The National Gallery of Australia has removed from public display a 900-year-old bronze statue of the god Shiva, believed to have been stolen from an Indian temple.
It now looks like the statue, Shiva Nataraja (dancing Shiva), which was bought by the NGA in 2008 for $5.6 million, will be returned to India after the Attorney-General’s Department revealed last night that on March 21, the India Government wrote to them seeking the return of the statue saying it had been exported from in India in contravention of laws protecting the nation’s ancient treasures.
The Attorney General’s Department says the request is “being actioned” in accordance with international agreements about cultural heritage.
“The National Gallery of Australia is continuing its cooperation with the department to fulfil Australia’s international commitments and has voluntarily removed the statue from display,” the statement said.
The statue was bought from New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, who is currently facing trial in India over the theft of multiple artefacts. Last year the gallery’s former manager was found guilty of trafficking stolen art by a New York Court. During the trial, the dancing shiva was identified as one of the stolen works.
While the NGA has maintained it made appropriate checks about the provenance of the Shiva statue, on Monday night, ABC TV’s Four Corners cast further doubt about its legitimacy. During the program, Arts Minister and Attorney-General George Brandis was highly critical of the NGA for the purchase.
Last week, NGA director Ron Radford announced he would retire when his term expires in September, although Gallery chairman Allan Myers said it was unrelated to the art theft scandal.
The NGA purchased 22 works, costing more than $11 million, from Kapoor over 10 years and the Art Gallery of NSW also bought Indian artefacts from the disgraced art dealer. Some are now also facing claims of doubtful provenance.
The Australian is reporting that India has also asked 900-year-old stone statue of Shiva, known as Ardhanarishvara, to be returned as it was also looted from a temple in Tamil Nadu – a fact revealed when The Australian published a photo of the sculpture that was recognised by an antiquities expert.
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