March 7, 2021

The chronology of a beloved mūrti...now on its way home to Nepal

Image Credit: Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal

1956
Nepal's Ancient Monuments Preservation Act goes into effect. Article 12 of the Act criminalises theft from ancient monuments and Article 13 restricts the export of cultural objects without prior Government approval, meaning an official permit issued by the Department of Archaeology.

1 January 1984
A 15th-century, 34” tall, deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayana (Sanskrit: लक्ष्मी-नारायण, IAST: Lakṣmīnārāyaṇa), a manifestation of Vishnu in the Hindu religion is published in Krishna Deva’s Images of Nepal.

1984
The 15th-century deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayan is stolen from the Narayan Temple in the Patko Tol neighbourhood in Patan, located in the Lalitpur district in the south-central part of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. 

Between 1984- and 1990
The 15th-century deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayan is illegally transported out of Nepal and into the United States.

1989
A photograph of the 15th-century deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayana is published on page 246 in Stolen Images of Nepal, a book by Lain S. Bangdel, former Chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy.

This publication is the culmination of a project was undertaken by the Royal Nepal Academy in which research was carried out to document known stolen artefacts from the Valley of Kathmandu.

22 March 1990
Despite the previous publication, the 15th century, deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayana stolen from the Narayan Temple in Patko Tol is auctioned at Sotheby’s New York during its Sale 5987: Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art.  The artefact is listed as Lot 278 and is purchased by David T. Owsley.

Later in 1990
David T. Owsley loans the 15th century, deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayana stolen from the Narayan Temple in Patko Tol to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) as part of a 30-year long-term loan agreement.

01 October 1999
Journalist, writer and civil rights activist Kanak Mani Dixit becomes aware that the 15th century, deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayana stolen from the Narayan Temple has been auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in 1990 and writes about the Murti's sale at Sotheby's in his article “Gods in Exile” in Himal magazine, bringing the sale to the attention of artist Joy Lynn Davis. 

2013
David T. Owsley pledges a portion of his large personal collection of South Asian art to museums. 

In total Owsley’s name appears 274 times in the Dallas Museum of Art 2013 catalogue "The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art." Some of these objects are on display in the DMA, but few are fully documented in the museum’s online collections inventory as the bulk of these are loans, making them more difficult for potential claimants to trace their origins.

2013-2014
Artist Joy Lynn Davis paints a commemorative version of the stolen 15th century, deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayana as part of her project “Remembering the Lost” which documents art theft from Nepal.  By the conclusion of her research Davis will have 

12 December 2013
The 15th century, deity statue of Lakshmi-Narayana is published in a catalogue The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art on Page 94 listed as an intended bequest of David T. Owsley.  The listing makes no mention of the object's provenance. 

2015
A year after finished the painting, Joy Lynn Davis located the Lakshmi-Narayan sculpture on display in the South Asian Art collection at the Dallas Museum of Art via a Google Image search after a blogger posted a photograph of the Lakshmi-Narayan while at an event at the Dallas Museum of Art. 

2016
At the start of Joy Lynn Davis' research, INTERPOL's database of stolen art included six stone sculptures from the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.  By 2016, with the help of UNESCO, Davis had now documented a total of 160 Kathmandu Valley consecrated sculptures which could then be included in INTERPOL's Stolen Works of Art Database.

2017
Joy Lynn Davis exhibited her stolen murti paintings and research, and gave a talk about the illicit trade of Nepal’s cultural heritage at a conference on the ethics of the art trade at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, using the Lakshmi Narayan sculpture as a case study. There she meets Dr. Erin L. Thompson, Associate Professor of Art Crime at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY). 


19 November 2019 

20 November 2019
The Dallas Museum of Art responds to Dr. Thompson's Tweet on Twitter, promising to investigate the object's history. 

December 2019
Sometime after Dr. Erin L. Thompson's tweet, the Lakshmi-Narayana is removed from public display at the Dallas Museum of Art and the FBI become involved in the case.  

24 January 2020
Dr. Erin L. Thompson pens an article for the journal Hyperallergic providing the general public with details of the theft of the Lakshmi-Narayana (elsewhere described as Vasudeva-kamalaja) statue, on long-term loan to the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), via David Owsley.

