US museum returns Hanuman statue to Cambodia


A statue of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, which was looted from the Koh Ker temple complex in Preah Vihear province, was returned to Cambodia on Sunday after spending 33 years in the possession of the Cleveland Museum of Art in the U.S.

US museum returns Hanuman statue to Cambodia
A closeup of the Hanuman statue returned early Monday U.S. time to Cambodia 
by the Cleveland Museum of Art [Credit: Cleveland Museum of Art]

Prak Sunnara, director-general of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ heritage department, confirmed Sunday that the statue was set to arrive last night at the Phnom Penh International Airport.

“The statue will arrive at 8:30 tonight and this statue was made in the 10th-century Koh Ker style,” he said. “It has been returned from the U.S.”

He declined to comment further, noting that an official press conference about the statue would be held at the Council of Ministers on Tuesday.

According to the Cleveland Museum of Art’s website, the 10th-century sandstone sculpture stands about 116 cm tall and 54 cm wide and depicts the god in a crouching position, with the body of a man and head of a monkey.

Anne Lemaistre, head of the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO in Cambodia, said it was clear the statue had originally been attached to a base, but it wasn’t until archaeologists unearthed previously undiscovered pedestals in the Koh Ker complex’s Prasat Chen temple last year that the statue’s exact location was determined.

“I think the proof has been established that it is coming from that place, because it was a matter of matching the pedestal with the sculpture,” Ms. Lemaistre said, referring to Prasat Chen.

“UNESCO is extremely satisfied and very grateful to the Cleveland museum for accepting to give it back,” she added.

Kong Vireak, director of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, said the statue would be handed over on Monday to the museum, where it will be displayed.

In May last year, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer newspaper reported that Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, the Cleveland museum’s curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art, traveled to Cambodia several months earlier to attempt to determine whether the statue came from Prasat Chen.

“Our work on the piece and its provenance is still underway, and terribly time-consuming, but so far, based on my extensive fieldwork in Cambodia earlier this year, I can report that I did not find any physical evidence to confirm that the Cleveland Hanuman is from Prasat Chen,” the newspaper quoted Ms. Quintanilla as saying at the time.

Neither Ms. Quintanilla nor Caroline Guscott, the museum’s spokeswoman, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Ms. Lemaistre of UNESCO said that while she did not know what had motivated the museum to give back the statue, it would have been premature to ask for its return before the additional pedestals in the temple were discovered last year.

“I think we could not have really asked without having established the evidence,” she said.

Authors: Mech Dara and Chris Mueller | Source: The Cambodia Daily [May 11, 2015]