Aug 2, 2022 - World

Mexico chases stolen artifacts — by asking nicely for them

an ancient Mexican sculpture of a person sitting with their knees up is shown
Photo: Nora Vanesky/Albuquerque Museum Foundation

Mexico’s unique campaign — including a social media push — to get owners of stolen artifacts to voluntarily return them is paying off.

State of play: Since launching the #MiPatrimonioNoSeVende (my heritage is not for sale) campaign in 2018, Mexico's government says it has recovered 8,970 items.

  • That includes 2,522 pieces of pottery and other artifacts that a family in Barcelona handed over to Mexico's minister of culture last month in the single largest repatriation of artifacts in Mexican history. Some of the pieces were put on exhibit at a Mexico City museum last Tuesday.
  • Separately, New Mexico's Albuquerque Museum Foundation returned 12 sculptures of Olmec and other Indigenous origins to Mexican authorities last week, although that came about when museum staff found the artifacts in old boxes and investigated their origins.

Details: As part of the campaign, the foreign affairs secretary and the Ministry of Culture are reaching out to institutes and collectors across the world, asking for voluntary returns.

  • They have also tried to stop auctions of Mesoamerican artifacts, arguing they were illegally obtained or stolen. There have been mixed results — some auctions in New York went forward last year, while others in Europe were canceled.

The big picture: Campaigns for art restitution are growing worldwide amid a reckoning over cultural heritage and who owns it.

What’s next: Mexican authorities plan to discuss cultural artifact restitution during a major UNESCO meeting next month in Mexico City, according to Culture Secretary Alejandra Frausto.

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