Showing posts with label Vijay Kumar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vijay Kumar. Show all posts

December 14, 2020

Voluntary Restitution of Indian Annapurna, the Hindu Goddess of food and nourishment, by University of Regina in Canada.

Image Credit:  Dona Hall, courtesy of MacKenzie Art Gallery
Figure of Annapoorna (Benares, India, 18th century),
artist unknown, stone, 17.30 x 9.90 x 4.90 cm.

An 18th-century murti of the Hindu goddess Annapurna, which was stolen from India over a century ago, will be returning home soon from Canada. Upon the discovery that one of the idols in their collection had been stolen from a shrine in Varanasi, India, the Mackenzie Art Gallery at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan reached out to officials in India to discuss restitution. 

The statue has been in the university’s possession since 1936 when it was donated by Norman MacKenzie, the namesake of the university's gallery. The sculpture remained unquestioned until 2019 when artist Divya Mehra was invited to host a solo exhibition at the Gallery. 

While doing research for her exhibition at the MacKenzie Art Gallery at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Divya Mehra discovered the statue’s illicit origin. Her exhibition, entitled, From India to Canada and Back to India (There Is Nothing I Can Possess Which You Cannot Take Away), "unravels the West’s obsession with simultaneously defining and consuming the histories and identities of other cultures. In this collection of reproduced, misclassified, staged, and stolen cultural property, Mehra deftly and playfully navigates complex networks of colonial entitlement, popular culture, art history, sacred objects, exotic adventurism, and novelty."

It was through her research in the university archives that she discovered the notes from Norman MacKenzie’s trip to India in 1913 which revealed that the idol had been stolen from a small sanctuary along the Ganges, procured indirectly at the behest of MacKenzie. At the time the sculpture was accessioned into the museum's art collection the idol was misclassified as a representation of the god Vishnu and continued to be labelled as such until Mehra began her research. 

When  Mehra recognized that the clearly female sculpture was not Vishnu, she consulted with Dr. Siddhartha V. Shah, curator of South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum who revealed that the deity depicted was in fact Annapurna, also known as the Queen of Benares and Hindu goddess of food and nourishment. Upon the discovery of the illicit origins of the artefact the artist approached John Hampton, interim CEO and Executive Director of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, regarding restitution.  The university then took the steps to reach out to the High Commission of India to discuss the sacred object's return. 

The proactive and voluntary repatriation of an artefact is quite unusual in the museum world, with repatriation often taking years of legal discussions and cultural diplomacy between the cultural institution and the aggrieved nation. Mr. Ajay Bisaria, High Commissioner of India commented that "the move to voluntarily repatriate such cultural treasures shows the maturity and depth of India-Canada relations".

The repatriation ceremony was held virtually on November 19th, with attendees from the High Commission of India, Global Affairs Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, the University of Regina, and the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Dr. Thomas Chase, Interim President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Regina stated during the ceremony that "as a university we have a responsibility to right historical wrongs and help overcome the damaging legacy of colonialism wherever possible...repatriating this statue does not atone for the wrong that was done a century ago, but it is an appropriate and important act today. I am thankful to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the Indian High Commission, and the Department of Canadian Heritage for their roles in making it possible."

Image Credit: University of Regina
Screenshot from Repatriation Ceremony

The university and gallery have affirmed that as a result of the discovery of the illicit provenance of the Annapurna idol they will be conducting a full review of the rest of their collection.  Alex King, the Curator for the University’s art collection commented that "the repatriation of the Annapurna is part of a global, long-overdue conversation in which museums seek to address harmful and continuing imperial legacies built into, sometimes, the very foundations of their collections. As stewards of cultural heritage, our responsibility to act respectfully and ethically is fundamental, as is the willingness to look critically at our own institutional histories."

This is undoubtably a step in the right direction for cultural restitution, but it is also a reflection of how little is known about museum collections.  Founder of the India Pride Project S. Vijay Kumar commented that "while the recent restitution is a welcome move it is pertinent to point out that a very distinct feminine sculpture holding a ladle and a bowl was displayed in an academic Institution since the mid-1930’s as a Vishnu. It shows how little of displaced Indian art in Canada has been properly studied. Further that the paperwork attested to its dodgy provenance was within the University archives shows the importance of reviewing provenance and due diligence not just for current acquisitions but for the past as well.  Museums in Canada have in general a very poor record in displaying collections let alone disclosing provenance publicly on their web sites and this is despite high profile cases linked to Subhash Kapoor and even prior that to the Pathur nataraja in 1980s.  We hope this good trend catches on and other public museums engage experts into researching provenance or as a start put the available provenance online."

