The Director of the National Gallery of Australia Mr Ron Radford said in a media interview that he will not return to India, the “Dancing Shiva” allegedly stolen from a temple in Tamil Nadu and other millions of dollars worth of antiques he had purchased from New York dealer Subhash Kapoor.
He wants further proof that they have been stolen before the Gallery can act. This is in spite of admitting to the ABC media that he, Mr Ron Radford might have been conned by Subhash Kapoor who will shortly be on trial in Tamil Nadu for operating a 600 crore antiques smuggling operation and the Manager of Mr Kapoors gallery Mr Aaron Freedman already pleading guilty.
It is ethically important in today’s museology movement for public cultural institution who are custodians of global cultural heritage not to hold on to an object such as this and hide behind the outcome of a legal verdict, which after several lengthy trials and appeals in an Indian court may take many many years. The right thing for these galleries to do is to repatriate these cultural objects back to India. Especially for objects such as the “Dancing Shiva” which would have been used for worship in Tamil Nadu.
It certainly is well known in the antique market that though illegal, many ancient Indian cultural relics get smuggled out of India capitalizing on the low income level of the villagers based where these temples are located, fraudulent clearance and provenance certificates and the high level of profits (in the case of the Dancing Shiva it was sold for more than 30 Crore rupees). However it would be adding fuel to the fire if recognized International Museums don’t have adequate checks and balances in place while acquiring Indian cultural relics through purchase or donation (often tax deductible donations). Also Museums and galleries when dealing with living cultures should not be looking at purchasing objects just purely as a business deal (in this case as a business loss).
Probably like Ron Radford, many other Gallery and Museum Directors are counting on the Indian legal system not coming with a final verdict for years especially in a complex case that cuts across many countries and possibly layers of fraudulent paperwork. Kapoor has sold or donated art to many leading Museums in the world including the National Gallery of Australia, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Maybe it is time the Indian Ministry of Culture starts becoming tough on this issue and use it as a test case, putting tough measures in place that would hurt these institutions that have Kapoors collections that have been identified to be stolen and not loan any further objects for exhibition to these institutions until this issue is finalized. Many of these institutions rely on incoming travelling exhibitions often from culturally rich parts of the world such as India, Egypt and Greece.
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