Dancing Shiva and acquisition practices

Robyn Sloggett, ‘The Dancing Shiva fiasco should shift attitudes in Australia’, The Conversation, 29 April 2014

The announcement today that the Australian government will return the US$5 million Chola-era Dancing Shiva to India, after months of scandal focused on the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and art dealer Subhash Kapoor, appears as a welcome shift in attitudes to the illicit trade of antiquities in this country.

In reality, as signatory to both the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects and the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970, Australia has very little option.

An object purchased in 2008 by the NGA should clearly have been more thoroughly checked. The more worrying aspect of the announcement is that the Australian Government was put in this position in the first place.

The evidence that the statue was in the temple in 1974 clearly marks this as an illicit trade under the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

So the question remains: where are the practical alignments of Australia’s responsibility under the Convention with the acquisition practices, codes and policies of (at least some of) Australia’s major public collecting institutions?

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