Parthenon to Repatriate 248 Pre-Columbian Artifacts to Western Mexico

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photo from Parthenon/Victoria Metzger

The Parthenon and Metro Parks and Recreation announced that 248 Pre-Columbian artifacts from the Parthenon’s permanent collection will be deaccessioned and repatriated to Western Mexico. The decision comes as result of an ordinance change passed by the Nashville Metropolitan Council on May 7 to legally entitle the Parthenon and Metro Parks to remove the pre-Columbian artifacts from its collection and return them to their country of origin.

The ordinance (BL2024-305), which authorizes the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, by and through the Department of Parks and Recreation, to deaccession the Pre-Columbian collection from the Parthenon, was sponsored by Councilpersons Joy Styles, Brandon Taylor, Zulfat Suara, Delisha Porterfield, Quin Evans-Segall, Sandy Ewing, and Brenda Gadd. Parthenon staff approached Metro Legal for help in rewriting the ordinance which was presented to council early this year for review.

“For Metro Parks, the repatriation of these artifacts is a cultural obligation as well as a moral responsibility,” said Metro Parks Director Monique Horton Odom. “These artifacts have value and meaning to the people of Mexico and should be housed where they will have a dynamic impact on understanding the people and culture of the past.”

“This has been a great example of Metro departments collaborating with Council on a common goal,” said Parthenon Director Lauren Bufferd. “Repatriation is a complex legal and ethical issue that museums around the world are facing, and we are so grateful to have the support of the Metro Council and the Mayor’s Office in our efforts to return these artifacts to their rightful place of origin. We could not be happier with the outcome.”

“The integrity shown by Bonnie Seymour, the Parthenon staff, and the Metro Parks department in returning these valuable items back to their country of origin is nothing short of awe-inspiring,” said Councilperson Joy Styles. “We are deeply grateful to the teams at the Parthenon and Metro Parks for their commendable character and commitment to blazing a trail to create a local process to re-home art should this ever happen again.”

The Pre-Columbian artifacts were donated to the Parthenon in the 1960s and 1970s by Dr. John L. Montgomery and Edgar York. The artifacts originated from the Western Mexican region and include small adornments, zoomorphic images, ceramic pots, musical instruments, and hand tools. In consultation with the General Consulate of Mexico in Atlanta, Georgia, the pieces will be delivered to the Institute of Anthropology and History Museum in Mexico City, Mexico, this summer. Their mission is to research, preserve, protect, and promote the ancient heritage of Mexico.

In April, the Parthenon and Centennial Park Conservancy opened a new exhibit called Repatriation & Its Impact, a timely exploration of the effects of cultural looting in the art and antiquities trade, through the lens of the Parthenon’s own collection and combined with new works by José Véra González, a Nashville-based Mexican artist. The exhibit, which includes the Pre-Columbian artifacts, will be on display in the Parthenon until July 14.
“Repatriation & Its Impact features case studies from around the world and explores a variety of ‘behind-the-scenes’ subjects, utilizing items from the Parthenon’s collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts,” said Parthenon Director Lauren Bufferd. “Our goal is for visitors to better understand changing collecting practices and invite them to think critically about how museums have historically acquired artifacts.”

Over the centuries, from the Colonial era to the Holocaust and beyond, art and antiquities were routinely stolen or looted, and ended up in prestigious museums and private collections. Curators and collectors around the world now wrestle with the problematic history of some pieces in their collections, including whether and how to display such works, and legal and ethical issues around retaining them or repatriating them to their countries of origin.

For more information on the exhibit, please visit www.nashvilleparthenon.com/events/repatriation-and-its-impact.

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