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Empowering Art review – Indigenous masterworks full of wonder and sorrow



When the artist Simeon Stilthda saw a picture of Egypt’s Great Sphinx in a missionary bible in the 1870s, he carved his own version of it. Stilthda was a member of the Haida people in the Pacific Northwest of the Americas and his carving was a tribute from the indigenous culture of this region to ancient Egypt, thousands of miles and years away. It’s not just a wonderful sculpture – round the back, the Sphinx has a Haida hairstyle – but a piece of art theory in wood. Stilthda draws eye-opening parallels between his community’s religious art and that of the Pharaohs.

A Caribou antler comb.

Like the ancient Egyptians who conjoined a human and lion to create the Sphinx, the Indigenous peoples of North America’s Pacific Northwest have a magical eye for nature. This compelling exhibition transports you to vast coniferous forests and the open ocean where humans and animals are close. This style of Pacific Northwest art, with its blocky curved patterns, appears to emulate the black and white markings of one of the region’s ruling creatures, the killer whale. Not only do orcas feature on totem poles along with birds mythic and real, but their “abstract” appearance is reflected in a style that brilliantly stretches and warps reality.

Empowering Art is a radical and satisfying survey of nearly 250 years of Pacific Northwest culture, created in close collaboration with Indigenous artists and scholars, and drawing on Britain’s extensive collections of the art of the Haida, Tlingit, Nuu-chah-nulth and other communities. In 1778 the British explorer James Cook led the first European meeting with these peoples: at that time, writes artist haa’yuups in the catalogue, “virtually every man in each of our villages on the Westcoast could carve a dugout canoe, paddles, dishes and spoons … every man was his own Leonardo”. The power of these popular traditions, already millennia old, can be seen in 18th-century prints of the objects Cook collected: a mask in the shape of an otter’s head proves the later naturalism of masks by Stillthda – which imitate real faces uncannily – was not just an impression of the whites’ art but an Indigenous heritage.

Mind-bending designs … Empowering Art.

This enthusiastic exhibition seems to me to reveal the way forward for exhibiting world art at a time when some believe the very ownership of “ethnographic” pieces by Britain’s museums is wrong. There are works here from Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, the British Museum, the Wellcome and not least Ipswich Borough council: “some gifted, some traded, some stolen”, as haa’yuups writes. There are also contemporary artworks, from a 21st-century totem pole to video installations, that reveal a fiercely, joyously living culture. The show has a historical clarity that doesn’t disguise the violence Indigenous peoples have suffered but goes beyond the restitution debate to open up all the wonder and dreaming and sorrow these objects contain.


The masks alone are enough to inspire whole theories of art – and they have done. Anthropologists like Claude Lévi-Strauss and Franz Boas were fascinated by the complexity and variety of the ritual masks first brought to Europe by Cook. Here you are greeted by a row of them, fantastic faces that subtly mix myth and fact, imagination and observation: by putting on a 19th-century mask of the Thunderbird you could imitate or even become this mythic creature that waters the earth. Alternatively you could don a vividly mimetic Haida mask of a wrinkled old woman, another entrancing piece lent by the Pitt-Rivers Museum. And, in a contemporary take, you can mask as Marlon Brando.

At the heart of the show is the Potlatch, the weightiest collective event of the Pacific Northwest world. Chiefs and powerful people would invite neighbouring villages to a Potlatch feast where everyone took part in a meal served from beautifully carved wooden bowls: there’s one here in the shape of a canoe. At the Potlatch, everyone got a gift, for this was a world rich in material things.

A Haida mask.

The combs, figurines, model canoes, fighting knives, straw hats and other chunkily lovely artefacts could all have been Potlatch gifts. The gift relationship was binding: the debt conferred power. But it was the very opposite of capitalism, and perhaps that was why it was specifically banned by Canada in 1885. The ban lasted until 1951.

The assault on indigenous culture still scars memories and it sends a chill through the exhibition. A wall-filling photograph of the ruinous hulk of St Michael’s residential school is a measured way of documenting these outrageous institutions: right through the 20th-century Indigenous children were taken from their communities, their hair was cut to symbolise the killing of the “Indian” in them, some were sexually as well as physically abused – and worse, as has been shockingly revealed by recent excavations of mass graves.

