14 — 17.05.2023
Rayyane Tabet Beirut-San Francisco
performance — premiere
In July 1967 a marble sculpture depicting a bull's head – dated c. 360 BC and 33 cm in height – was excavated from the Eshmun Temple in Saida, Lebanon. At the time, four photographs of the sculpture were taken, to be included in the inventory of the excavation. The head was looted and lost during the years of the Lebanese Civil War but in July 2017, exactly fifty years after its discovery, the sculpture reappeared, now on display in the Greek and Roman galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The next day, a legal case was set in motion for its repatriation. From this starting point, The Return uses trial transcripts and a series of interviews with key witnesses to travel across the fifty years and to address the troubled relationship between antiquities and national identity. Rayyane Tabet moves in a scenic space, halfway between a courtroom and an anatomical theatre, in which we are both jury and spectators. Starting from the known elements and proceeding with great lucidity, he slowly approaches the dark years at the heart of the story. For Tabet – born in Lebanon in 1983 – it becomes a way to raise questions about traceability, and what it means to protect the past for a state that does not protect its present.
EN On July 8, 1967, a marble sculpture of a Bull’s Head, dated to approximately 360 B.C. and measuring approximately 33 cm in height, was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in Saida, Lebanon. At the time, four photographs were taken of the sculpture to be included in the inventory of the dig.
Fifty years later, on July 6, 2017 a search warrant to seize a marble sculpture of a Bull’s Head from the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was issued. The next morning the sculpture was delivered to the office of the district attorney and four photographs were taken of the object to be logged in as evidence.
The subsequent court case to establish the rightful owner of the Bull’s Head hinged partially on whether the four photographs taken in Lebanon in 1967 were of the same object photographed in New York, in 2017.
This is the story of what happened during these 50 years and beyond…
Based on the legal case of the repatriation of a marble sculpture of a Bull’s Head, The Return explores the troubled relationship of antiquities to the looting of archeological sites, issues of cultural heritage, and national identity.
Following transcripts and evidence presented to The Supreme Court of New York as part of a series of investigations that took place between 2017 and 2021, the work expands on the past- and afterlives of the object that has since been restituted back to Lebanon.
The sculpture, which is displayed today in the National Museum in Beirut, was excavated from the site of Eshmun in Saida, Lebanon in 1967. It was looted in 1981, then sold in 1996, again in 2010, and once more in 2015, before being requisitioned from the Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2017, where it was on loan.
Ultimately, The Return remits to the multiple conversations around how, where, why, and under what circumstances antiquities exist in our time.
Presentation: Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS
Conceived, developed and performed by: Rayyane Tabet
Commissioned and produced by Kunstenfestivaldesarts
The Return was supported by the Friends of Kunstenfestivaldesarts in 2022