Rubin Museum to return Nepali relics believed to have been stolen

The Rubin Museum of Art announced Monday it would return two sculptures to Nepal after museum investigators found smugglers had stolen the carved objects from religious sites.

“We are very grateful,” Nepal’s acting Consul General Bishnu Prasad Gautam said in a statement. “The Rubin’s proactive response and thoughtful collaboration have made a positive contribution to Nepal’s national efforts to recover the lost artifacts.”

The museum has credited a nonprofit called the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign for playing a role in repatriation by raising awareness of questions about the items’ history. In September, a Twitter account had been linked to the recovery campaign Posted concern that the wooden relics had been stolen

The recovery campaign last year played a role in the return of at least seven relics from cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art.

The Rubin Museum said in its statement that these two relics were the first items in its collection to be found to have been illegally obtained. The institution is currently five years into a full assessment of its artifacts, filling gaps in knowledge about provenance data.

“We have an ongoing duty to carefully research the art and objects we collect and display. The theft of archaeological objects remains a major problem in the art world,” said Jorrit Britschgi, director of the museum in the statement. “We believe it is our responsibility to address and resolve issues related to cultural property, including helping to facilitate the return of the two objects in question.”

A remnant is the upper part of a 17th-century wooden torana (an ornamental gate in Buddhist and Hindu architecture) of a temple complex in Patan, the Yampi Mahavihara. Another example is a sculpture of a pendulum-bearing apsara (a female spirit of the clouds and waters) from the 14th century, which was originally part of a decorative window decoration in Kathmandu’s Itum Bahal Monastery.

Scholars working for the museum discovered that the pendulum went missing from the monastery in 1999, four years before it was purchased by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Cultural Trust, which represents the founders of the Rubin Museum. Sandrine Milet, a spokeswoman for the museum, said the two artifacts had been purchased privately, but declined to name the dealers as they wished to remain anonymous.

Nepal’s Department of Archeology will determine whether the objects will be returned to their original location or to a national museum. In December, government officials returned a sculpture of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi-Narayan to its temple pedestal in Patan after the Dallas Museum of Art returned it. In a celebratory procession, those in attendance reached up to touch the artifact, believed to be a living god, and raised their fingers to their foreheads to convey a blessing.

Roshan Mishra, director of the Taragaon Museum in Kathmandu, hopes a similar ceremony will greet the objects returning from the Rubin Museum. He helped the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign publicize efforts to secure the return of the wooden relics.

“I’m so happy,” Mishra said in an interview. “If museums like the Rubin actively repatriate their artifacts, I think it will be easier for other museums to follow suit.”

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.