Iraq reopens Baghdad museum 12 years after looting

Iraq’s national museum officially reopened Saturday after 12 years of painstaking efforts during which close to a third of 15,000 pieces looted during the US-led invasion were recovered.

The reopening was brought forward in what officials said was a response to the destruction of priceless artefacts by Islamic State group jihadists in the northern city of Mosul.

"We have been preparing to reopen for the past couple of months, the museum should be open to everyone," Qais Hussein Rashid, the deputy tourism and antiquities minister, told AFP. 

"The events in Mosul led us to speed up our work and we wanted to open it today as a response to what the gangs of Daesh did," he said, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group. Read more.

"Pictures just come to my mind and I tell my heart to go ahead," said Horace Pippin. See Pippin’s paintings in "Represent: 200 Years of African American Art.”

The End of the War: Starting Home,” 1930–33, by Horace Pippin

Hooray for the blooms! In honor of today’s opening of the Philadelphia Flower Show, we’re celebrating with the work of the botanical artist to Queen Marie Antoinette, Pierre Joseph Redouté.

Joséphine’s March Lily, Amaryllis josephinae,” 1802–05, by Pierre Joseph Redouté

For “Shelley Spector: Keep the Home Fires Burning,” Philadelphia artist Shelley Spector will create a walk-through installation that underscores the universal quest for hope and home. Explore her installation when it opens next week in the Perelman Building.

"From Seeds to Seeds" (detail), 2014, by Shelley Spector. Photography by Constance Mensh.

HIDDEN behind the popular displays at many of your favorite natural history museums — in their basements, back rooms and, increasingly, off-site facilities — sit humanity’s most important libraries of life, holding not books but preserved animal and plant specimens, carefully collected over centuries by thousands of scientist explorers.

These specimen collections serve as the bedrock of our system of taxonomy — the rules by which we classify life — and are integral to our understanding of the threats, origins and interrelationships of biodiversity. And yet, thanks to budget cutbacks, misplaced ethical critiques, public misconceptions and government regulations that restrict scientists while failing to restrict environmental exploitation, the continued maintenance and growth of these libraries is in danger.

Though most visitors never know they are there, natural history collections are as critical to modern biologists as libraries are to journalists and historians. Indeed, like good literature, each museum specimen allows reinterpretation by every person who examines it.

A taxonomist looking for minute differences between species, and a biogeographer investigating species distributions across a landscape, will find the same specimen valuable for different reasons, as will an evolutionary biologist resolving the interconnectedness and history of life, and an ecologist piecing together the intricate functions of whole ecosystems. These collections are particularly critical in today’s era of rapid ecological and climate change, providing a unique and vitally important glimpse into ecological conditions of the past.

In the same way that students of the humanities use new critical approaches to pull novel ideas out of old books, scientists regularly use new technologies — like stable isotope analysis, high-throughput DNA sequencing and X-ray computed tomography — to draw new discoveries from sometimes centuries-old specimens. The never-ending story of every specimen continues to unfold for as long as it is cared for, but threats to this care have recently accelerated.

In October 2014, a Smithsonian botanist and curator named Vicki Funk cataloged recent budgetary and curatorial cutbacks at several of our nation’s premier natural history museums, including the Field Museum in Chicago, the California Academy of Sciences and the New York State Museum. The curatorial staff at the Field Museum dropped by almost half, to 21 from 39, between 2001 and 2014, and that’s at a relatively well-funded American institution.

According to an editorial last November in the journal Nature, most natural history collections in Italy are virtually derelict, with up to a third of all specimens lost to neglect. And many tropical countries, which have disproportionately rich biodiversity and booming economies linked to resource extraction, allocate few if any funds for cataloging their natural heritage — shifting greater responsibility to those few European and North American institutions that maintain robust global collections.

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story

Funding cuts aren’t the only threat. In the journal Science last April, the Arizona State University ethicist Ben A. Minteer and his co-authors made the dubious claim that scientific specimen collection had significantly contributed to many species’ decline and extinction. They recommended that such collections be minimized in favor of nonlethal tissue samples, photographs or other recordings, particularly for species thought to be under threat of extinction.

They aren’t alone. In October 2014, the Harvard entomologist and wildlife photographer Piotr Naskrecki received withering public criticism, including at least one death threat, for mentioning in a blog that he had euthanized and preserved a single specimen of the relatively common and widespread Goliath bird-eating spider, which he later deposited in Guyana’s natural history museum.

We heartily agree that the impact of scientific collections on species should be minimized. But to deny the value of specimens is to accept ignorance of many of the requirements for understanding the evolution, ecology and conservation of biodiversity.

To the extent that they can still capture a rich and verifiable record of biodiversity at a single point and time, many biologists already strive to maximize nonlethal sampling techniques, including camera traps, audio recordings and tissue collection. But these tools are often effective only for organisms that can be identified with certainty in the field. What about the estimated 86 percent of all species that remain unknown? And while photographs can record an organism’s external appearance, they reveal nothing about its internal anatomy, reproductive state, diseases and genetics.

And specimen collection need never threaten extinction. It is hard to imagine any modern scientist collecting more individuals from a wild population than are regularly lost to predation and disease.

As we enter an age of human-dominated landscapes, it would be a crime to restrict the cataloging and study of biodiversity and consign natural history museums, our most diverse archives of nonhuman life, to selling themselves only as educators and entertainers. The research, growth and maintenance of scientific collections must be strongly and publicly supported.

There is no substitute for collecting and curating specimens for long-term study — not just for scientists studying biodiversity today, but also for future generations, whose need for clues to the spectacular breadth and complexity of unaltered ecosystems will be even greater than our own.

I would say that this is a must-article for anyone and everyone, but especially so for those working in or closely with museums and their natural history collections.  This is a big issue, and the article points things out that are often left unmentioned.

Thanks goes to Dr. Scott Sampson via Facebook for posting this article.

It’s the last day of Black HistoryMonth—a great moment for the gallery debut of the Museum’s newest pre-contemporary African American art acquisition. The powerful 1945 still lifeby Beauford Delaney, Untitled (Fang,Crow, and Fruit) now hangs among other important mid-century American worksto which it has strong connections. The painting’s history begins withDelaney’s impoverished Tennessee childhood, his training in Boston, and hismove to New York the year of the stock market crash. Delaney struggled to sustain his art in bohemian Greenwich Village, living and working in a raw, unheated loft space. By the early 1940s, he was experimenting with the expressionistic technique visible in this work. The composition is arranged like an offering—the bowl of yellow fruit placed before a Fang figure from Cameroon that was even then a well-known African sculpture, while a bird (spirit?) hovers above. Delaney’s electric colors and animated brushwork create vibrations—forms almost appear to spin or rock.

He was inspired by artists including Stuart Davis, whom he knew well, and Marsden Hartley, whose Gull, that hangs nearby, had been featured in the 1944 Hartley exhibition at MoMA. In 1945, Delaney had begun to mentor the young writer James Baldwin, who was deep into his work on Go Tell it on the Mountain. Both were seeking empowerment as black artists and gay men, and were and sustained through a connection to African culture and art. Several of our new African American acquisitions demonstrate an active engagement with traditional African Art—a practice inspired by the writings of the Harlem Rensaissance leader Alain Locke. This striking work introduces to the galleries a new facet of American modernism from the inter-war years, and a brilliant dialogue in which two great African American artists engaged with each other and with a powerful and empowering collective past.

Posted by Teresa A. Carbone