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June 4, 2014

Wednesday, June 04, 2014 - ,, No comments

Cambodia celebrates the reunion of three Hindu statues after four decades

Photo credit to Tess Davis (Facebook)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Tess Davis, former ARCA lecturer in Cultural Property Law for our program in 2009 and 2010, is in Cambodia celebrating the return of three ancient statues and posting links on Facebook to news headlines.

"Statues 40 year reunion":  Laignee Barron & Vong Sukheng reported for The Phneom Penh Post:
Three of Cambodia’s ancient sandstone warriors were welcomed back to their birthplace yesterday, greeted by lotus wreathes and a troupe of traditional dancers adorned in gold. The ceremony marked the end of a 40-year absence for the Duryodhana, Bhima and Balarama statues. The mammoth, 10th-century characters all belong to the same tableau of mythological Hindu figures once locked in battle at Prasat Chen, a remote jungle temple in Preah Vihear. Over the past year, Cambodia has regained five of the nine statues pillaged from the temple’s Eastern entrance, haphazardly hacked from their pedestals and sold on to international art markets during the Khmer Rouge era. “Surviving civil wars, looting, smuggling and travelling the world, these three have now regained their freedom and returned home,” Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said during yesterday’s repatriation ceremony.
Here's a link to a video of the ceremony.

"Cambodia welcomes back looted 10th-century statues": Kate Bartlett, Anadolu Agency, reported:
With the help of the U.S. government and UNESCO,Cambodia first got the ball rolling in 2012 when it filed a suit against the New York-based auction house Sotheby's after the institution put a statue known as "The Duryodhana" -- valued at about $3 million -- up for sale. Earlier this year, with the case still ongoing, Sotheby's agreed to return the statue. The mighty "Duryodhana" was one of the impressive pieces unveiled at Tuesday's ceremony, alongside statues known as the Bhima and Balarama, returned by the Norton Simon Museum of California and Christie's auction house, respectively. While legal action was originally taken against Sotheby's in the case of the "Duryodhana," Christie's returned its statue voluntarily after discovering it was looted. The Norton Simon Museum did the same. 
Tess Davis, an affiliate researcher at the University of Glasgow who specializes in cultural heritage law, said Tuesday, "It's a very exciting day, not just for Cambodia, but for all countries that have been plundered." "Cambodia's on the right side of history here," she added. 
Anne Lemaistre, head of Cambodia's UNESCO office, called the statues' return "a big coup" for Cambodia and said that it might act as an incentive for other museums and private collectors to return looted antiquities. "Now let's see what Cleveland would say," Lemaistre said, referring to the museum’s recent denial that the Angkor statue in its possession was looted. 
Buddhist majority Cambodia, which has a rich cultural heritage influenced by Indian traditions and Hindu legends, is famed for its temples, and the intricate engravings of graceful traditional dancers and mythological characters adorning their walls. Representatives from Christie's and the Norton Simon who attended the ceremony said they were delighted to have been able to help Cambodia recover some of its valuable cultural heritage. "These statues... were callously hacked... and trafficked on the international art market," Jeff Daigle, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, said in a speech, expressing the U.S.’s commitment to stopping the illegal arts trade. "We must not forget that the commercial trade in illicit art remains," he added.
 In 2011, Ms. Davis wrote about the lack of provenance in auction catalogue for objects from Cambodia.