Khamis, 7 November 2013

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Germany could challenge ownership of Nazi-looted art


Legal status of looted art haul found in Munich, Germany, is ambiguous.

THE German recluse who hoarded his late father's trove of Nazi-looted art may be its legal owner but the Berlin government has the authority and moral obligation, some argue, to return the art works to their original Jewish owners or their heirs.

The status of the haul is ambiguous nearly 70 years after WWII, subject to conflicting claims and obscured by the secretive world of art dealing. The man in whose Munich flat it was found, Cornelius Gurlitt, may even get to keep it.

Last year, customs investigators seized 1,400 art works by European masters dating from the 16th century to the avant-garde which had been hoarded by his father, one of the men Adolf Hitler put in charge of selling so-called "degenerate" art.

Hailed as one of the most significant discoveries of art looted by the Nazis, it has fuelled feverish speculation about its provenance and likely claims from the heirs of Jewish collectors robbed, dispossessed or murdered by the Nazis.

"The legal situation as far as I can tell is that Gurlitt is the rightful owner of a large share of the work in question even if that is questionable from a moral and ethical point of view," said Uwe Hartmann, head of the government agency charged with researching the provenance of art in public collections.

But Germany, already under fire for keeping the hoard secret for nearly a year, could face further criticism if it allows Gurlitt to keep the paintings, sketches and sculptures. Legal experts and those familiar with the question of looted art said Germany could nullify his ownership by citing the principle of "adverse possession" or under the 1998 Washington Declaration, a set of principles for dealing with looted art.

Michael Naumann, who as German culture minister in 1998 signed the Washington Declaration, said it would be absurd to let Gurlitt keep art work which could have been looted or extorted from Jews as they fled the Holocaust.

"The man made his living by selling the artwork," Naumann said. "Most of it was stolen or acquired under most dubious circumstances. He apparently never paid taxes. The state has every means to assess the value of this and take it in its possession because he behaved criminally.

"Imagine if the government discovered a huge depot of antique cars bought under duress from Jewish owners during the Third Reich," he said. "Do you leave it to the descendants of the thief? Of course not!"

Restitution urged

However, even one of the lawyers representing the heirs of a Jewish art patron and collector who lost everything to the Nazis, Alfred Flechtheim, who died impoverished in London in 1937, assumed the works of art would be returned to Gurlitt.

"At some point the state prosecutor will no longer have reason to hold the paintings and that means they'll be returned to (Gurlitt)," lawyer Markus Stoetzel said in Marburg, Germany.

Flechtheim's estate has been fighting for decades for the restitution of works now hanging in German galleries and the lawyer said he would be seeking information about the new haul from the public prosecutor's office.

"In any case the owner is Herr Gurlitt and we, as well as any other claimants, must deal with him," Stoetzel said.

That would infuriate the Jewish Claims Conference, which helps victims of the Nazis negotiate for compensation. It said the art works should not be returned to Gurlitt if the original owners cannot be found. The whereabouts of the octogenarian Gurlitt, who owned homes in Munich and Salzburg (Austria), are also unknown.

"The paintings for which heirs cannot be found should be auctioned, with proceeds from such sales to be used for Holocaust-related purposes, such as assistance for Holocaust survivors and or Holocaust-related education," it said.

Other legal experts believe that a statute of limitations on claims that would allow Gurlitt to keep the art could be negated because the art work was confiscated by the state in connection with a tax evasion investigation against him in Bavaria.

"I don't think the German state has fully realised what's fallen into its hands," said Claudia von Selle, an attorney in Berlin specialising in art. "Germany needs to show some courage and say, 'We will give these art works back to the owners.' They certainly have valid hopes for restitution now."

German response inadequate

Von Selle said the German government needed to dedicate much more staff to assessing the provenance of such works of art.

"It's incredible they have just one person on it," von Selle said, referring to art expert Meike Hoffmann who is cataloguing the find in a secret location in Munich. "It's very difficult work and it would keep one person busy for 20 years."

But the bigger question put to German authorities is why it took them nearly two years to inform the public and potential claimants about the discovery in February 2012.

