Metropolitan Museum of Art, US to Return Antiquities to India: Main Highlights

Sectoral News: Restitution of cultural heritage emerged as a key theme under India's G20 Presidency. The 1970 UNESCO Convention is the basis for these efforts urging countries to return artifacts acquired through colonial plunder or misappropriation.

The Processor
New Update

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York has agreed to return 150 antiquities to India, marking the first voluntary restitution of such artifacts by the renowned museum. The return is expected to occur within the next 3-6 months. This development was announced by Union Culture Secretary Govind Mohan during a briefing on the third G20 Culture Working Group meeting held in Hampi, India. The return of these artifacts aligns with India's efforts to restore its cultural heritage and international agreements on the restitution of illegally acquired antiquities.

The antiquities being returned by the Met were discovered to have been illegally removed from India. The museum decided to transfer these artifacts back to the Indian government upon learning about their illicit origins. Subhash Kapoor, a dealer currently serving a prison sentence in India, was involved in the sale of all the artworks.

Notable items among the 150 include the Celestial Dancer, a 1st-century BCE Yakshi terracotta from West Bengal, a bronze sculpture of God Revanta Returning from the Hunt (10th century CE), and a 15th-century Parikara (Backplate).

In addition to the Met's voluntary return, the United States authorities have confiscated a collection of antiquities, which will also be returned to India within the same timeframe. These artifacts have been kept in the office of the New York Attorney General. The total number of antiquities set to return to India from the US amounts to 150 items. The confiscated artifacts, acquired through various means such as smuggling and theft, will join the voluntarily returned pieces in restoring India's cultural heritage.

Historical Significance and Mediums:

The antiquities that will be repatriated to India cover a wide range of mediums, including marble, terracotta, and sandstone. Spanning a period of 1,600 years, from the 1st century BC to the 15th century AD, these artworks hold immense historical and market value. Their return contributes to the preservation of India's rich cultural heritage and reinforces the importance of repatriating artifacts that have been taken unlawfully.

Restitution of cultural heritage has emerged as a key theme under India's G20 Presidency. The country has been actively pursuing agreements, both bilaterally and multilaterally, for the return of antiquities. The 1970 UNESCO Convention serves as the basis for these efforts, urging signatory countries to voluntarily return cultural artifacts that were acquired through colonial plunder or post-colonial misappropriation. India aims to secure a broad consensus among G20 countries to become signatories to the convention, which would greatly benefit India's restitution process.

Bilateral and Multilateral Routes:

India has made progress in its pursuit of restitution agreements with various countries. The Cultural Property Agreement between India and the United States, mentioned during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's State visit, highlights the commitment of the US to intercept and return smuggled goods promptly. India hopes that other countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Australia, will consider similar agreements. The ongoing G20 Culture Working Group meeting aims to bridge opinions and foster consensus among member countries, guest nations, and multilateral organizations.