Image Credit: Sarah Fuller
Courtesy the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects

As this Annapurna returns to India her space in the museum collection will be filled by a new piece by Mehra titled 'There is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away (Not Vishnu: New ways of Darsána)'. She spoke with ARCA about the new piece explaining that "the work is a small bag of sand — purchased at a Hollywood prop store (rich in Indiana Jones memorabilia) and artificially aged with coffee, and dye —weighing the equivalent (2.4 lbs.) of the stolen stone goddess of Annapurna that is no longer a part of the collection. The bag sits upon an altar constructed as if for a film set, in front of a ‘Jungle Vine’ painted backdrop. The work is based on a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark — where Indian Jones steals an idol off of a pedestal from an ancient temple. He leaves a bag of sand with what he guesses to be the weight of the stolen idol." The new piece is a reversal of the gap left in the cultural heritage by the antiquarians of the past, the bag of sand now being left at the museums as the statue returns to the place it was stolen. It can also be seen as a commentary on the idolization in the modern world for characters such as Indiana Jones, who treated the cultural heritage of other countries as prized objects to acquire, careless of the value it held to the people it was stolen from. 


By: Lynette Turnblom 

Bibliography 

Annapoorna Virtual Repatriation Ceremony. 2020. “Annapoorna Virtual Repatriation Ceremony.” YouTube. November 20, 2020. https://youtu.be/q769-baqiaA.

Hampton, John G. 2020. “Divya Mehra: From India to Canada and Back to India (There Is Nothing I Can Possess Which You Cannot Take Away).” MacKenzie Art Gallery. 2020. https://mackenzie.art/experience/exhibition/divya-mehra-from-india-to-canada-and-back-to-india-there-is-nothing-i-can-possess-which-you-cannot-take-away/.

“Statue from the University of Regina’s Art Collection Officially Repatriated to India in Virtual Repatriation Ceremony | Communications and Marketing, University of Regina.” 2020. Uregina.Ca. November 19, 2020. https://www.uregina.ca/external/communications/feature-stories/current/2020/11-19.html. 

“Statue from the University of Regina’s Art Collection to Be Returned to India Following Virtual Repatriation Ceremony.” 2020. MacKenzie Art Gallery. November 24, 2020. https://mackenzie.art/statue-from-the-university-of-reginas-art-collection-to-be-returned-to-india-following-virtual-repatriation-ceremony/.

June 5, 2020

Virtual restitutions in the age of Coronavirus and Australian bush fires


On 27 November 2019 the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally announced that as a result of criminal law proceedings underway in India and the United States against New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, Australia would be voluntarily returning three culturally significant sculptures to India.  Five days later, on 2 December 2019 the Australian Government's Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications - Office for the Arts announced that the three artworks would be formally given back to the Indian authorities during the Prime Minister's visit to India, in January 2020.

Prime Minister Morrison was scheduled to travel to India on 13 January 2020 for bilateral meetings between Australia and India, at the invitation of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.  The pair planned to hand over the artworks and discuss the global economy before Morrison headed on to other meetings in Japan.  Those plans, however, fell by the wayside as Australia battled for control over the country's raging bush fires which continued unabated until mid-February, a result of the country's prolonged drought.

The next hiccup to the scheduled meeting and handover was the world-encompassing epidemic, the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). 


Months later, opting for safety and security over politics, as coronavirus cases in India saw a record single-day jump of 9,304, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi held their first-ever “Bilateral Virtual Summit” on the 4th of June 2020.  This occasion, focused on comprehensive strategic partnerships between India and Australia, and was the occasion to allow Morrison to virtually hand over the pair of 15th century, Vijayanagar dynasty door guardians (Darapala) from Tamil Nadu, and a 6-8th century sandstone statue of the serpent king (Nagaraja) from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh, in India.