Image Credit: U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation

2 March 2021 
Officials from the Dallas FBI Field Office and the Dallas Museum of Art announce the formal transfer of the recovered Lakshmi-Narayana previously on loan to the museum from David OWSLEY to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.
With the full support of the object’s US Owner, the Stele of Lakshmi-Narayana is transported from Dallas, Texas to Washington, D.C. for the formal handover ceremony. 

Image Credit: Joy Lynn Davis Facebook


6 March 2021 
37 years after its theft Dr. Yuba Raj Khatiwada, Ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal to the United States of America received the beautiful mūrti of “Vasudeva-Kamalaja” (also known as Lakshmi-Narayan) handed over from the representative of the US Government Timothy N. Dunham, Deputy Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in a ceremony organized at the Nepal Embassy in Washington DC. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

References used for this chronology:
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‘A Statue Stolen 35 Years Ago from Patan Exhibited at Dallas Museum of Art’. Kathmandu Post, 20 November 2019. https://kathmandupost.com/art-culture/2019/11/20/a-statue-stolen-38-years-ago-from-patan-exhibited-at-dallas-museum-of-art.
Bangdel, Lain S. Stolen Images of Nepal. Royal Nepal Academy, 1989.
Blay, Christopher. ‘Art Crime Professor Erin L. Thompson Points to Stolen Statue at Dallas Museum of Art’. Glasstire (blog), 30 January 2020. https://glasstire.com/2020/01/30/art-crime-professor-erin-l-thompson-points-to-stolen-statue-at-dallas-museum-of-art/.
Dallas Museum of Art. ‘Dallas Museum of Art, Embassy of Nepal, and Federal Bureau of Investigation to Transfer Stele of Lakshmi-Narayana To the  Federal Democratic Republic of  Nepal’, 5 March 2021. https://dma.org/press-release/dallas-museum-art-embassy-nepal-and-federal-bureau-investigation-transfer-stele.
Davis, Joy Lynn. ‘A Gift to the Dallas Museum of Art by Joy Lynn Davis’. Facebook, 4 March 2021. https://www.facebook.com/Joy-Lynn-Davis-121478937004/photos/10158012279237005.
Deva, Krishna. Images of Nepal. Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, 1984.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. ‘FBI Dallas and Dallas Museum of Art Announce Transfer of Stele of Lakshmi-Narayana to Government of Nepal’. Press Release, 5 March 2021. https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/dallas/news/press-releases/fbi-dallas-and-dallas-museum-of-art-announce-transfer-of-stele-of-lakshmi-narayana-to-government-of-nepal.
Granberry, Michael. ‘Dallas Museum of Art Removes Object That Website Contends Is a “Deity Stolen from a Temple in Nepal”’. Dallas News, 30 January 2020. https://www.dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/visual-arts/2020/01/30/dallas-museum-of-art-removes-object-that-website-contends-is-a-deity-stolen-from-a-temple-in-nepal/.
Kanak Mani Dixit. ‘Gods in Exile’. Himal, 1 October 1999. https://www.himalmag.com/gods-in-exile/.
‘Press Release on the Handover of the Vasudeva-Kamalaja Statue – Embassy of Nepal, Washington DC, USA’. Accessed 7 March 2021. https://us.nepalembassy.gov.np/press-release-on-the-handover-of-the-vasudeva-kamalaja-statue/.
‘Repatriations – Remembering the Lost’. Accessed 7 March 2021. http://rememberingthelost.com/repatriations/.
Sijapati, Alisha. ‘Replicating Nepal’s Stolen Gods’, 21 February 2020. https://www.nepalitimes.com/here-now/replicating-nepals-stolen-gods/.
INTERPOL. ‘Stolen Works of Art Database’. Accessed 8 March 2021. https://www.interpol.int/en/Crimes/Cultural-heritage-crime/Stolen-Works-of-Art-Database.
The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dallas Museum of Art, 2013.
Thompson, Erin L. ‘Stolen Deities Resurface in a Dallas Museum’. Hyperallergic, 24 January 2020. https://hyperallergic.com/530848/stolen-deities-resurface-in-a-dallas-museum/.
‘US Hands over Historical Statue of Laxmi-Narayan to Nepal’. Khabarhub, 6 March 2021, sec. News. https://english.khabarhub.com/2021/06/168030/.

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