Australia to return 3 stone sculptures during PM Scott Morrison’s visit to India
The Australian government will return three culturally significant artefacts to India during Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to the country in January, with officials saying the items were bought from New York-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor.
The artefacts were purchased in good faith from Kapoor, who is under investigation in India and the US, by the National Gallery of Australia. The gallery’s extensive research led to the decision to voluntarily return the artefacts to India, the Australian Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday.
The artefacts are all stone sculptures – a pair of door guardians (dvarapala) from Tamil Nadu dating to the 15th century, and a serpent king (Nagaraja) from Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh from the 6th to 8th century.
“Like India, we understand the value of our ancient cultures and artefacts,” said Morrison, who will visit India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and deliver the inaugural address at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi.
“The return of these artefacts is the right thing to do. This is another demonstration of deep relationship between Australia and India,” he said.
India and Australia are party to the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property.
Criminal proceedings are underway in India and the US against art dealer Kapoor. The Australian government doesn’t have any role in these proceedings.
The sculptures were part of the National Gallery of Australia’s national collection and the decision to repatriate them followed new evidence in criminal charges levelled against Kapoor in New York.
National Gallery of Australia director Nick Mitzevich said, “We are committed to resolving provenance issues as a highest priority — we now know enough about these works and want to see them returned to their rightful owners.”
He added, “After studying the criminal complaint, there was sufficient doubt around the provenance of these sculptures to remove them from the national collection. We take these matters very seriously and have acted at the earliest opportunity.”
Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne said strong ties forged in recent years by institutions in the two countries helped develop important professional relationships. “The return of these artefacts also underscores the world’s debt to India’s magnificent culture, history and legacy,” she said.
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