"The Bavarian government has a lot of explaining to do. Why did the Bavarian officials not immediately put this on the Lost Art website? The next question is: did the federal government know about this and why did they not do anything about this?"

It was not until Focus magazine broke the story last weekend that officials came forward and confirmed an intriguing tale of customs officials stumbling upon the art after a routine check found large sums of cash on Gurlitt on a train from Zurich, Switzerland. Prosecutors said they had kept quiet due to worries about the safety and insurance of the art work, which Focus estimated is worth more than €1bil (RM4.3bil), and had been compelled to secrecy because it was a probe into tax evasion.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the federal government had known about it for several months and was now pushing for publication of any works suspected of being obtained by "forced removal through Nazi persecution". – Reuters

The woman behind the legend


Maya Karin plays the wife of Datuk Mokhtar Dahari in the upcoming musical.

MAYA Karin last took to the stage in Natrah, directed by Erma Fatimah, in 2009. Since then, the talented beauty has been busy acting in movies and getting her long-awaited album out.

Now, Maya, 34, is ready to take to the stage again, this time playing the wife of the legendary footballer, the late Datuk Mokhtar Dahari, in the upcoming SuperMokh The Musical.

To be staged at Panggung Sari at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur from today to Nov 18, SuperMokh The Musical features Awie as Mokhtar, among the star-studded cast that includes Rashidi Ishak, Douglas Lim and Dina Nazir.

The German-Malay beauty admitted that she was taken by surprise when she was approached by actor-director Hans Isaac to play Datin Tengku Zarina Tengku Ibrahim.

"I remember that at the time we were among a group of friends and we went out for meals together. And afterwards Hans informed me of his intention to cast me to work alongside Awie in his latest musical which he would also be directing.

"It took me a while to say yes, actually," said Maya, when interviewed in between rehearsals at Istana Budaya last Thursday.

"Then it got me thinking – I haven't done theatre for some time and also here was a chance to work with both Hans and Harith Iskander whose credibility in theatre is a well-known fact. Actually, I fell in love with their work in Lat The Musical. I really admire that beautiful play."

Sharing her experience going through rehearsals since early October, Maya said she learnt a lot about Mokhtar.

"The more I learn about him (Mokhtar), the more I admire him," said Maya, who loves football. She cites Germany and Malaysia as her favourite teams.

Prior to this, Maya did not know much about the legendary footballer as she lived in different parts of the world until about 16 years ago when she returned to Malaysia for good.

Playing Datin Zarina is a challenge. "I felt a bit apprehensive initially about playing a real person who is alive to see me playing her!

"But Hans gave me a lot of material and details on Datin Zarina's background. Hans also spoke to us about the characters and how he wanted us to portray them on stage.

"I really had to study her character and personality to the best of my ability. After meeting her twice, I know now that Datin Zarina is a strong person and a romantic at heart. She is a lovely person.

"During our meetings, I also picked up few points regarding her personality that will help me to portray her on stage. She is a quiet and reserved woman but once she opens up to you, she can be quite chatty. And she knew that I had to learn about her as much as I could so I can present her better on stage."

Being a singer as well, Maya says she does not have much problem working with live music, which is arranged by veteran Michael Veerapan).

"I worked with Michael Veerapan when I was 18 in Saidah Rastam's Mahna Mahna. So I know what it's like working with him," said Maya, adding that she will be performing two brand new songs specially composed for the musical.

Working with Awie is a wonderful experience, according to her. "We worked together in the movie Duyung but we didn't hang out together a lot then. But now, there's no more 'shy shy'," she said, laughing, as she referred to their roles as husband and wife.

"We have to work closely this time. Awie is such a fantastic guy to work with and I'm really enjoying my time working with him," she concluded.

>Tickets for SuperMokh The Musical at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur, which runs daily till Nov 18 are priced from RM46 to RM306 for the night shows. Tickets for the matinee (Nov 9, 10, 16 and 17) are priced at RM38, RM78, RM96, RM102, RM134, RM166, RM190 and RM246. Tickets are available from

Related story:

Playing his hero

Playing his hero


Awie takes on the role of his career in SuperMokh The Musical

CONSUMMATE actor. That's the description which came to mind throughout a recent interview with rocker-actor Awie, who was more than pleased to talk about his lead role in the upcoming SuperMokh The Musical at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur, which starts today. 

