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June 6, 2014

Tess "Indiana Jane" Davis credited with helping return looted Hindu statues to Cambodia in the case of the Looted Temples of Koh ker

In a June 6th article in The Diplomat, journalist Luke Hunt points to the "critical" efforts of American researcher Tess Davis in the successful restitution of three looted Hindu statues returned to Cambodia this week:
Critical to their return was Tess Davis, a U.S. art lawyer and affiliate researcher at the University of Glasgow, who stressed Cambodia had only won the first in a series of battles, in what could prove to be a protracted war over the return of looted art. “The kingdom has taken on the art market, an entire industry, and a powerful one at that,” Davis told The Diplomat. “Collectors, dealers, museums, auction houses, they have deep pockets and top lawyers on their side. But Cambodia has something even more important: the truth and the law. And that’s something no amount of money can buy.”
Davis, dubbed by some as ‘Indiana Jane,’ said the looting and trafficking of antiquities was a crime that would no longer be tolerated, “not by governments, not by law enforcement, and not by the leaders in the art world itself.” The thefts have also been seen as a symbol of Cambodia’s perennial problems, ranging from corruption to a culture of impunity among the country’s well-heeled and politically connected. Davis said Cambodia had given the art world a simple choice, “to do the right thing or not.” She said the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Christie’s had stepped up and fulfilled their obligations, but others like the Cleveland Museum of Art and Sotheby’s have been more reluctant. “They are fighting with everything they have to stay in the past, a past where they could do whatever they wanted. They act like antiquated colonial relics, while their competitors have entered the 21st-century, and are thriving in it,” Davis said.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt [and you can follow Tess Davis @Terressa_davis.

Ms. Davis taught the course, Cultural Property Law, at ARCA's postgraduate certificate program in art crime in 2009.