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June 7, 2021

FocusRed Lists come to Life: a Louvre exhibition aims to raise awareness of illicit trafficking in cultural property

Until 13 December 2021, the Louvre Museum is presenting six archaeological objects seized by the French authorities between 2012 and 2016: an initiative that confirms the key role of museums in raising awareness of the dangers threatening cultural heritage and underlines the importance of international cooperation in the fight against illicit trafficking.

This initiative of the Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, complements the ICOM Red Lists, whose main objective has been – for more than twenty years – to prevent and raise awareness on the theft and illicit trade of cultural property. Along with ICOM, international institutions, states, museums, organisations working to support the legal circulation of cultural goods, and the general public, are equally engaged in this fight against the illicit trade of cultural property. The strength of this exhibition lies in its ability to inform and raise awareness among visitors to the museum. This exhibition is a best practice that can serve as an example for other museums around the world.

On Friday 4 June, a delegation from the ICOM Secretariat was invited to visit this exhibition. It was an opportunity to recall the importance of cooperation between museum conservators, archaeologists and law enforcement agencies in the chain of investigation, and a further opportunity to recall the joint efforts between institutions in the fight against illicit trafficking. In a nod to ICOM’s work in this area, the thematic colours chosen for this exhibition are reminiscent of the red that distinguishes ICOM’s Red Lists. It is also possible to consult the Red Lists via the QR codes that accompany the panel text.  The exhibition features:

  • A set of 4 half-statues typical of the necropolises of Cyrene (Libya), seized in 2012 in France by the OCBC and under investigation by the Ministry of Justice.
  • 2 marble bas-reliefs with rich decoration, seized in 2016 thanks to the vigilance of customs officers at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. These pieces were in transit between Lebanon and Thailand. The customs declaration indicated that they were “ornamental stones for garden decoration”.

These pieces are currently the subject of legal proceedings. Once the proceedings have been completed, the works will be returned to their country of origin. In the meantime, they are being displayed to the public in exceptional circumstance (in application of article L.111-10 of the French Heritage Code) and can be seen in the newsroom, on the main museum route, of the Department of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities of the museum (room 172, Aile Denon level -1).  

Photos © Douane Française

For more information on the exhibition

ICOM’s main tools to fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property