Saturday 30 October 2021

Citizen Activists Lead the Hunt for Antiquities Looted From Nepal

              Nepal (Wikipedia)            
Roshan Mishra, director of the Taragaon Museum in Kathmandu, has creasted a digital archive, which he operates with his wife, of nearly 3,000 Nepalese artefacts that he believes are being held by museums outside the country. Two years later, the archive that he operates with his wife is at the heart of a citizen-led effort to use the internet to find the missing gods and goddesses, Buddhas and bodhisattvas that have been looted from Nepal (Zachary Small, 'Citizen Activists Lead the Hunt for Antiquities Looted From Nepal', NYTtimes October 29, 2021).

Emails now arrive daily from antiquities experts and hobbyists with tips and finds, a process that has helped a small, resource-strapped country persuade some of the world’s most prestigious museums to part with precious artifacts. “When I look at the inquiries that I get, it’s unbelievable,” said Mishra. “Now this has become my life’s work.” The Australian museum is now negotiating possible repatriation of the 13th-century wooden goddess with Nepalese officials, according to a spokesman for the institution. Seven other sculptures have already been returned this year to Nepal because of information provided by the citizen watchdogs and armchair experts who call themselves the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign. In September, it was the Metropolitan Museum of Art that returned a 10th-century statue of a Hindu deity. In March, a campaign member helped the F.B.I. in a repatriation case regarding a Nepalese sculpture which was returned by the Dallas Museum of Art.[...] Many experts, including the Harvard art historian Jinah Kim, said that about 80 percent of Nepalese artifacts outside the country were likely to be illegal exports. But it wasn’t until 2015 when an anonymous Facebook page called Lost Arts of Nepal started accusing museums of holding looted objects that repatriation efforts gained traction. The page now has more than 17,000 followers and collaborates with the Recovery Campaign in researching and publicizing claims. [...] Finding evidence of looting is only the first step in the repatriation process. The nonprofit starts by sending a letter identifying a find to Nepal’s Department of Archaeology, which reviews smuggling claims and forwards credible ones to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Embassy officials in the countries where the items are found take over from there, connecting with institutions and collectors to negotiate the return of stolen artifacts.
parallels are drawn with another citizen initiative that is quite often in the news;
The approach echoes earlier efforts by Vijay Kumar, a writer who in 2008 started using social media to identify religious artifacts stolen from Indian temples. His blog, named Poetry in Stone, became popular for its coverage of the antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, now jailed in India on smuggling and theft charges. In 2014, Kumar turned the blog into a nonprofit, the India Pride Project, which assists the Indian government in tracking down looted objects. He also now serves on the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign’s advisory committee.

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