Curator has published a special issue that tackles ivory in museums from a variety of perspectives. The push for total bans on movement of ivory in many countries, and many states in the USA, creates a “non-target” impact on historic ivory objects that are valued for artistic, cultural or scientific reasons. Because of its unique physical properties that have still not been fully reproduced by any human-made material, ivory has been used in vast array of functional items including musical and scientific instruments. Before the widespread use of plastic, a myriad of everyday objects used ivory, including billiard balls. We believe that preserving elephants can be achieved at the same time as protecting and treasuring historic ivory objects that are central to the record of our material culture (note our emphasis on historic). These aims, both fundamental, need not be mutually exclusive. But trade bans have created a debate that brings the two objectives into conflict.
We’re always looking to hear from more voices across the museum field. Have you navigated complex issues with ivory collections, the ban, and communicating with the public about ivory?