NGA should return stolen statue and fix the dent in community faith

The OFBJP condemns insensitivity of National Gallery of Arts (NGA) Australia towards handling the issue of allegedly stolen 900-year-old statue of ‘Dancing Shiva’ and its reluctance on the option of returning the statue to its rightful owners back in India.


Nataraj ‘Dancing Shiva’ Statue in NGA’s possession

In recent enquiry, it is found out that the Nataraj, ‘Dancing Shiva’ statue of religious importance was sold to NGA by New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently facing trial in India over the thefts of multiple artefacts, was stolen from a Hindu temple in India.

NGA has maintained, it made appropriate checks about the provenance of the Shiva statue, one of the most revered deity in Hinduism.

However, ABC in its latest episode of Four Corners, revealed the facts behind journey of the stolen statue from India to the art gallery of NGA, which casts serious doubt about its legitimacy.

George Brandis, Arts Minister and Attorney General came highly critical of the NGA for the purchase.

NGA has shown startling lack of curiosity about the ownership history of works they were buying from Kapoor, according to LA Times investigative reporter Jason Felch, whose Chasing Aphrodite website has exposed illegal trafficking of antiquities.

“These were not difficult stories to puncture,’’ he says. “It was not hard to Google those supposed collectors and see they lived in run-down houses in communities where very, very valuable Indian art is generally not found … That should have been a red flag.’’

What is even more surprising is that NGA only follows a sole expert’s advice whose name was only revealed recently as Dr Ramachandran Nagaswamy – a well known expert in Chola bronze. However, Dr Nagaswamy has categorically denied giving any advice on the purchase of this ancient Shiva statue to NGA.

The case of Shiva statue opens a can of worms for NGA as it has acquired total 21 artefacts from Kapoor between 2002 and 2011 for a total of $11 million. As NGA reluctantly indicated that it’ll return the statue to its home if it’s proved stolen in the court. This sets precedence for all the other items as well, if proved stolen.

This disturbing revelation not only hurts peoples’ religious feelings in India, it also creates an emotional drift among Indian community in Australia. Facts indicate that the case of Shiva statue is an only tip of iceberg and there is lot more to be unearthed.

Considering the social and religious sensitivity of these cases, OFBJP Australia would like to present following recommendations to NGA with its full sincerity.

  • Care-taking arrangement of Shiva: While the case of ownership in court, NGA should handover the Shiva statue to a local Hindu temple in Australia as a care-taking arrangement. NGA should appreciate the religious importance of the statue, which is not just a mere artefact. Along with other Indian community organisation, OFBJP Australia is happy to assist NGA in providing any support required for making this arrangement.
  • Community Involvement: To avoid such mistake in future, NGA should consult Indian community representatives in any future acquisition. This makes the process more transparent and restores the faith of community especially in such sensitive instances.
  • Understand the culture better: To enhance more understanding of Hindu culture and community, NGA should increase its interaction with local Indian community. OFBJP Australia would like to invite NGA members on a tour of Hindu temple and events, which could prove immensely informative and connecting experience.

Indian community shall welcome any action that NGA takes in positive direction to restore the faith, and assures all support required in the process.

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