Sonny Assu (Ligwilda’xw Kwakwaka’wakw) calmly comments on the horror of it with his 2024 artwork Leila’s Desk: on an old wooden school desk sits a bar of soap, symbolising what actually happened to his grandmother when she was made to wash herself on her first day as school, suddenly made to feel she was a “dirty Indian”.

The final display of contemporary north-west Pacific creativity could seem sentimental in the face of such brutality. But it’s a convincing testimony to the endurance and survival of a rare artistic vision. The patterns and creatures of traditional art are engraved into the skyline of Montreal and projected on to the walls of a room you want to dance in.

These mind-bending designs don’t need to be analysed, only enjoyed and shared. And everything in the show has a universal lesson for us now. For each object here contains the secret of living inside nature, alongside the otter and the whale.

  • Empowering Art: Indigenous Creativity and Activism from North America’s Northwest Coast is at the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, from 12 March 2023.

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Art repatriation: Fighting traffickers in an illicit global trade



Matthew Bogdanos is an assistant district attorney, homicide prosecutor, and retired Marine colonel, with a master’s degree in the classics. It makes him a powerful foe against those trafficking, trading or buying stolen antiquities.

“Here’s a dirty little secret,” he said. “Up until ten years ago, it was considered oh so gauche to ask inconvenient questions of provenance – it just wasn’t done. The world of cocktail parties and bespoke suits and limousines pulling up to the curb? How could I ask someone of that stature: Do you have the invoice, or do you have any proof that it was legally removed from the country of origin?  And so, that was then. I got it.

“This is now.

Bogdanos has been employing his detective skills, prosecutorial powers and, yes, a bit of bravado to target the illicit art world. He founded the Manhattan DA’s antiquities trafficking unit in 2010, with one employee. There are now 18.


Doane asked, “It is a relatively young unit. Was the sense that this was not important?”

“Bear in mind that we live in a world of infinite problems and finite resources,” Bogdanos said. “I’m primarily a homicide prosecutor. Even now, that’s half my job. Much like homicide, when a loved one is taken from you, it’s forever. When antiquity is pillaged, it’s gone forever.”

Antiquities rescued by a team operating out of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which have since been returned to Italy.  

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Doane asked, “Your jurisdiction is New York. It’s an important big city, but it is just New York.”

“Yeah, the words ‘just’ and ‘New York’ should actually never be in the same sentence,” Bogdanos replied. “Sure, It’s just New York. We do have the best galleries in the world, some of the finest museums in the world. More importantly, if it passes through New York, we have jurisdiction no matter where it is now. If the wire transfer was made in New York, we have jurisdiction, no matter where it is now; if it was offered for sale, if it was shown at an auction. So, sure, my jurisdiction is limited to New York City. But to update a phrase, all roads lead to New York.”

When deployed to Iraq in 2003, Bogdanos engaged his troops in tracking down objects looted from Baghdad’s Iraq Museum. Today his team of civilians – detectives, agents and historians – has recovered more than 4,500 antiquities in the U.S., valued around $300 million.

Just last Tuesday, a bronze bowl, or krater, more than two thousand years old, stolen from a tomb in Macedonia, was handed to Greece’s culture minister.

Ahead of Tuesday’s repatriation ceremony, Bogdanos let “Sunday Morning” get a closer look. “This was recovered from an Upper East Side apartment here in New York, sitting in someone’s home,” Bogdanos said.

Manhattan assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos with a bronze bowl more than two millennia old, that his team recovered from an Upper East Side apartment.  

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They’ve recovered objects from 28 countries, repatriating more to Italy than anywhere else.

Italy’s paramilitary police force, the Carabinieri, granted “Sunday Morning” access to their vault in Rome. It’s packed with stolen and fraudulent art they’ve seized.

Antiquities that have been recovered by Italy’s art police. 

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Paolo Salvatori, commander of the art police’s archaeology section, said, “These objects were illegally excavated. By Italian law, they belong to the state.”

Countries have their own cultural heritage laws which govern the protection of antiquities. In enforcing Italy’s, Salvatori often turns to a familiar ally: Col. Matthew Bogdanos, whose team has helped repatriate more than 500 pieces to Italy

Last summer, Italy opened the Museum of Rescued Art in Rome. “Every single item in that museum was recovered and returned by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office,” Salvatori said.

Repatriated artworks, now on display at the Museum of Rescued Art in Rome. 

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The centerpiece of the museum are the Orpheus and Sirens, from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, that Italy had been trying to recover for 30 years.

