‘Works of art and ivory: what are the issues?’, Curator: The Museum Journal 61 (1), January 2018

Ivory - what are the issues

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Attempts formally to remove bona fide antique ivory from the raging debate on the preservation of the African elephant, threatened by poaching and illicit trade, rumble on confusingly.  In the United States of America the ban on imports remains, and skirmishes to liberalise internal trade continue to be fought at State level.  China has announced a ‘total ban’, but one which acknowledges the cultural value of its ‘cultural relics’ created over the millennia.  Elsewhere, France has instigated a complex and bureaucratic system of licences for legitimate works of art, while in the United Kingdom the outcome of a government consultation is expected soon.

In a press release dated 24 January, it was announced that:

‘Curator: The Museum Journal, the most widely circulated peer-review publication on the museum field, would publish on January 26, 2018 a special issue tackling elephant ivory and museum practice. The issue dives into the challenges of historical ivory collections in museums, the illegal ivory trade that imperils elephants across two continents, and the implications of the global trade ban on museum practice. Over 25 scholars and museum professionals contributed articles looking at ivory from a variety of perspectives, from the unique material properties not replicated by manufactured composites to an initiative cataloging all elephant ivory in public and religious collections.

Reflecting on this ambitious global review, Editor John Fraser remarked, ‘With nearly 20 articles from as many scholarly and professional perspectives, this issue shows the many ways museums can be part of a productive dialogue that can ensure the survival of elephants and still value history through our material culture. Essentially, this issue on ivory is a call to action for the entire museum sector.’

One contribution to this ivory-themed issue of Curator: The Museum Journal, Works of art and ivory: what are the issues?’, is a summary of the debate since President Obama’s 2014 Director’s Order 210, and continues to stress that it is possible and desirable to protect endangered elephant herds, while respecting and conserving historic works of art.