Australia to return ‘stolen’ artefacts to India


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Australia will return 14 artworks to India, including at least six believed to have been stolen or illegally exported, the National Gallery announced Thursday.

Australia to return 'stolen' artefacts to India
The dancing child-saint Sambandar, 12th century, from Tamil Nadu, purchased 2005
[Credit: National Gallery of Australia]

The Canberra gallery identified the works — which include sculptures, photographs and a scroll — as either stolen, looted or of unknown origin.

The collection is composed largely of “religious and cultural artefacts” worth a total of about US$2.2 million, including some dating back to the 12th century.

Australia to return 'stolen' artefacts to India
The child-saint Sambandar, 12th century, from Tamil Nadu, purchased 1989
[Credit: National Gallery of Australia]

Gallery director Nick Mitzevich told AFP the works were set to be returned to the Indian government within months.

“It’s a relief that they can be returned to the Indian people, and it’s a resolution for the National Gallery to close a very difficult chapter of our history,” he said.

Australia to return 'stolen' artefacts to India
Goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon [Durga Mahisasuramardini], 12th-13th century,
from Gujarat, purchased 2002 [Credit: National Gallery of Australia]

Thirteen of the works are connected to alleged trafficker Subhash Kapoor, a former Manhattan art dealer who was the subject of a massive US federal investigation known as Operation Hidden Idol. Kapoor, who is awaiting trial, denies all charges.

The National Gallery of Australia has already returned several other works it acquired via Kapoor, including a US$5 million bronze statue of the Hindu god Shiva that had been stolen from a Tamil Nadu temple.

Australia to return 'stolen' artefacts to India
India, Arch for a Jain shrine and Seated Jina 11th-12th century, Mount Abu region,
from Rajasthan, purchased 2003 (two separate works)
[Credit: National Gallery of Australia]

Mitzevich said it had introduced guidelines to assess any legal and ethical issues with works it holds, and was investigating three other sculptures from its Asia collection.

“It’s very much a live issue with galleries around the world. And we want to make sure that we can resolve these issues in a timely manner,” he said.

Australia to return 'stolen' artefacts to India
The divine couple Lakshmi and Vishnu [Lakshmi Narayana], 10th-11th century,
from Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh, purchased 2006
[Credit: National Gallery of Australia]

Many of the antiquities Kapoor dealt in dated back to the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Chola dynasty presided over a flourishing of Hindu art in Tamil Nadu.

Since his arrest in 2011, the United States has also returned hundreds of artefacts.

Source: AFP [July 29, 2021]

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