Wednesday, June 12, 2013


One of the kneeling attendants in situ at the Met, until recently
They are home. The two kneeling attendants, sculpted in the 10th century and sat in front of Prasat Chen at the Koh Ker temple complex in northern Cambodia for centuries, before being spirited out of the country in the fog of the 1970s, have landed back in Cambodia. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are to be congratulated. They stumped up the two statues, after twenty years on display at the museum, once they realised their history was shady in the extreme. If you cannot prove an artifact's provenance by way of a legal paper-trail that establishes they weren't obtained by ill-means, then quite simply, they should be returned to their country of origin. Take the example of an adventurer who carts off valuable items from the country he's visiting and houses them in a museum in his own country - that's not legal ownership, it's quite clearly theft. The Guimet Museum in Paris, please take note. As for the two attendants, what was the story behind their arrival in New York? The works were presented as separate gifts to the Met over a period of years. The head from the first of the pair of reunited kneeling attendants was donated in 1987 by Spink & Son and Douglas Latchford. The second head came as a gift from the late Raymond and Milla Handley in 1989. The two torsos were subsequently donated by Douglas Latchford in 1992. The matching heads and torsos were reassembled by Museum conservators in 1993 and placed on display in the Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art in 1994, where they have remained on view since. Until now. Today they are back home where they belong.

I almost forgot to mention that on my own voyage of discovery to the Koh Ker complex in November 2001 - at that time, no-one was visiting the remote complex - I came across Prasat Chen, very briefly, as the temple was completely engulfed in undergrowth and the area around it was not demined. I didn't have a machete with me so I had to curtail my visit as the vegetation was simply too dense to get any closer. If you visit Prasat Chen today, the experience is altogether very different.

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