Tuesday, 14 August 2012

More on Seized Sculptures in Pakistan: No Surprise There

Pakistani officials check a seized ancient statue in Karachi in July 2012. Statues of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in Nepal in the 6th century BC and whose teachings grew into a major religion, can fetch thousands of dollars across the world.
© AFP/File Rizwan Tabassum
A few weeks ago we were all blogging about a pretty big seizure of Gandhara statues in southern Pakistan. To recap, July 6, police in Karachi seized more than 392 objects, including 307 sculptures and 85 metallic artefacts, apparently dating back to the Gandhara era. The huge consignment of antiquities  was seized from a truck. The truck driver and its owners were also arrested, and contents of a warehouse were seized. Then there was the fuss about some of the confiscated pieces going missing while the police were 'looking after' them. Then the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government started calling for the immediate return of these looted objects. When eventually the antiquities got to people who know about such things, in the National Museum, Karachi, it turns out that not all was as it had initially seemed.
Almost 90 percent of the seized "ancient relics of Gandhara civilisation" seized some time ago by police in Karachi are fake and unauthentic, a member of a five-member committee of archaeologists cited a report compiled by the panel on Friday. The committee was formed to verify the authenticity of the seized artefacts by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government.[...] The committee, he informed, had submitted its report to the Director of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Archaeology and Museums which would forward it to the Inspector-General of Police, Sindh, via the provincial department of Archaeology. 
The committee had decided that 85 of the metallic objects were "as old as 75 years, therefore, they would be declared as antiques". The report recommended ways to avoid the recurrence of such incidents in future. The committee called for launching a special awareness campaign to teach how to determine the originality of various sculptures and archaeological objects. Mind you, if these are being created to fool foreign collectors, ie people that fancy themselves as connoisseurs, they'd have to be pretty good.

The report further suggested that the 30 to 45 of the sculptures found to be original should be returned to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, besides calling for more efficient implementation of the Antiquities Act of 1997 in Sindh to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future.

So at what stage did these fakes get added to the shipments and why? Was this an attempt to hide authentic artefacts among copies as is alleged in another ongoing case in the news at the moment, or were the fakes destined to be sold as originals to dupe no-questions-asking foreign collectors? Did the people handling them down south know they were fakes? Were they perhaps bought from some northern Pakistani middleman who was cheating them by selling them fakes, swearing blind that they had been dug up on an ancient site? These are just a few of the questions we should ask, because the answers would tell us much more about the nature of this part of the antiquities trade.

Gandharan sculptures on the market are notorious in collecting circles for a high degree of fakery. It is interesting to note that a shipment apparently seized on its way from 'source' to the international antiquities market was found to be ninety percent fake. Is this a reliable indicator of the real percentage of artefacts which actually reach the no-questions-asking market are actually fakes? That's a pretty high percentage, and would certainly encourage me, were I a potential buyer, to enquire very carefully about where the item offered to me comes from, where exactly and in what circumstances, and is there any documentation. If not doing so meant I had only a ten percent chance of "getting my money's worth" (i.e., buying what I thought I was paying for), then I would look to buy from a source that can offer me more than his "word" that the object really is what the guy trying to charm my money from me says it is. Collectors seem to have some difficulty with working this out.

Also an interesting footnote is what the commission's report suggests should happen to the sculptures "It is suggested that these fake relics should be put on public display in various gardens and national parks." Although, the report said, the "relics" were not original, they were "works of art". I suppose this also raises the question, when is a work of art a work of art?  A further question which arises here is why these non-antiquities are not returned to the owners - are they being prosecuted now for fraud in connection with these sculptures?

Recorder, 'Almost 90 percent of seized Gandhara-era artefacts fake: report', Business Recorder (Pakistan News), August 04, 2012.

UPDATE 5.09.12
"Not all Gandhara artefacts confiscated a few months ago in Karachi are counterfeit, a final report by the Archaeological Department of Sindh has concluded. At least 161 items, out of 395, have been found to be genuine antiquities, some of them 2,000 years old, and are worth billions of rupees, the director of the department, Qasim Ali Qasim, told Dawn that 72 of the genuine antiquities were metal objects and the rest made of stone. About 234 other relics are counterfeit, but “still have an art value”, he said."  'All seized artefacts not fake: report', Idrees Bakhtiar 4.09.12

Photos: (top) I had strong doubts about this one when it was first published. When I looked at this (lower) first I was paying attention to something else, but now the figure in the foreground, well...

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