The Dallas Museum of Art formally launched the new DMX international exchange program this morning by signing a “memorandum of understanding” with a cultural delegation from the Republic of Turkey and announcing the return of a mosaic in the museum’s collection that was looted from that country.
The mosaic, Orpheus Taming Wild Animals (pictured above), dates to A.D. 194 and was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art in 1999 at a public auction, but nine months ago Dallas Museum of Art Eugene McDermott Director Maxwell Anderson learned that the object may have been illegally removed from the floor of a Roman building near Edessa, an ancient city in south-eastern Turkey. Photographs showing the looting in progress confirmed the illegal nature of the exportation, and the DMA reached out to the Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. beginning the dialogue that has culminated in the return the mosaic to its country of origin.
In addition, as part of the agreement to return the Orpheus mosaic, Turkey and the DMA announced the establishment of a new collaboration that will promote the loaning of art and the sharing of expertise in conservation, exhibitions, education, and new media. That agreement marks the first formal collaboration in the DMA’s new DMX program, which will seek partnerships between the Dallas museum and international cultural institutions.
The DMA’s willingness to part with the mosaic is significant in light of Turkey’s other efforts to repossess stolen antiquities, which have not been met with the same apparent enthusiasm for repatriation of antiquities and collaboration. Over the past year, Turkey has threatened to withhold art loans or archaeological permits, among other tactics, in an effort to put pressure on museums to return looted objects that sit in the collections of some of the world’s top museums.
Speaking at the conference, Sabiha Al Khemir, the DMA’s new senior advisor for Islamic Art, said Turkey is a country whose history and culture has always straddled the east and the west, which makes it a perfect partner for the launching of the new exchange and the museum’s new focus on Islamic art.
“Dallas is a powerful city, and Dallas can engage with the world and the world can come to Dallas,”Al Khemir said. “Islamic culture presented in Dallas in an engaging way can open a door to a culture that could benefit from being better known and understood.”
Speakers from the Turkish delegation highlighted that country’s decade-long investment in new cultural facilities and efforts to restore and retain cultural artifacts. Turkish officials said they had been looking for the Orpheus mosaic, but were surprised when the Dallas Museum of Art reached out to them about the location art object. DMA Director Maxwell Anderson said that the piece was already being packed into a crate and readied for a return to Turkey with the delegation.