Speaking with S. Vijay Kumar of the India Pride Project, a volunteer organization involved in documenting and tracking stolen Indian artifacts, Mr. Kumar had this to say about the current restitutions:

"The return of the two door guardians, bought by the NGA for USD 495,000 in August 2005 and stolen from Tamil Nadu and the Nagaraja purchased for USD 337,500 in April 2006 from Madhya Pradesh will bring closure to an eight year struggle with the National Gallery of Australia which started with us, along with Mr. Jason Felch exposing the robber photos, showing the objects freshly looted against a vesti and lungi background. We also proved the fake provenance of the certificates issued by Art of Past for these purchases way back in 2015. 

The returns are important as they provide much-needed impetus to the sagging criminal trial of Subhash Kapoor by exposing the nexus between him and his associates. The Nagaraja was smuggled out of India sometime in 1999 by the mastermind of the illicit trafficking network in India who went by the codename "SHANTOO" who we now know is Ranjit Kanwar (but whom has yet to be arrested/traced by Indian law enforcement) but more importantly of the Prakash brothers who ran IndoNepal - who smuggled the two door guardians out of India sometime before 2002.  

These individuals have been named in the case filing on Kapoor in NYC Aug 2019 by US authorities, providing graphic details of how these stolen artefacts  are cleaned by intermediaries - in this case Solomon who has been since charged with abetting this crime for cleaning and removing any trace of dirt, etc from the Nagaraja and also how Subhash Kapoor used an old typewriter and some old stationery to fool the largest public museum in Australia.


The two Dwarapalas will be sent to India's Idol wing of Tamil Nadu which has registered a theft case related to the pair.  The Serpent King will initially go to the Red Fort Archaeological Museum located in the Mumtaz Mahal of the Red Fort in Delhi.

Kumar, Felch, and arts reporter Michaela Boland have long pushed for the examination and return of suspect Kapoor pieces, imploring the NGA to look closely at the provenance of all works in the museum's collection which were purchased by this dealer or his affiliates.  Extradited to India in July 2012, Kapoor remains incarcerated at Tiruchirappalli Central Prison awaiting the conclusion of his trial in India.  Afterward, the 70-year-old would likely be extradited to the United States to face 86 felony counts for allegedly looting $145 million in antiquities over the last 50 years.

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 15, 2018

Repatriation: The Case of the Stolen TEFAF Buddha

Screen Shot of ID Matching Buddha stolen 57 years ago.
Image Credit:  ARCA with permission from ASI Archives in India
In a tale that began as a follow up to a funding initiative, I was scheduled to be in the Netherlands this past March to meet with folks at Maastricht University who ARCA was collaborating with on an EU funded Horizon 2020 grant proposal designed to address the critical issues involved the illicit trafficking of antiquities (which, by the way, we were later not awarded).  "The European Fine Arts Fair," or more simply by its art market acronym, TEFAF.  Part of the impetus for meeting in the Netherlands was that I was already in Maastricht, as each year, since 1988, the city has played host to an annual art, antiques, and design fair at the MECC which is organized by The European Fine Art Foundation called

I was at TEFAF to keep an eye open for looted antiquities which might be on sale with fabricated provenances — artworks from the ancient past which have no legitimate pedigree as they have been looted directly from the ground.  Illicit antiquities like these have a propensity for eventually bubbling up into auction house and trade fair sales as their illicit excavation from archaeologically rich sites means that they will not appear in any for-fee stolen art database searches as there is no way to report a previously unknown object as missing.  Once a looted object gains a plausible fabricated provenance, it only takes a few purchases and a publication in one or two glossy exhibition catalogs, to give a looted object a superficial patina of legitimacy.

I was not expecting to find an object stolen from a museum as these types of thefts are routinely registered with police, as well as with art market theft databases.  Searching services, conducted by Art Loss Register, are also incorporated into the vetting of objects for sale at TEFAF in both their New York and Maastricht sales events and are designed to reduce or resolve art-related ownership disputes.

But on Thursday, 15 March 2018 around lunchtime, I pressed the send button on my smartphone application and passed a high resolution photo of a suspicious object I had seen at the stand of one of the international art dealers.  The photo sent was of a Post-Gupta, seated Buddha in the Bhumisparsha Mudra pose, a delicate bronze with his right hand as a pendant over the right knee and with the palm of his left hand facing upward.  The person I sent the photo to was Vijay Kumar, the cofounder of India Pride Project.  