These terracotta statues of a seated poet and two sirens, dating for the fourth century B.C., were repatriated to Italy, after it was determined that they had been stolen or excavated illegally.  



“Sunday Morning” wanted to ask the Getty about these pieces, found to be stolen or illegally excavated. They declined our request for an on-camera interview, but told us, thanks to information provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, “we determined that these objects should be returned.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, however, did welcome us in. Andrea Bayer, the deputy director for collections, took us to see an object on loan from Italy. In an agreement which saw the Euphronios krater returned to Italy, the Met has received objects on loan.

The Met appeared eager to highlight constructive cooperation with museums after having made headlines for showcasing objects that should not have been there, including a gold coffin which Kim Kardashian posed next to during the 2018 Met Gala. It had been illegally smuggled out of Egypt.

Bayer said, “We were the victims of an international fraud. So, we learned. It was an uncomfortable lesson for us.”

Bogdanos said that, after that picture of Kardashian went viral, “One of the people who saw that photograph was one of the people who looted that coffin out of Egypt. One of his co-conspirators happened to be one of my informants. Sheer coincidence!”

Bogdanos reviewed the paperwork provided to the Met: “The permit was issued in May of 1971. And the permit stamp said AR Egypt, Arab Republic of Egypt. Well, here’s the problem, smugglers: In May of 1971, the Arab Republic of Egypt did not exist. It was the United Arab Republic. And so, we confronted the Met with that, and the coffin is now in Cairo where it belongs.”

Bayer said, “In recent decades, we’ve become much more conscientious and conscious of this history of the objects, and more careful. By 1970, the UNESCO guidelines came out saying you must know where works of art were excavated or where they were sold from. This is the sort of dividing line date for us. And once the world community began to look at things in that way, we’ve been out in front ever since.”

Doane asked, “You say you try to be ‘out in front of this,’ but subpoenas have been issued, search warrants have been carried out. How embarrassing is that for an institution?”

“Mister Bogdanos is actually our ally in this,” she said. “We don’t see this as a confrontational thing with him. If his office is in possession of information that we do not have, it’s our responsibility, our duty and the thing we want to do, to make sure that it is returned to the proper owner.”

Bayer wanted us to see a newer addition to their collection: “One of the few great antiquities that we’ve been able to buy in recent years.”

The Met purchased this wellhead in 2019, and Bayer said they can trace its history since it was excavated. “There are no scary gaps in that provenance,” she said, “which is a relief to me and to all of my colleagues.”

After its excavation in 1797 in the Roman port of Ostia, this wellhead was exported to England, and later acquired by the Eighth Earl of Wemyss. It remained at Gosford House in Scotland before the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired it in 2019.  

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That Greek krater is already on its way to a museum in Greece. Bogdanos wants repatriated pieces overseas put on display, and museums and collectors in the U.S. put on notice: “We have informants in many museums around the country,” he said.

“You have undercover agents in museums?” asked Doane.

“I wouldn’t call them undercover agents,” Bogdanos replied. “I would call them academics and archaeologists and art historians who care.”

“And will call you if they see something?”


“You must have a very busy phone!”

For more info:

Story produced by Amol Mhatre and Sabina Castelfranco. Editor: Emanuele Secci. 


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It’s a Constable – but not the one you know – in a new show of forged art



A Constable seascape that will hang in London’s Courtauld gallery this summer shows sailboats and a steam vessel bobbing on a choppy sea beneath one of the artist’s typical imposing skies.

Except this Constable is not all it seems. Experts at the gallery found incriminating evidence in a cut-off paper watermark, “184-”, meaning that the paper dates from at least the 1840s, years after the artist died in 1837.

Its authenticity had not been doubted because it came from an impeccable source – John Constable’s daughter, Isabel. Now it is thought to have been painted by one of his sons, Lionel or Alfred. Ordinarily, a forgery is not something a gallery would want to boast about, but the Courtauld has decided to stage an innovative exhibition of the forgeries in its collection. The Constable watercolour is one of up to 25 drawings and six paintings that will be displayed this summer, revealing the stories behind their making and the discoveries of deception.

Explaining the rationale for the exhibition, Rachel Hapoienu, the Courtauld’s drawings cataloguer, said: “Any kind of hallowed institution is not infallible. We want to be more transparent about that. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to admit that you have forgeries. There have always been people who’ve been taken in by forgeries. In fact, many forgers were great artists in their own right.”

