Asian Civilisation Museum returns 11th century bronze sculpture to India

The Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM) is returning an 11th-century bronze sculpture which had been purchased from  a dealer which handled illegally trafficked Indian artefacts.
The Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM) is returning an 11th-century bronze sculpture which had been purchased from a dealer which handled illegally trafficked Indian artefacts.PHOTO; ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM

SINGAPORE - The Asian Civilisation Museum (ACM) is returning an 11th-century bronze sculpture, dating back to the Chola dynasty, to Indian authorities, the museum said in a statement on Monday (Oct 19).

The sculpture had been purchased from the New York dealer Art of the Past in 2007.

In July 2012, Art of the Past, which has operated since 1976, was embroiled in a criminal court case in New York involving illegally trafficked Indian artefacts.

Aaron Freedman, manager of Art of the Past, identified the sculpture as one of 150 stolen objects sold by the company.

The museum made the decision to return the sculpture after a series of discussions between the National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the national agency of the Indian government that oversees its antiquities.

The ASI visited Singapore in May this year and submitted an official request for the return of the sculpture on June 16, the statement said.

The sculpture bears a likeness to the Hindu goddess, Uma Parameshvari, and is believed to have been stolen from a Shiva temple in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Asian Civilisation Museum, which is under the management of the NHB, purchased the sculpture from the dealer in 2007 for US$650,000 (S$899,650).

"While there is no conclusive proof that the sculpture was stolen from a Shiva temple in Tamil Nadu, India, ACM took note of the confession of Aaron Freedman, who was the manager of Art of the Past, of dealing in looted Indian antiquities and of criminal possession of 150 stolen objects.

The sculpture was specifically identified by Mr Freedman as one of the 150 stolen objects," the statement said.

The museum bought 30 objects from the dealer between 1997 and 2010, for a total cost of US$1,328,250.

The other 29 objects are not known to be registered as stolen artefacts.

The museum will be commencing legal action against the dealer to demand compensation for the sculpture, it said on Monday.