Sculpture mystery: Stolen Indian artwork in Canadian custody raises minor diplomatic storm

By BHAVNA VIJ AURORA, ET Bureau | 22 Jul, 2014, 04.47AM IST

NEW DELHI: The Department of Canadian Heritage has had an item in storage for the past three years that's decidedly not North American in origin. It's a life-size, red sandstone statue of a woman with a parrot on her bare shoulder. The voluptuous nature of the figure and various other unmistakable features clearly declare it to be a 12th century Khajuraho sculpture.
The Canadians have no problem returning the work but they're apparently unable to do so because no theft was ever reported and therefore India can't prove ownership.
 The picture of the statue — dubbed 'Parrot Lady' — is now being circulated to all field offices of the Archaeological Survey of India, but nobody seems to have a clue how it ended up several continents away. "The picture of the statue was first sent to the Bhopal circle office since Khajuraho comes under its jurisdiction.
They have reported that there is no record of any theft of such a statue," said ASI DG Rakesh Tiwari.The survey has also asked the CBI to check whether any complaint has been registered with the agency. "ASI wrote to us just about a week ago. There is no complaint with us and since it appears to be a case of trafficking of cultural heritage property, we are enquiring into it," CBI spokesperson Kanchan Prasad told ET.
"The statue is clearly a product of the Bundelkhand region and fits in perfectly with the other sculptures of Khajuraho but we can't do anything till we can show Canadian authorities proof of ownership," said a senior ASI official. Such proof would include an FIR reporting the loss or theft, details of investigations carried out and a certificate showing that it was actually registered either with the state concerned or ASI. The sculpture has been with the Department of Canadian Edmonton, capital of Alberta province, since 2011.
Canadian customs hasn't said how it came by the item. Interestingly, Canadian Heritage wrote to the Indian High Commission in Ottawa at the time. The Commission took three years to forward the message.
Experts said it appears to be clear that the statue was taken out of the country illegally. This is not the first time that ASI has been faced with such a predicament. The organisation discovered that a stolen idol of goddess Durga was on display at a museum in Stuttgart, Germany, only after they were told by New York-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor, arrested for smuggling and deported to Chennai. He's currently lodged in jail there. But in that case ASI is on stronger ground. Its J&K office had reported that the registered antiquity had been stolen from a temple in Pulwama in the late 1990s. The only hitch is that it's not registered as an idol of 'Durga' but under a local name.

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