In a break from the usual pattern, an art dealer who has chosen to remain anonymous put his freedom and career on the line to rescue an ancient Buddha statue looted from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul during the 1990s.
The rare 4-foot statue of Gandharan Buddha with flames coming off his shoulders and water flowing from his feet dates to the 2nd century A.D. It was stolen at some time during the civil wars after the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah regime in 1992 and had traveled the dark halls of the black market in antiquities until it was recently purchased by a Japanese private collector. A Japanese dealer sent our hero a picture of the statue and he immediately recognized it from his years of travel in Afghanistan. He even remembered exactly where it had been displayed in the National Museum.
He contacted the collector and told him that the piece had been stolen, begging him to return it to the museum. Appeals to giving a damn about the cultural heritage of a war-torn nation fell on deaf ears. The collector refused to give it up. Under Japanese law, owners cannot be prosecuted for purchasing a stolen artifact even if there’s concrete proof that the item was looted.
The UK, on the other hand, has laws against buying stolen goods, but faced with the prospect of this precious piece of Afghan heritage disappearing into a private collection forever, the British art dealer (heretofore known as BAD, like in BADASS) decided he had to take the risk of being arrested to save the Buddha and return it to Kabul where it belonged. He offered to buy the statue from the Japanese collector.
He told two people of his plan: Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum and St John Simpson, a curator. They sought legal counsel only to receive confirmation that there was nothing they could do to protect themselves. Getting mixed up in this deal was illegal and they could get in big trouble, despite their best intentions. They decided the public good was more important than holding to the letter of the law, so they supported BAD’s attempt to buy the statue. He spent a year negotiating with the collector, and finally he was able to secure the sale using only his own money.
There are no details in the article about how the artifact was imported, possibly because said import was technically smuggling, but whatever they did worked.
Simpson described the rescue as “terribly appropriate”, coming as it did on the 10th anniversary of the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan: “They’re gone forever. But one very important piece can be returned. This is a very important and stunningly beautiful piece.”
Omara Khan Massoudi, director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, described it as “one of our most treasured objects”. One source put the sculpture’s value at £600,000, but the British Museum said it is “without value, given its provenance”.
The Buddha is now safe in the hands of the British Museum where it will go on display Wednesday as part of its hugely successful Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, which has been so popular the museum extended its run through July 17. The Gandharan Buddha will be returned to the National Museum in Kabul along with the rest of the exhibits.
17 thoughts on “British art dealer breaks law to SAVE looted artifact”
It belongs in a museum! Along with a plaque declaring BAD’s badassesness.
I’m guessing this means priceless rather than worthless? The latter was my first thought, perhaps because it’s provenance couldn’t be traced? But then, no, perhaps they mean it is priceless, no?
Ya, they mean of incalculable value, especially because so many things were stolen from the National Museum during the 90s — an estimated 75% of the artifacts are gone — that you can’t put a price on getting one of those pieces back.
Totally, and since he prefers to remain anonymous, the plaque should call him BAD too.
For an insight into the devastation in Afghanistan and what was lost since the Soviet Invasion and the Taleban period I’d recommend Michael Wood’s documentary ‘In the footsteps of Alexander’. In the episode where he journeys through Afghanistan you do get a feel for the uniqueness of the classical Afghan culture and the sheer disregard for historical items by the Taleban. MW even goes to the National Museum after it had been looted and ransacked, it was a heartbreaking scene. This Art Dealer is quite simply a hero.
The real story here is Japan.
Completely without humanistic ethics towards looting artifacts, with a law like that.
Now I know yo whom I should sell all the art I’ve stolen over the years. :facepalm:
Another argument against the PC return policies. How many treasures have to be destroyed before the politically correct crowd admits artifacts often aren’t safe in their native countries? Return them to stable countries, yes, but don’t return them to unstable ones where you can’t guarantee their safety. Once and for all, decide, moonbats. Do art treasures and artifacts belong to the whole world, or are they the property of the country of origin? If this stupid unconditional return policy had been in place with the Elgin Marbles, they would have eroded to nothing by now. The Rosetta Stone would have been destroyed or sold off. DECIDE. You can’t have it both ways.
