Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Museums that Tried to Appropriate India's Past

Vaihayasi Pande Daniel interviews Jason Felch on Kapoor ('The man who stole India's past', Rediff.com September 7th, 2015
If you look back to the history of American and Western museums, in general, there is a long tradition of buying objects that have been illegally removed from the countries of origin -- that history had a long legacy and it is tied with the colonial legacy. The mentality of colonialism which in essence says: 'We have a right to these objects; they are the world's patrimony not just one nation's patrimony. We are better able to protect them than the natives.' That's the kind of attitude with which these things have been traditionally acquired by American, British and other institutions. There's a long history of that. In addition to that, what that looks like in recent times, is dealings -- not overt dealings -- with the black market, which Kapoor represents. But a kind of a wink-and-a-nod system where Subhash would offer objects that were 'fresh' to museum curators and they are highly desirable [...]  Museum curators for many years have been happy to not ask the tough questions, knowing those tough questions would lead to awkward answers. I think it would be naive to say these museums were duped by Kapoor. He used false paperwork while selling these objects. It didn't take me more than 15 minutes to look at that paperwork, when I got it, and determine that it was false. Kapoor was using Salina Mohamed, his girlfriend, as the former owner of the objects. And many, many of the objects they sold cited his Salina as the previous owner. So it was a very thin facade he put around these recently-stolen objects. Museums knew if they asked the tough questions they would learn information that would make it impossible, under American laws, to buy things. If you buy something and know it is stolen, you go to jail under US law. They were happy to take things, with falsified provenance documents, and accept them, because what they really wanted were these objects.

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