IPP has been responsible for identifying countless Indian treasures stolen and smuggled overseas, some of which have been found in prestigious museums around the globe.  Less than 2 hours later, and with careful comparison with  images obtained through a retired ASI employee, Dr. Sachindra S Biswas, Kumar and I were fairly confident we had a match.  

Image Credit:  Left - ARCA Photo from TEFAF Maastricht 2018
Right - ISA Archive photo
The following morning, Friday, 16 March 2018 and after multiple cross checks, between the photos of the object I took and those of the ASI, I contacted Martin Finkelnberg, Head of the Art and Antiques Crime Unit of the Netherlands National Police Force, INTERPOL, UNESCO and the Indian authorities and presented everyone with the supporting evidence of our identification.   In our opinion, as well as the opinion of two external experts, we felt confident, to the best of our abilities, that the object for sale at TEFAF in March 2018 was an exact match to one of 14 objects stolen from the Nalanda Archaeological Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Nalanda, Bihar, India on August 22, 1961.

Despite its theft, the stolen Buddha was pictured in Ulrich Von Schroeder's book "Into-Tibetan Bronzes," a book published in Hong Kong in 1981.  By that time the object had already been satisfactorily laundered into the licit market and was  listed as part of a private collection in London.  

Pages from Ulrich Von Schroeder's book "Into-Tibetan Bronzes,"
illustrating the stolen Buddha
Based on the preponderance of evidence we presented, the Dutch police force acted immediately and sent officers to pay a visit to the dealer's representative on site at TEFAF for the last day of the Dutch fair.  The manager of the stand reported to the Dutch police that the firm was holding the object for a consignor who resided outside of the Netherlands.  

Working cooperatively with law enforcement, the dealer agreed to be in touch with the Buddha's current owner as well as New Scotland Yard, London's Metropolitan Police upon their return to London where an investigation could be taken up by the UK authorities.  ARCA and India Pride Project, in turn, passed all the evidence we had obtained on to Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of New Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit. 

Once in London, Constable Hayes began her own necessary due diligence in order to ensure that our impressions were correct.  After reviewing the documentation we had provided to the London police, Hayes contacted France Desmarais of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).  

Desmarais arranged for a neutral external expert opinion on the Buddha currently held in the UK by the antiquities dealer for the consignor.  This evaluation was conducted for evidence of authenticity as well as in comparison to the evidence provided by ARCA and India Pride Project related to the theft in Nalanda, Bihar 57 years ago. 

ICOM's expert found the bronze in question to be authentic, and a match to one of the 14 objects stolen in 1961.

To understand how experts authenticate ancient art of this type it is important to understand that bronzes produced in the later medieval period (circa 12th century) in eastern India were made using the “lost wax” method.  This is a process where a wax model is made which can be used only once, as the wax melts away when the molten bronze is poured into the mould. For this reason, each bronze Buddha made using the lost wax method is unique, and while other Buddhas may have a similar appearances or poses, no two will be exactly alike as each object has to be made from its own individual wax mold. 

Completing this confirmation check took some time, as the number of post-Gupta era experts is limited and authentication is not something experts working in the museum community perform without careful consideration and thoughtful examination.  I'd like to personally thank both the anonymized expert and Ms. Desmarais for their time and expert assistance regarding the origins of this bronze. 

With ICOM's confirmation in hand, the Met's Art and Antiquities Squad worked to convince the current owner of the Buddha, who, along with the dealer had been cooperative throughout the investigation, to voluntarily relinquish the object back to its home country.   Today, it was handed over to Indian High Commissioner to the UK, YK Sinha during a ceremony this morning at the Gandhi Hall, India House, Aldwych in London, timed to coincide with India’s Independence Day.

Mr Rahul Nangare, First Secretary (Trade), High Commission of India,
and Dr Rajarajan, IPP volunteer
Imae credit:  IPP
Speaking with Vijay this morning hee stated "this is a great demonstration of inter governmental and activist groups and also the need for proper documentation. We hope this is just the beginning in finding closure to this case as we are still after the rest of the stolen artifacts. Hope the museums in America are looking at this with interest. "

While I, like Vijay am overjoyed that this stolen Buddha is finally going home, another similar to it, identified in February and stolen during the same theft, still sits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, California.  The question remains, if the US-based museum will be as forthcoming as this collector and UK dealer.  Both of whom did the right thing by cooperating during the investigation and eventually returning the stolen object back to India voluntarily.  

By:  Lynda Albertson