Metropolitan Museum Of Art Will Return Statues To Cambodia

By Jessica Rawden 2013-05-04 18:15:11
The Metropolitan Museum of Art received two Cambodian Khmer statues as donations between 1987 and 1992. The statues were valuable 10-Century artifacts that have had a special place within the walls of the Met, located at the front of the Southeast Asian Gallery since 1994. While the items have been a key part of the collection for years, they will be removed and shipped back to Cambodia because of some intriguing pieces of information that have come to light.

The story is an intriguing one. Several months ago, Cambodian officials told the museum the statues, known as the “Kneeling Attendants,” were smuggled out of the country illegally during Cambodia’s Civil War in the 1970s. The country was able to present compelling evidence that the two statues had come from a temple area known as the Koh Ker temple complex. According to The New York Times, the evidence included photographs of broken statue bases and eyewitness accounts.

The broken statue base information was especially key to opening up negotiations between the country and the museum. While the Met had no knowledge of the artifact’s full history, at the time, criteria for donations was a little more lax than criteria for donating an item today would be. After months of negotiations, the country and the museum have worked together to confirm the items do, in fact, belong to the temple area and will be returned. Currently, there’s no word on exactly when the items will be pulled from the museum and returned to their country of origin, but the Met did write a statement that noted the items will be sent when “appropriate arrangements for transit can be mutually established.” Cambodian officials also say the Met has other items that were potentially looted and that the country would like to have returned if possible.

This isn’t the first time a Cambodian artifact has come into question. Sotheby’s recently wanted to auction another Cambodian statue, which has come into question as a byproduct of looting. Currently, a trial is underway to determine whether or not that item will be returned.
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