Australia’s Cultural Heritage
When people think of moving to Australia, they often think what that change will entail. Australis is somewhere with great outdoor life, fabulous people, sporting activities and wonderful food and wine. All of this is true, nevertheless Australia is a country with a strong believe and history of cultural heritage. It also supports many artists art galleries, indigenous artists and of course National and regional museums.
The national museums are mostly based in the capital in Canberra. They have a strong history of collecting artefacts both locally and from around the world like any other National Museum. In addition to the national museums there are many regional museums located in the various territories.
Australian museums are also joining a global movement to investigate their collections and look at items that might be repatriated. This takes place under a new wave of collections management activity and the desire to revisit provenance of non-indigenous artefacts.
Cambodian Artefacts and Repatriation
The National Gallery of Australia is currently taking action to return three ancient statues to Cambodia. It has been determined that these valuable artifacts were likely stolen from Cambodia and then unlawfully sold.
This decision comes after an investigation by ICIJ uncovered alleged looted pieces associated with the late art collector Douglas Latchford within the NGA collection.
Back in 2011, the NGA acquired these three statues from Latchford, who has faced accusations of contributing to the illegal removal of Cambodia’s cultural heritage. The purchase price was $1.5 million.
Dating back to the 9th or 10th century, the bronze sculptures were originally unearthed in Tboung Khmum, Cambodia, in 1994. They were then illicitly transported to international art dealers in Thailand and eventually ended up in Latchford’s collection.
Latchford, who is believed to have been involved in a significant trade of stolen artifacts for over 40 years, was under investigation by U.S. authorities. He had connections to multiple prominent art institutions.
The United States indicted Latchford on charges related to art trafficking, but his death in 2020 left many unanswered questions, including the fate of the allegedly looted treasures and the money involved.
Following the example set by U.S. institutions, the National Gallery of Australia is repatriating these sculptures to Cambodia. This action follows a ten-year investigation and collaboration with Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to establish the origins of the statues.
Comment from the NGA Director
NGA Director Nick Mitzevich stated, “The decision to repatriate these sculptures to the Kingdom of Cambodia is the culmination of years of research and due diligence.”
At a ceremony held on July 28 at the National Gallery, representatives from Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts expressed their appreciation for the return of the sculptures. They described it as a healing process for their nation and a positive example for the rest of the world.
The statues will remain on display at the NGA for up to three years, during which time the Cambodian government will prepare a suitable location for them in the capital.
The Australian government hopes that this move and the collaboration between the two countries will strengthen its bond with Cambodia and its Ministry of Culture.
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