Friday, December 13, 2013

Another Artifact Repatriated: This time to Cambodia

Auction house Sotheby's announced this week the return of a 10th Century statue of a Hindu warrior to Cambodia.  The agreement came after a two year dispute between the auction-house, the original consignor of the statue and Cambodia (represented by the United States Attorney's Office).

The United States Attorney's Office originally alleged that both Sotheby's and the consignor knew that the piece had a questionable provenance (history of ownership), bu the office dropped these allegations.

Sotheby's agreed to pay for the shipping costs and the consignor would not receive compensation as an act of good faith and a willingness to promote "...cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage" (Mashberg and Blumenthal, The New York Times, that December 12, 2013).

According to The New York Times, a spokesman for Sotheby's expressed that "...the auction house was gladdened that 'the agreement confirms that Sotheby's and its client  acted properly at all times'."

I do not at ll believe that the auction house acted in good-faith at all times based on the following reasons:
  • The was not a clear record of provenance
  • Cambodia suffered massive amounts of looting in the 1970s and 1980s during the wars
  • UNESCO signed a convention in 1970 and many institutions treat this as a marking point as a date that they would not purchase anything with records not predating that year
I am happy however Sotheby's might be taking action to repatriate objects.  This is just another example of a people trying to gain money from a looted artifact, except this time all parties came to a mutual understanding.

Do you think that this agreement absolves the auction house?