Looked visibly thinner despite the thick pullover he wore last Friday, the 45-year-old rocker has practically "lived" his role as Datuk Mokhtar Dahari in the past month. Apart from the musical's script, Awie has been training hard and getting himself in shape for the role of the football legend.

Still sporting his pony-tail, Awie, whose real name is Ahmad Azhar Othman, confessed that he was more nervous than ever now that the musical date is finally here. 

"This is my biggest challenge yet – the role of a national football legend. Mokhtar was loved by so many and he was also known as a man of few words," he admitted. 

Presented by Tall Order Productions and Jugra Publication, the musical on the life of the iconic striker – fondly known as SuperMokh – is directed by Hans Isaac and Harith Iskander, who also wrote the script. 

"I was really surprised to be offered the role. I'm actually scared – there's a lot of pressure to get it right. You know, will I be able to do him justice on stage?" asked Awie.  

Awie also related that his late dad was a big fan. And as a child, he grew up with the football exploits and stories of Mokhtar – in the Selangor shirt and Malaysian national strip. 

"So, you can understand my apprehension thinking about his fans and family's expectations of seeing his story on stage. It was nice to hear that Mokhtar's children were all excited about this production," he said with a wide grin. Initially, the charismatic Awie did struggle to find the colour and personality needed to pull off the Mokthar role. You see, the football star was a reserved man.

"There was so little on Mokhtar ... no extensive interviews or TV appearances. Apart from his cameo role in the movie Mekanik, the videos on YouTube are mostly of him playing football. The thought of studying his mannerism, character, tones, facial expressions really consumed me that I had a dream of him. 

"It was two weeks ago and I was in Malacca for a show. I couldn't sleep that night and later Mokhtar appeared in my dream. I really don't remember much, but I remember asking him to help me to understand him better. And he did! 

"In the dream Mokhtar was making conversations, he 'showed' me his postures in different (football) situations, things such as how he leaned on the wall while talking ... how he straightened his upper body while talking ... all that in my dream! When I woke up I had goosebumps. Even now telling you all this I have goosebumps!" said Awie adding that it could be due to stressplaying tricks on him. 

Tricks or not, last week Awie decided to show Mokhtar's wife Datin Tengku Zarina Tengku Ibrahim the new facial expressions he learnt from the dream. Much to his surprise, she acknowledged the uncanny resemblances. 

"You know, if I can achieve even 50% of the late Mokhtar's personality and mannerisms, that will be a great blessing already. 

"Personally, I feel that Mokhtar is local football saint. While Ghani Minhat is the Raja Bola ... it was Mokhtar who brought Malaysian football to the next level." 

Did Awie dig deeper about his lead character and learn about Mokthar's love for music? 

"I also found that Mokhtar was a big music fan. I know for a fact that his favourite song was Santa Esmeralda's You're My Everything, apart from local tunes from the Alleycats and Kembara." 

Well, what about Wings' songs? Mokhtar must have heard about Awie's band Wings in the mid-1980s.

"Well, to be honest I didn't ask his family," said Awie with a laugh. He also added that he will be performing five brand new songs in the musical. 

Awie also said that whenever he had doubts in playing certain scenes, he woud refer to Zarina and Mokhtar's younger brother Mohd Nor Dahari to help him to get it right. 

A two-time winner the Boh Cameronian Best Actor Award for Cuci The Musical and Lat The Musical, Awie explained that it doesn't help his nerves that the patron of the production is none other than the Sultan of Selangor himself, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who is a fan of the late SuperMokh. 

"Before this, I hadn't touched a football in 30 years," revealed the Ampang, Selangor-raised Awie, who used to play frequently in school (usually as a goalkeeper). But he stopped playing football after he started his music career in the 1980s. 

"As long as I don't look fat in the No. 10 football jersey and the super low cut shorts from the 1970s, I should be alright," he concluded. 

Related story:

The woman behind the legend


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