Asian Civilisations Museum hands back sculpture identified as stolen to India

The bronze sculpture depicting the Hindu goddess Uma Parameshwari.
The bronze sculpture depicting the Hindu goddess Uma Parameshwari.PHOTO: ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM

SINGAPORE  - The Asian Civilisations Museum has returned to the Indian authorities an 11th-century bronze sculpture in its possesion, which has been identified as stolen from India.

The museum had last month informed the Archaeological Survey of India and the High Commission of India to Singapore of its plan to return the religious icon depicting the Hindu goddess Uma Parameshwari.

The sculpture is among hundreds of stolen cultural artefacts amounting to over $148 million in an ongoing international art smuggling case. They are believed to have been looted and sold to museums by disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, 65, who is awaiting trial in India on charges of theft and smuggling.

The museum had bought the Uma sculpture from Kapoor's now-defunct gallery Art Of The Past for US$650,000 (S$900,000) in 2007.

The museum announced its decision to return the stolen sculpture on Oct 19 and the artefact was handed back to the Indian authorities on Friday (Nov 6) at the Heritage Conservation Centre in Singapore. The return was witnessed by the Archaeological Survey of India's assistant superintending archaeologist K.P. Mohandas.

The museum's director Alan Chong said: "The museum has always striven to acquire objects ethically and legally. Like many museums around the world, we were the unfortunate victims of fraud."

He added that while the sculpture "will be much missed in our galleries", the museum has maintained close relationships with Indian museums and cultural institutions and "we look forward to future collaborations".

In a statement, the High Commission of India said: "We appreciate the return of the statue of Uma Parameshwari by the Asian Civilisations Museum of Singapore. The statue is now on its way back to its rightful place in India."

It added that "in the spirit of friendship and cooperation between the two countries", India and Singapore will continue to promote cooperation in the field of art, culture and heritage, "including exchanges between museums for exhibitions".