Asian Civilisations Museum returns 11th-century bronze sculpture to India

The Asian Civilisation Museum is returning an 11th-century bronze sculpture dating back to the Chola dynasty which had been purchased from a dealer that had handled illegally trafficked Indian artefacts.
PHOTO: Asian Civilisations Museum

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) will return to Indian authorities an 11th-century bronze sculpture of the Chola dynasty, it said in a press statement today.

Purchased from the New York dealer Art of the Past, the sculpture is a religious icon depicting the Hindu goddess Uma Parameshvari.

ACM, which is managed by the National Heritage Board (NHB), purchased the sculpture from Art of the Past back in 2007 for US$650,000 (S$899,570). Later on in 2012, the Museum found out through international media that the sculpture could be one of the subjects of a criminal court case in New York concerning the illicit trafficking of artefacts from India.

In January this year, NHB invited  the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI), the national agency which oversees the Indian government's antiquities, to visit Singapore so as to deliberate over the sculpture.

ASI paid Singapore a visit again for three days from May 12 to 15 to discuss the bases for its claim and it also requested for documentary evidence for the procurement of the sculpture from NHB.

NHB received an official request on June 16 from the ASI for the return of the bronze sculpture.

ACM said its decision to return the Uma Parameshvari sculpture was one that was carefully considered and it had also reviewed the information provided by the ASI.

Although there is no conclusive evidence that the sculpture was stolen from a Shiva temple in Tamil Nadu, India, ACM noted the confession of Aaron Freedman, the manager of Art of the Past. He confirmed that he had been involved in the dealing of looted Indian antiquities and possessing 150 stolen objects, including the sculpture of Uma Parameshvari.

Between 1997 to 2010, ACM had purchased a total of 30 objects from the New York dealer Art of the Past, as confirmed in its earlier press statements. None of these items were found in any national or international register of stolen objects at the time of its purchase.

Other than the bronze sculpture of Uma Parameshvari, none of the other 29 objects that ACM had bought were mentioned in Mr Freedman's statement.

The Museum said it will continue to work closely with ASI in developing future exhibitions and joint projects.