Tuesday, 4 October 2016

"Where did you say that Antique Art Come From?"

Bombs for Ganeshas
Anuraag Saxena, 'Heritage for sale: Stop the loot of India’s past' Sunday Guardian 4th October, 2016
UNESCO estimates that 50,000 idols and artefacts had been stolen out of India till 1989. Advocacy group Global Financial Integrity estimates that the illegal trade of arts and artefacts is worth Rs 40,000 crore a year. As an example, a single sandstone sculpture stolen from Madhya Pradesh was worth Rs 100 crore in the international market. These are not isolated incidents though. India has lost thousands of heritage objects to the international heritage-mafia. Idols, maps, manuscripts, paintings, murals, etc., are looted en-masse and find their way to New York, London, Zurich and other “playgrounds for the rich”. India has the dubious distinction of being one of the biggest victims to this trade [...] [...] the heritage-mafia is a globally networked ecosystem. It really does not matter if an artefact was looted from Cambodia, Egypt or India. Most of these looted-objects share the same shipping-agents, trade-routes, hawala agents, auction-houses and art-dealers. It is an intricate network of regenerative tentacles, where one tentacle feeds the other. When you cut one off, another grows in its place. The only way out is to have an impenetrable defence mechanism. The only way is to enforce, with an iron hand, when any such perpetrators are caught.
UNSC Resolution 2199 formally recognises art and antiquities trafficking as a terrorist financing tool. If we don’t stop the illicit trade, Saxena argues 'we should be ready for our heritage to be sold, for bombs to be bought'. But the dealers who handle the smuggled finds and those of no known provenance (because the documentation has somehow been disappeared) will shrug their shoulders and tell you they are 'not responsible' for financing this market. I would say that is a very contentious statement coming from anyone willing to handle artefacts no-questions-asked. It seems to me clear where the responsibility lies.

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