The Repatriation of stolen art to India
by Amrita Deora
Founder, the Designera
Every historical art creation carries immense cultural significance to the country it originates from. The repatriation of stolen art to India is something that is a matter of national pride and a long-standing debate of morality. The repatriation of art refers to returning to its provenance stolen or looted art pieces. While great strides have been taken in the journey of repatriation, numerous roadblocks still remain that keep pieces of our heritage away from their home.
Historically, India has been a victim of colonisation. Over the years, our historical treasures and art were looted by Mughals and the British. Because of this, little pieces of our history are scattered around the world today. The debate goes that de-colonisation isn’t complete until we don’t receive what is rightfully ours.
One of the most recent wins in this journey is the National Gallery of Australia returning 14 significant pieces to the Indian government. This included an exquisite 900-year old $5 million bronze statue of Lord Shiva. This act of good will is one that takes India’s repatriation efforts in the right direction.
This act has immense significance for India and the Indian art scene. Not only does it set a worldwide precedence for cultural responsibility and international relationships, it brings home a significant piece of our history. The returned pieces are a piece of our cultural identity and is a small step in the wealth of Indian art to be reinstated. This return also signifies the defeat of the colonist ideologies, highlighting that de-colonisation isn’t complete until the art is returned to its rightful owner.
However, some of the most precious Indian art pieces and artefacts remain abroad. ‘Peacock Throne’ is a jewelled throne that was commissioned by Shah Jahan, and is believed to cost twice as much as the construction of the Taj Mahal. This precious piece was captured and taken to Persia by conquerer Nadir Shah, and has been lost ever since.
One of the most debated and controversial pieces is the Koh-i-Noor diamond, that remains today in the Jewel House at the tower of London. The debate around the morality of colonial looting in India has always begun and end with our precious Koh-i-Noor. Although the question of who the diamond morally belongs to continues, the heritage of this priceless piece is a matter of immense pride.
The Amravati collection, a series of 120 exquisite sculptures is another momentous piece. Currently housed in the British Museum, it was built by Ashoka the Great and is said to be poetry in marble. From an invaluable nephrite jade wine cup belonging to Shah Jahan to Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s throne, a large part of our history is housed in British territory.
According to UNESCO, about 50,000 artefacts have been lost up to 1989- after that it has been far more. The uphill battle continues for the repatriation of stolen art to India. Although we have taken notable steps in the right direction, the quest to repatriate our invaluable pieces continues.