- Australian Museum to return 9th and 10th Century bronze sculptures to Cambodia after decade-long investigation.
- Three artworks, originally from the Champa Kingdom, were purchased by the gallery in 2011 for A$2.3m from a British artefacts smuggler.
- The smuggler, Douglas Latchford, was implicated in illegal trade of antiquities and charged with trafficking stolen Cambodian artefacts.
- The sculptures were found in Cambodia in 1994, smuggled to Thailand, and ended up in Latchford’s collection.
- Latchford’s daughter, along with researchers from the gallery and Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture, facilitated the repatriation.
- The artefacts will be displayed in the National Gallery of Australia for three years before being relocated to Phnom Penh.
- This move is seen as an important step in addressing historical injustices and strengthening cultural ties between Australia and Cambodia.
- Cambodia continues to advocate for the return of stolen antiquities housed in various international museums.
- The repatriation follows global efforts to return culturally significant items to their rightful owners, including recent returns to Indigenous communities in Australia.
Australian Museum is set to return three 9th and 10th Century bronze sculptures to Cambodia. The decision follows a decade-long investigation between the two countries, which confirmed the artworks’ stolen origins. The Cambodian government warmly welcomed the move, as the global effort to repatriate looted cultural goods gains momentum.
Originating from the Champa Kingdom, once present in Vietnam and parts of Cambodia, the sculptures were purchased by the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in 2011 for A$2.3 million. They were acquired from British artefacts smuggler Douglas Latchford, who passed away in 2020 and had been linked to illegal antiquities trade since 2016.
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The statues were originally unearthed in Cambodia’s Tboung Khmum in 1994 and subsequently smuggled to international art dealers before joining Mr. Latchford’s collection. His daughter, Nawapan Kriangsak, collaborated with NGA researchers and Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts to facilitate their return.
While awaiting their new home in Phnom Penh, the sculptures will be displayed at the NGA in Canberra for three years. Australia’s Special Envoy for the Arts, Susan Templeman, described the repatriation as an opportunity to correct historical wrongs and strengthen cultural ties.
Cambodia has been actively advocating for the return of thousands of stolen antiquities, including those allegedly housed in institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. This move marks the second time the NGA has returned stolen art, following a similar repatriation to India in 2021.
Globally, efforts persist to repatriate culturally significant antiquities, with recent successes like the return of Aboriginal spears taken by Captain James Cook in 1770, reflecting growing awareness and commitment to addressing historical wrongs.
As the movement gains momentum, the return of stolen cultural artefacts to their rightful owners remains an important step towards preserving cultural heritage and addressing historical injustices.