A stolen world

This is the story of how an unscrupulous policy, the illegal commerce and hunting for antiques strip some cultures of their identity. The Exhibition A Stolen World presents the fascinating and highly controversial paracas textiles.

The exhibition was shown 18 September 2008 – 9 January 2011.

Gothenburg has taken pride for 75 years in a material known for coming from tomb raiding. This is the story of how an unscrupulous policy, the illegal commerce and hunting for antiques strip some cultures of their identity. The hunting for objects we are referring to, seen in the past as an honourable adventure, now constitutes a problematical and uneasy reality.

This ia a journey directly to a fascinating world of images. A world that belongs elsewhere. A world buried in the desert for more than 2000 years. A world that we have not managed to understand yet.

Found and smuggled by tomb raiders

During the opening years of the 20th century, embroidered textiles from an unknown Peruvian civilisation began cropping up in private collections. They had been found by tomb raiders and were unlike anything previously known from ancient Andean civilisations. They were described as fantastic because of their advanced technique and the colourful, exciting world which their embroideries apparently depicted.
These remarkable finds caused a sensation, and archaeologists now began looking for the place they came from. In 1925 the Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello prevailed on the tomb raider Juan Quintana to guide him and his colleagues to the place. The site he took them to was in the Paracas peninsula in Peru.

The most sought-after heritage objects in the illegal market

Large quantities of Paracas textiles were smuggled out of Peru and illegally exported to museums and private collections all over the world around 1930. About a hundred of them were smuggled to Sweden and donated to the Ethnographic Department of Göteborg Museum. The accumulation of them used to be a prestigious task, and so, apart from Peru itself, there are Paracas textiles in art museums and private collections all over the world and in many western museums of ethnography. Today textiles from Paracas are among the most sought-after heritage objects in the illegal market.
More is known today concerning the problems associated with looted and smuggled artefacts, and discussions are in progress concerning the line which museums should take regarding dubious items in their collections. How should we relate to this part of history?