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Made in India Magazine | June 19, 2021

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Ankit Gupta


Art is big business, and whenever there is money involved, there will be people out to trick the law. It has been found that the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has in its possession some artefacts that have been illegally smuggled out of India. The NGA is doing the right thing and preparing to return them to their rightful owners.

In 2014, one of the National Gallery of Australia’s showcase pieces, a dancing Shiva worth around $5 million dollars, was returned by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Indian heritage authorities after it was proven that the idol was stolen and not legally brought out of the country.

The man who is masquerading as the dealer is one Subhash Kapoor, who runs a gallery called Art from the Past in New York. The NGA conducted business with him not knowing that since 2012, his case has been pending in India with charges of smuggling and theft. His modus operandi is to arrange for theft of bronze and stone idols from Indian temples to smuggle them abroad and sell them to unsuspecting galleries all over the world.

Now, in 2016, it looks like two more pieces that the NGA bought from Kapoor have under the scanner. One is a 1800-year-old limestone carving depicting a scene from the life of the Buddha, and a 1000-year-old stone likeness of the Hindu tantric goddess Pratyangira, which were both bought from the NGA in the year 2005 from Kapoor.

In an independent report by former High Court judge Susan Crennan, 22 pieces of Asian art in the NGA’s collection were deemed suspicious, out of which fourteen were bought from Subhash Kapoor of Art from the Past. It is likely that the NGA will be returning all these doubtful artefacts to Indian authorities even as Kapoor’s case is moving slowly through the judicial system.

For his part, Kapoor’s lawyer insists that he did not know at the time of the various deals that the exhibits were stolen. The truth will only come out when the case draws to a close and the judgement is given.

The NGA won’t wait until then, though. The director, Gerard Vaughan said that the gallery has a good working relationship with the Indian heritage authorities, and that they will ‘do the right’ thing if it is agreed upon by both parties that the articles are indeed tainted. This means that the Buddha carving and the Pratyangira idol might just be making their way back home soon.

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