Study of a man’s head, no longer attributed to Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

She said that the quality of the Constable “is not great” but that it had escaped any scrutiny because it came directly from the artist’s family. “It went to various dealers, ending up with one in Munich from whom a collector who donated it to us bought it. Each dealer emphasised that it came directly from Isabel. It transpires that quite a lot of Constable forgeries came from Isabel. Whether they were perpetrating a fraud intentionally is a sticky question. It could have been an honest mistake. But when you’re looking at thousands of drawings, are you going to try to be that accurate when you know that your father’s name carries great weight and your brother’s name carries none?”

The exhibition, Art and Artifice: Fakes from the Collection, running from 17 June to 8 October, will include a study of a man’s head that is no longer attributed to Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, the French master. Hapoienu said: “It is signed and dated ‘Roma 1834’, but we confirmed that the handwriting does not match his, [and] he did not go to Rome in 1834.”

Other exhibits will include a seated female nude “in the manner of” Auguste Rodin, by one of four main forgers who capitalised on the French master’s popularity in the early 20th century. Hapoienu said: “There are a number of sheets with his style of imitating Rodin, including the way he fakes the signature. It has to do with the line and the way he rendered the anatomy.”

The exhibition was inspired by research into 11 old master drawings, including four by Tiepolo, three by Guardi, and a Virgin and Child by Michelangelo. Doubts arose about these in 1998 after an anonymous caller claimed that they were by the British forger Eric Hebborn, who died in 1996 in mysterious circumstances, having duped experts worldwide, boasting that only a small number of his fakes had been uncovered.

“Since 1998, there’s been a question mark hanging over them,” said Hapoienu. “A lot of the new research has been looking into these drawings. Now, with six of them, I’ve traced the provenance earlier than Hebborn, to the 1930s. So we can say they’re certainly not by him. There are still five that we don’t have a definitive answer on.”

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Among the paintings, the exhibition will show seven forgeries in the Courtauld’s collection, including A Religious Procession, an oil painting on oak panel, copied from a now-lost larger painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, known through copies by his sons.

Tests revealed pigments that were unavailable in the 16th century, and it is thought to have been forged in the 1920s.



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Gala a celebration of growing the arts in Windsor



Local artist Asaph Maurer has watched the local arts community struggle for years in finding consistent support and seeing the Windsor area benefit from what the arts can provide.

It is for that reason he decided to take a more active role in promoting the arts locally and on Saturday organized a large gala event — the first of its kind inside the former home of the Downtown Mission which is in the midst of being converted into the new Windsor Centre for Film, Digital Media and the Creative Arts.

“I’ve been an artist in the area for six years and realized we didn’t have any big galas for the arts community that other cities have,” Maurer said. “Since no one was doing these things, I realized I could do it myself to create an asset for the arts community and people who live here.


“This building is being converted into the home for film and media and I wanted to combine it with my area of focus in the visual arts. I wanted to showcase the property in the best possible light in its new journey.”

The gala attended by roughly 400 people was entitled DMT: The Awakening — In Windsor. The event was designed to feature talent and creativity of artists from Windsor and other cities through a celebration of art, photography, sculpture and performance art.

Guests were able to view roughly 200 pieces of visual art ranging from professional to emerging talent. The evening also featured live performances including music, movement artists, aerialists and a LightForm show.

“The highlight for me, besides showcasing local talent, was to bring talent from other cities and show how they can be an attraction for this community,” Maurer said. “We have artists from Detroit, Montreal and Toronto. Events such as this can help show the economic driver the arts can be.”

The former Downtown Mission building in the 600 block of Victoria Avenue, originally a church structure, is in the midst of sweeping renovations and is already hosting a handful of new programs where building upgrades have been completed that includes the city’s new Media Arts Community Centre (MACC).

The gala also helped serve as a fundraising event with 50 per cent of ticket sales and event proceeds being donated to MACC.

“The concept for MACC came following years of work with youth and young adults who asked for a central place to learn, network and produce,” said Amanda Gellman, president of the Windsor Centre for Film, Digital Media and the Creative Arts — a non-profit which now owns the building.

“The brain drain of creative to other regions has hurt our community and we were asked by young people who did not want to leave Windsor to help find a solution.

“The other benefit is young people who stay in the region can work together on their dream films, while also producing creative corporate videos that will serve to grow all sectors of the economy.”


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