Addressing Dispersal: Repatriation, Restitution and Tracing Looted Tiles from Islamic Monuments

The subject of colonial-era violence, looting and removal of cultural heritage is a timely, and in some circles contentious, topic. Complex and polarising, the aim of this talk is to use a couple of related case studies to lay out a framework that could work for all stakeholders, to allow them to come together and address the range of related issues, some ways forward, and how to create a meaningful dialogue that transcends the range of different views on the subject.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century there was a hunger for tiles from Islamic monuments, especially those in Iran, then called Persia, that verged on a mania amongst European and American collectors.

Tiles were taken, often if not always under legally dubious circumstances at best, and then sold in Paris, London, and later in New York. Travellers noted the rapid despoliation of a large number of monuments that had, for over half a millennium or more, survived the ravages of war and natural disasters and remained largely intact.

Focussing initially on a tomb in the central Iranian town of Natanz, I will show the process of removal, as well as the subsequent sale and display of the tiles, that continues to this day, in order to open up a discussion as to how best to proceed from where we are now to where we might want to get to in the future in regard to addressing the problematic history of this, and other related, material.

In this talk Richard Piran McClary will lay out the methodology he has used to study the site and the dispersed tiles, and demonstrate how this approach can be applied to a range of dispersed colonial-era items, suggest a few ways to address the problems, and hopefully start a fruitful wide-ranging discussion in the latter part of the session.

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Dr Richard Piran McClary is a Senior Lecturer in Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of York. He has lectured extensively on a range of subjects related to medieval Islamic art and architecture, and has conducted fieldwork in India, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and across the Middle East. He has published two monographs with EUP; Rum Seljuq Architecture 1170-1220. The Patronage of Sultans (2017) and Medieval Monuments of Central Asia. Qarakhanid Architecture of the 11th and 12th Centuries (2020), and has published articles in numerous journals.

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