saturday morning.  

Fire damaged Villa Casdagli on Feb. 9Photo by Dr. Joris Kila
Villa Casdagli on the Midan Simon Bolivar is very close to the Tahrir Square. It was reported that later several adolescents had set fire to the interior of the villa and were were chased away by casual passer-by’s.

According to Dr. Lacovara's message on 4 February 2013, the Cairo fire department needed the security forces to clear Tahrir Square of demonstrators who were doing everything possible to stop the fire department from putting out the fire at the villa. As of 4.30 in the afternoon on February 4, fire was still smoldering in the upper floors and smoke was coming out through the windows. Plunderers were ripping out anything of value inside the villa. Dr. Lacovara had asked the fire department to revisit the premises, but they refused to do so as there was no roaring fire apparent, and they didn’t want to venture out and possibly cause another violent demonstration. The firefighters believed they would need protection to undertake this job but security forces were disinclined to break the calm that prevailed in the area.

Villa Casdagli's 2nd floor (Photo by Dr. Kila)
One week after the fire on Saturday Feb. 9, Dr. Joris Kila and Tilly Mulder, an advocate for Blue Shield in Egypt, went to the Midan Simon Bolivar. Most of the antique fence and that gate to the Villa Casdagli had been stolen, leaving the building unprotected and still vulnerable to looters. Kila and Mulder, joined by Egyptian architectural researcher Ahmad Al-Bindari, went inside and saw the devastation. The Byzantine hall in which Saint George was so well depicted in both the celestial ceiling and the hall’s extraordinary cloister (chapel) is severely damaged. The monumental staircase is completely destroyed by fire. Marble ornaments and fireplaces are broken with pieces scattered around. Everywhere in the building, useable parts are stripped and stolen. The second floor was found completely burned and ravaged.

Hall and chapel on Feb. 9 (Photo by Dr. Kila)
The team tried to get more information about who created this destruction and looting but this was difficult. The Villa is close to the Tahrir Square and more or less in a sort of riot zone. There is no police so everything is left unguarded. Unconfirmed rumors blame criminal elements who are also kept responsible for looting and damaging the lobby of the nearby Intercontinental Hotel. The website states: "the solitary winner here is the villa's latest owner who will no doubt sell this prime real estate to Qatar or replace it with a lucrative high rise’’.

The fact that the Casdagli Villa was an official monument did not make much difference. Last year another Cairo monument, the luxuriously furnished villa of Kevork Ispenian on the Pyramids Road, was looted and destroyed despite being on Egypt’s heritage list.

Back ground of the Villa Casdagli
The Villa Casdagli is a listed historic monument. It is an irreplaceable architectural landmark with distinguished architecture, European-style paintings, mosaics and special inlays. It was built during the first decade of the 20th century by Austrian architect Edward Matasek (1867-1912). According to the Casdagli family,  Emanuel Casdagli [a British educated Levantine family of Georgian-Central Caucasia origins dealing in the lucrative Manchester trade] purchased the building in 1911 after the British High Commander Sir Eldon Gorst moved to a 'more stately home.' One of Villa Casdagli's pre World War II tenants was the American Embassy. The building is situated next to the plot where the current US embassy is located.

The Villa Casdagli later became a school for girls named after Sudanese revolutionary "Ali Abdelatif". In 2006, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), now the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA), placed the villa on Egypt's heritage list as an Islamic monument. In 2008, the SCA, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the American Research Centre in Cairo (ARCE), developed a comprehensive restoration project for the building. The project was funded by the US Department of State's Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation with a $5 million grant. After restoration the monument would become a new Institute of Museology, established by the Ministry of State for Antiquities Affairs to train curators on modern technology as used in world renowned museums. Courses would include museum presentation and exhibition design, restoration, museum studies and heritage management and the institute would offer MA and PhD programs.

On February 10 Dr. Kila and Ms. Mulder attended a meeting of the so-called ‘’Friends of Manial Palace Museum”. This NGO has good relations with the Antiquities Ministry (formerly Supreme Council of Antiquities) -- proof of this is that the meeting was held in the premises of this Ministry in Zamalek. During the meeting, it was understood that the ownership of the Villa Casdagli had been transferred from the Ministry of Education to the Antiquities Ministry which makes real-estate speculation less likely.

According to an article in Al Ahram online published 13 February and on the occasion of a symposium on the "Islamic view on cultural heritage", the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture" (IRCICA) issued the "International Declaration of Cairo", which protects Islamic as well as Pre-Islamic heritage. Among the participants were the Grand Mufti of Egypt, the Sheikh d'Al-Azhar and the Minister of Waqfs. The Grand Mufti announced that he is going to publish a book on short notice that collects all fatwas on the protection of heritage. The use of Fatwa’s to prevent abuse and destruction of Cultural Property which also happened in Iraq. In May 2003, just after the American invasion of Iraq had begun Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was asked by the archaeology inspector of Dhi Qar province in southern Iraq to announce a fatwa. The request was granted and Al-Sistani proclaimed that digging for antiquities is illegal; that both Islamic and pre-Islamic artefacts are part of Iraqi heritage; and that people with antiquities in their possession should return them to the museum in Baghdad or Nasiriya. Copies of the fatwa were distributed widely in the south, and published in the Iraqi press. As a result some of the looting stopped. Islamic leaders can have a major positive impact on protecting cultural heritage.


Email correspondence with Dr. Thomas Schuler Disaster Relief Task Force (DRTF) of ICOM, Cori Wegener USBS, Dr. Peter Lacovara.

Publications: Kila, Joris, “Can white men sing the blues? Cultural Property Protection in times of armed conflict deploying military experts,” in Laurie Rush
(ed.), Archaeology, Cultural Property and the Military, Woodbridge 2010, pp. 41–59

Kila, Joris. Heritage under Siege. Military Implementation of Cultural Property Protection following the 1954 (Heritage and Identity, 1). Leiden-Boston 2012.

Ahram online,Saturday, 16 February 2013

Looters smash jewel of Cairo’s colonial past | The Sunday Times Sara Hashash, Cairo Published: 10 February 2013

Al-Ahram Weekly On-line | Heritage | Back to school for museum staff, 19 - 25 May 2011, Issue No. 1048

June 9, 2012

Accusations of money laundering, vandalism and the theft of a Picasso lithograph in Northern California at a mansion allegedly belonging to the former Ukrainian Prime Minister

Novato mansion/Associated Press
The theft of a Picasso lithograph, accusations of money laundering, and vandalism converge in an abandoned mansion in Northern California.

More than 100 people partied in a 19,500 square foot residence in South Novato without the permission of the alleged owner, former Ukrainian Prime Minister  Pavlo Lazarenko, reports Will Jason for the Marin Independent Journal.

The caretaker reported that amongst the vandalism, a $30,000 Picasso lithograph disappeared.

Lazarenko is imprisoned in Southern California.  The United Nations estimates that Lazarenko stole $200 million from the government of Ukraine.

UPDATE: The Picasso lithograph was found on a walking path below the mansion and handed over to the police.  You can see the video and read the story here.