Last year, viewers of ABC’s Four Corners were informed of an arts-based controversy brewing down in Canberra. It seemed as though the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) had illegally come into possession of a stolen artefact, a two thousand year old statue of the Buddha. It turned out that the statue belonged to the Indian nation, and now Australia looks set to do the right thing.
On a state trip to India, the statue was personally returned by PM Abbott to Indian PM Narendra Modi. But how exactly did Australia’s most renowned gallery come into possession of a stolen artefact?
The Buddha had originally been purchased for the NGA by Roslyn Packer, the widow of the deceased media mogul Kerry Packer. Mrs. Packer acquired the piece from an antiquities dealer in New York, a shadowy figure who had initially vouched for the item’s provenance. As it turned out, the valuable piece had been stolen from an archaeological dig in India, a theft which had long puzzled Indian authorities charged with the up-keep of national historical treasures.
The Indian Department of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India and the National Museum in Delhi were the chief proponents for the return of the statue, a process they’ve played out before. In September of 2014, a 900-year-old bronze statue known as “the Dancing Shiva” was officially returned to state authorities after they determined that the object had been lifted from a temple.
In light of these revelations, the NGA has vowed to more thoroughly carry out its due diligence and investigate the storied past of over fifty unique acquisitions. As the legality of possessing stolen goods is questionable at best, it’s in the gallery’s interest to clear its name and re-establish its good character on the global scene.
For now it seems the story has officially been laid to rest. As the National Gallery’s investigations continue, more information on stolen items may come to light. So check back with us soon!
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