I checked Netflix and it’s not available yet, but I’ve marked it saved so I can watch it as soon as they get it. Thank you for the tip. :thanks:
It is shocking in this day and age. I wonder what the law says about possessing stolen goods in general. It may be that they don’t consider the new owner liable in all cases, like even if he bought a TV off the back of a truck.
Well, this artifact is being returned, so obviously it’s not much of an argument against returning artifacts. Besides, the Buddha stolen from the National Museum wasn’t destroyed, obviously. It was sold on the black market to buyers who doubtless justify their covetousness with this same argument you’re making: we’re saving it from the savages. Quite the vicious cycle.
You first. You just said that looted artifacts should be returned to countries that are stable, so obviously you support the underlying principle of returning stolen cultural heritage as long as the country meets certain criteria.
I don’t think artifacts belong to the whole world, no, and neither do the people who refuse to return looted artifacts to the source countries. That’s just the rhetorical cover. If the Parthenon Marbles belong to the world, then why have they never moved from the British Museum? Because the BM owns them and doesn’t want to let them go ever. It’s hardly some high-minded principle of collective ownership at work here.
Oh? I’d love to borrow your counterfactual history time machine when you’re not using it. The truth is you can’t possibly know what would have happened to them had they not been crudely hacked off by Lord Elgin, but we do know that Elgin did a crappy job of it, damaging the sculptures and the Parthenon pediment in the process. We also know that the British Museum, slave to the ahistorical view of noble white marble classicism, forcibly removed the remaining polychrome paint from the friezes using wire brushes and acids.
So really, the notion that Elgin and the British Museum were heroic conservators of history that would have otherwise been destroyed by the loutish Greeks is demonstrably false. Even if were true, I don’t know of anyone suggesting that the frieze be returned to 19th century Greece. Greece today is a stable country by any measure, and has a beautiful new museum that would be an ideal home for the Parthenon marbles, right next to, you know, the Parthenon.
And yet, somehow, Egypt is crammed to the gills with ancient artifacts that have neither been destroyed nor sold off.
I can, actually. I can, for instance, say that looted artifacts should be returned to countries with a government willing and able to care for them. You said that yourself. Apparently you exclude Greece and Egypt from that category for some reason that escapes me, but I don’t.
Talk in the early 21st Century of restoring the statues at Bamiyan is naive and bizarre. To what state would the Buddhas be rebuilt? Are they to be rebuilt to their original appearance, covered in gold foil and precious stones? We have no idea exactly what they looked like originally, and they probably were changed over time. Any attempt to make the statues over as they were originally is likely to appear ridiculous, even if it could be done authentically. The Muslims living in Afghanistan left the ruined statues more or less intact for 1300 years, until Western media and governments started telling Afghans what to do with them. Do outside powers really have a moral right to rebuild the statues into the brightly colored idols that they were many hundreds of years ago and then force the local Muslims to live with them? Would the Buddha have approved of having gigantic images of himself built and covered with gold installed in a religious theme park on a major trade route. Do outsiders intend to rebuild them as the ruins that they were in the late 20th Century?
Every time anyone mentions the desecration of those interesting religious monuments, by all means remind people also of the British destruction of the great Mussala Complex in Herat. The destruction of the Buddhas was a decision made by a half-blind mullah with a limited knowledge of the world after he had been badgered over the issue by his enemies. That far greater architectural and religious desecration in Herat was committed under orders issued by British officers with all of the educational resources of the empire at their disposal.
The losses to history and culture due to Western military opertions in Iraq and many other places in the 21st Century have already been staggering, far far greater than any loses caused by religious fundamentalism. None of this would have happened in Kabul had the two secular materialism twins, the Russians and the British/Americans, left Afghanistan alone. Before they came, in both cases for no legitimate reason, Afghanistan was exporting food with a zero carbon footprint. The industrial barbarians are the ones living in the past, the ones whose days are numbered, not the pastoral and agricultural peoples of this earth. These arrogant Lords of the Present will not even be able to afford to bury their nuclear mistakes much less build a new, post-oil world. Perhaps many of the nuclear messes will in time be covered by religious peoples who every year perform acts of devotion by throwing more stones upon the deadly graves of these monsters hatched by the Great Satan, and those secularists who presided in secret over their birth: Einstein, Teller, and Oppenheimer.
