When Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits India in January 2020, he will take with him three stolen artefacts (statues) from the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra). The National Gallery of Australia is voluntarily returning pieces procured unethically. These include a pair of dvarpalas (door guardians) from 15th century Tamil Nadu, and a statue of Nagaraja (serpent king), believed to be from 6th to 8th century Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh.
The items in the National Gallery of Australia were similarly purchased in good faith, but after extensive research by the Gallery the decision was taken to voluntarily return these artefacts to India.
“Like India, we understand the value of our ancient cultures and artefacts,” the Prime Minister said. “The return of these artefacts is the right thing to do.
Both 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.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said, “The strong ties Australian and Indian institutions have made in recent years have helped develop important professional relationships and share culture. The return of these artefacts also underscores the world’s debt to India’s magnificent culture, history and legacy.”
The Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher MP said, “Historic artefacts play a significant role in modern society by allowing communities to acknowledge and celebrate their shared history and culture. The National Gallery of Australia recognizes this, and is strongly committed to the ethical collecting of cultural material and best practice collection management. I commend the Gallery for resolving these legacy issues.”
Criminal law proceedings are currently on in India and the US against former New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, from whom these stolen statues were purchased.