Monday, 23 December 2013

Brother Number Five and the Cambodian Antiquities

Our picture of the looting of art by the dismantling of Cambodian temples is becoming clearer. Larry Rothfield has drawn attention to an old article of Seth Mydans ("Lost temple looted by Cambodian raiders" The Guardian, Friday 2 April 1999) talking of looting of temples such as Banteay Chham by military personnel. There is now more information on this process. Chasing Aphrodite blog writes ("Blood Antiquities: After Lengthy Fight, Sotheby’s Agrees to Return Looted Khmer Statue", Dec 16th 2013):
At the Courmayeur conference, researchers Tess Davis and Simon MacKenzie reported on their field work this summer mapping that very trafficking network, which was responsible for plunder of 10th and 11th century Khmer temples across northern Cambodia. Among the preliminary findings of the research was that Ta Mok, the senior Khmer Rouge leader known as The Butcher and Brother Number 5, may well have played a personal role in the removal of ancient statues from Koh Ker. This lends support to the notion that looted Khmer objects at museums around the world should be considered “blood antiquities.” Attention now shifts to other Khmer statues likely acquired through the same smuggling network [...]. The case for the return of those objects has now grown much stronger.
The work referred to was based on field interviews conducted with participants and has led to the mapping out of two major trafficking networks, one linked to the Khmer Rouge and one not. The Antiquity dealers' lobbyist Peter Tompa however ("For those Bold Enough to Stand Up Against the US Government...", December 16, 2013 ) retorts that if antiquities were obtained from the Khmer Rouge, there are grounds for collectors to hang on to their knocked-off art:
It now appears that the Khmer Rouge may have sold the Koh Ker statue.  If so, doesn't that also undercut any Cambodian Government claim to the statue?  As abominable a regime as the Khmer Rouge was, it was also considered the lawful Government of Cambodia for a time. So, if an artifact was sold by the Khmer Rouge, the "lawful rulers" of Cambodia, how could it be considered "stolen" now?
Which I suppose gives a good insight into the sort of people dealers and collectors prefer to do business with.

1 comment:

Cultural Property Observer said...

No Christmas truce from you I guess. With regard to the Khmer Rouge, you might note that the current Cambodian PM is a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected to Vietnam and was first installed into his current position by them. The closeness of the ties between the current government and the Khmer Rouge can be seen by the fact that the tribunal set up in Cambodia to punish the Khmer Rouge for its atrocities has gone absolutely nowhere despite considerable financial support from the West for this endeavor. So, perhaps this is more complicated than you suggest.

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