What is more like the Buddha than the empty? For the first five centuries after his death, few statues of the Buddha were made. For five hundred years the Buddha was shown as an empty space, empty footprints, or a riderless horse. It was not considered proper to make images of the master. However, after several more centuries of theological, institutional, and economic progress it was considered appropriate to construct, in a religious theme park, statues of the Buddha fifty-five and thirty-seven meters tall decorated with gold and precious stones.
One of the Ten Commandments of the Hebrews is specific: “Thou shall not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the water under the earth.” Traditionally Judaism is strictly iconoclastic, the Bible speaks often of destroying the idols of the pagans, and statues of any kind were forbidden in Jerusalem during the period when the Jews controlled their own affairs in the first century. The early Christians did not believe in making images of Jesus. In the 1530s there were iconoclastic riots in almost every major city in Europe where statues were destroyed. In the 17th century the Protestant followers of Oliver Cromwell destroyed many religious statues in England, and Calvin was an iconoclast. Islam has always placed special emphasis on avoiding the worship of images of the divine. Iconoclasm in some form or other was the norm for Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam in their early stages, and in some sects of these religions it is still enforced. Over time of course the words of every master are systematically reversed. Secular Jews today possibly own and control, manipulate more images than everyone else on earth put together, since they own Google and Facebook and almost every major network, film studio, and newspaper in America. Jesus condemned hoarding wealth, so the Christians have based their world on materialism, and violence. That is the way the religion game is played; original sin is just one way of talking about the inevitable entropy, conflict, and error in our contingent, living universe. It does not mean the old lady was not beautiful in her time.
The destructive, fundamentalist fervor displayed at Bamiyan was not characteristic of Afghanistan in the recent past. Although most Afghans were conservative Muslims, before the invasions by the Russians and the Americans the Afghans were remarkably tolerant. Afghanistan was a haven for Sufism and a home to many wild malaangs, holy men who might be seen wearing outlandish clothes, dresses, or little at all. I once wandered all over for weeks at a time there alone, and I was small and think and blonde.
It may be available from your library. This is where I reserved mine for pick-up. It is a wonderful documentary and is also on YouTube split into segments.. this being the first: http://youtu.be/E9o07JqxM6M Watching on a large screen is alot more fun, tho. Mr. Wood did a stupendous job! :yes:
“upon the deadly graves of these monsters hatched by the Great Satan, and those secularists who presided in secret over their birth: Einstein, Teller, and Oppenheimer.”
Me thinks Ghulam knows absolutely nothing about history. At all.
His rant started out alright, but when he started ranting about the “downfall of the West,” and about how Einstein was evil…well…that was just beyond laughable.
Perhaps Ghulam should pick up a book and do a little research about hte man Einstein sometime. Just because you don’t believe in science, doesn’t make it this evil instrument utilized by Satan. 😮
“Secular Jews today possibly own and control, manipulate more images than everyone else on earth put together, since they own Google and Facebook and almost every major network, film studio, and newspaper in America.”
Anti-Semitic sentiment much!? Holy damn! That sounds eerily familiar….hhmmm….
First, Google and now more recently, Facebook, are both publicly-traded companies. I happen to own some stock in both companies myself, and I most assuredly am NOT Jewish. Dumbass.
As for the founders of Google, while Sergey Brin PhD may be Jewish, his co-founder of the company, Larry Page, is not.
“Jesus condemned hoarding wealth, so the Christians have based their world on materialism, and violence.”
Source? You must, of course, cite the appropriate passage from the Bible that specifically states this. I can certainly provide several quote from the OT (Which Jesus supports!) that shows quite the opposite is true.
“That is the way the religion game is played; original sin is just one way of talking about the inevitable entropy, conflict, and error in our contingent, living universe. It does not mean the old lady was not beautiful in her time.”
Do you even know what you’re talking about? Because I don’t see how this makes any sense. At all.
hi .i explor a small ancient boda statue bylong to china .that i want to know its price .pleas help me .thanks
hi .i explor a small ancient boda statue bylong to china ..i want to know its price please help me .thanks