Cultural heritage initiative in Amarillo hopes for global impact
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
An effort to combat the illicit trafficking of antiquities is launching in Amarillo.
The Collective Heritage Lab, a coalition of artists and other interested parties, will hold a public forum on the issue at 7 p.m. Friday at The Chalice Abbey Spiritual Center and Fair Trade Store, 2717 Stanley St. That will be followed Nov. 4 by a collaborative art show featuring works by Afghan and American artists that will hang at The Object Gallery inside The Galleries at Sunset Center, 3701 Plains Blvd.
CHL began with Andrew Scott DeJesse, a cultural heritage preservation officer with the U.S. Army Reserves who has worked in hot spots around the Middle East and has seen firsthand how the illegal trade of antiquities from war-torn areas directly benefits terrorist organizations.
Though such articles should require official documentation, or provenance, to allow for their legal trade, black market imports and exports thrive. So, too, does what DeJesse calls the "gray market," where provenance is murky and well-meaning consumers purchase items that can't be fully accounted for and sales of which economically benefit organizations like Boko Haram and ISIL.
"They don't realize how connected those articles are to these (terrorist) groups," DeJesse said. "It's the same deal as blood diamonds. It's called 'blood antiquities'."
It's a complex problem, but DeJesse and his collaborators, including artist and entrepreneur Jacob Breeden and Amarillo city councilman Mark Nair, hope to help battle it through CHL's efforts.
DeJesse said CHL is seeking funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts to help build a database of purchasable antiquities which could be cross-checked to determine if they come from areas high in crime and/or the trafficking of drugs, gems or even humans.
They would also set up a searchable provenance rating system that will evaluate sellers.
"Everything will be done out in the open," DeJesse said. "If you provide a consumer with an ethically responsible, socially responsible means of gaining cultural properties, they would opt in."
DeJesse said he also hopes CHL will help encourage collectors interested in cultural artifacts to consider collecting works by living artists. That would, he said, help deconstruct the black market and provide a way for artists in war-torn areas to make a living.
Up first is Art Transcending Conflict: A Collaboration of U.S. & Afghan Artists, which opens with a 6 p.m. Nov. 4 reception at Object Gallery during Sunset Center's First Friday Art Walk. It will be on view there through Dec. 2, then works will be on sale at Chalice, Breeden said.
The exhibition will feature nine artists from the Turquoise Mountain Institute in Afghanistan, which provides arts vocational training in woodworking, ceramics, jewelry, calligraphy and painting. Sales from the exhibition will benefit the institute, which has has provided training to 487 Afghan artists, educated 338 Afghan children, funded 63,000 patient visits to the Turquoise Mountain health clinic, restored 112 historic and community buildings, and provided 1,000 construction workers with on‐the‐job training, according to material provided by DeJesse.
"This is not another art show. We'll talk about art and social cohesion," said DeJesse, who also will display works at the exhibition. "We are doing something different, and it's the community coming together and celebrating different cultures."
He also hopes that by finding the artists new markets in the U.S., CHL will help them want to celebrate their own cultures.
"We can see it in the cultures we value — French cuisine, Swiss watches — but countries who live in instability and conflict don't want their own culture. They want ours," he said. "If we start to consume their culture in a positive way, we can enhance that ... and try to build social cohesion under the umbrella of heritage."
Future collaborations could include working with Vietnamese refugee artists, those still in the country, and American artists who served in the war, DeJesse said.
"To be culturally expressive is to be human," DeJesse said. "Everything is culture."