Marajoara funerary urn. Red List Brasil: In defense of heritage at risk
Marajoara funerary urn (Pará, 5th-15th century). Photo: Courtesy of the Portuguese Language Museum

In February, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) released the Red List Brazil, a document that lists the types of cultural goods in the country most susceptible to illegal commercialization. Created in partnership with Brazilian specialists, the Red List brings examples of fossils, sacred art, maps, books and ethnographic and archaeological pieces under threat of international trafficking. The launch took place at the Portuguese Language Museum, with the presence of Emma Nardi, global president of ICOM; the Minister of Culture, Margareth Menezes, and Renata Motta, president of ICOM Brazil and executive director of the São Paulo museum, among others.

Red Lists have been published since 2000 by ICOM. Today, 57 countries are covered by the 20 documents edited by the institution. Some of them were created on an emergency basis, as is the case of the recently launched list that includes objects at risk from Ukraine, a country at war with Russia. Roberta Saraiva, director of ICOM Brazil, points out that, according to a survey carried out by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan), of a total of 1.974 missing Brazilian objects, only 48 were recovered. Still according to Roberta, Interpol (The International Criminal Police Organization) points Brazil as the 26th country with the highest number of trafficked goods in the world.

“Since the 1940s, Brazil has had robust heritage protection legislation. But it is a country with continental dimensions and very porous borders. Therefore, it is always a great challenge to exercise control over the departure of these objects from the national territory”, evaluates Roberta. “A document like the Red List is very structuring because, in addition to its practical use, with the Federal Revenue Service and the Federal Police, for example, it articulates different government bodies, specialists in the area of ​​the country, such as Iphan, the Brazilian Institute of Museums (Ibram) and the MinC”.

Red List Brasil, it should be noted, does not show objects that have already been sold illegally. But it points out the typologies most at risk, through photographs and identification provided by the National Library Foundation (FBN), by Iphan (MG and RJ), by the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology of USP (MAE), by the Museum of Earth Sciences ( MCT), the Federal and State Universities of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ and UERJ), the National Museum (MN) and the Casa dos Ottoni Regional Museum (MRCO). A arte!brasileiros also spoke with Sophie Delepierre, coordinator of ICOM's Heritage Department. Read below:

arte!✱ - What motivated the creation of Red List Brasil?

Sophie Delepierre – Sometimes there is a misconception that illicit trafficking is only a concern for regions in crisis, and while it is true that ICOM has prepared emergency Red Lists for countries in disaster situations, the illegal trade in cultural goods affects everyone. countries, and no region is spared this problem. As in many countries around the world, Brazilian cultural heritage also runs the risk of being dispersed, destroyed, stolen, looted and trafficked. Brazil is a vast country with a rich heritage that represents its diverse cultural and historical traditions. Despite strong protection laws, both nationally and internationally, national heritage remains at risk of theft and illegal export, with a low rate of recovery.

When did the process of making the list begin, and how many people did it involve, inside and outside the country?

The idea for this project goes back several years, but the preparation of the Red List of Brazilian Cultural Assets at Risk began in 2021 with the selection of specialists from all over Brazil. They identified the main categories of cultural heritage at greatest risk according to three criteria: cultural properties included in the Red List must be protected by national legislation; vulnerable (i.e. at risk of theft and illegal export) and in high demand from the art market. Like many countries, Brazil's archaeological heritage is at risk of theft from museums and looting of archaeological sites, as well as its religious institutions and their art artifacts and liturgical services, bibliographic materials, items from Brazil's indigenous communities and fossils, cultural and scientifically important objects. To discuss and analyze all components of Brazilian cultural heritage, the National Committee of ICOM in Brazil assembled a large team of experts under the leadership of a national coordinator who worked directly with the Heritage Protection Department of the ICOM Secretariat in Paris.

What happens after the launch of the Brazil Red List?

At ICOM, it is often said that the publication of a new Red List represents 50% of the work done. The remaining 50% focus on communication and dissemination to make the list known internationally. ICOM works with its network of 50 members worldwide, as well as international partners such as UNESCO, UNIDROIT, Interpol and the WCO to distribute the Red Lists as widely as possible. Of course, its main objective is to combat trafficking and help with the return and restitution of illegally exported or stolen Brazilian cultural goods, but it is also a powerful awareness tool, with the aim of preventing such trafficking, alerting and educating about the need to protect the equity.
The future will tell whether these prevention and restitution goals have been achieved. But it is also important to highlight the fact that the ICOM Red Lists are just one tool among many. To combat trafficking, each State must ratify and implement international conventions, such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention, as well as establish strong legislation and dedicated services along with operational tools. Only the conjunction of all these efforts will efficiently protect cultural heritage.

Of all the categories listed, which is most at risk?

Guided by the three category selection criteria, Brazilian specialists identified five typologies at greater risk. In a second step, the specialists selected the corresponding images that best represented the types of objects. All these categories are threatened with extinction. However, it is interesting to note that archeology is a regularly present category on the ICOM Red Lists, as the looting of archaeological sites is a difficulty shared by many countries. In Brazil, archaeological artifacts from the pre-colonial period, mainly from the Amazon, are the most frequent targets, and include decorative ceramics, such as funerary urns, vases and figurines, and stone artifacts, such as arrowheads, ax blades and small pendants. .

How lucrative is the illegal trade in such cultural goods?

In recent years, illicit trafficking in art and antiques has become a serious global security problem that transcends borders and whose impact goes far beyond the loss of material heritage. However, given the illicit nature of trafficking in cultural goods and the general lack of market regulation, it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable statistics. Combating trafficking has become a major challenge that involves permanent monitoring, complementary cooperation actions and the development of effective instruments and tools. Among the solutions advocated by specialists, awareness and control measures are essential in the protection of movable heritage. That's why ICOM draws up the Red Lists. ✱

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