US Ambassador Eric Garcetti: Working to return more art that needs to be in India

Reena Bhardwaj (ANI)–

Hailing Indian artwork and its historical contribution to the world, United States Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti on Monday said that the US government is working to pave the way for returning more artwork that needs to be in India, as a permanent part of new India-US friendship.

The envoy’s remarks come on the day when 105 antiquities, spanning a period from 2nd-3rd Century CE to 18th-19th Century CE, are being repatriated to India by American authorities.

Speaking to ANI, Garcetti said, “We have been working as an embassy in the US government on returning the art that needs to be in India. This has often come from India sometimes it’s been stolen and illegally sold. Whether it’s the District Attorney’s office here or the Metropolitan Museum has sometimes identified that art and been a wonderful actor, to say, ‘This doesn’t smell right, this needs to go back to India’.”

“Whether it’s the cultural agreement that PM Modi and President Biden announced during the state visit. We’re going to finish negotiating that in the coming months so that it doesn’t just depend on the goodwill of one year, but it’s going to be a permanent part of our new friendship and relationship.”

During PM Modi’s state visit, India, and the US agreed to work on a Cultural Property Agreement that would help prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural artefacts. Such an understanding will add further value to the dynamic bilateral collaboration between Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies of the two countries.

Garcetti said efforts are also being made to pave the way for more antique artefacts to return to India in the coming days and at the same time share more Indian artworks with the institutions in the right way to spread “India to the world”.

“We have a wonderful Buddha in Arizona, waiting to be repatriated, hopefully later this year. We have significant Hindu art from early temples in the Vedic period, not just in these institutions but in other ones. We want to have a permanent roadmap where this cultural agreement will be the first of its kind ever, so that the US and India together, when they identify this, can make sure that the right ones are repatriated and vice versa. More Indian arts can be shared with institutions in the right way here. It is not just returning, but is also that India is spread to the world through exhibitions like this,” he added.

The event took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, considered the largest art museum in America.

Garcetti also attended the launch of Buddhist stone sculpture exhibition, which will be from July 21 to November 13. Titled ‘Tree and Serpent: Early Buddhist Art in India 200 BCE-400 CE,’ focuses on the Deccan’s pivotal role in shaping the Buddhist landscape of early India and beyond.

India’s Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu was also present at the exhibition.

This exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York tells this tale through more than 140 objects loaned from collections worldwide (21 July–13 November). Together these trace the transformation of pre-Buddhist figurative sculpture into the art of a new religion.

Highlights include stone sculptures created for stupa – monuments housing religious relics – and new discoveries from a monastic site in the Deccan, south India.

The US envoy said that people forget that Buddhism took birth in India and it is a ‘gift’ that has been given by India to the world.

“It is spread throughout Asia, South Asia, and even this exhibition shows the Buddhist Indian art that was found in Rome. So, the people don’t know about the history of the contributions of India. We have shared this wisdom for millennia and we all should be grateful for India’s contributions to the world,” the US Ambassador added.

He added that this development has come at a time when India-US relations are at their strongest.

In 2022, the Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomed 3,208,832 visitors, ranking it eighth on the list of most-visited art museums in the world, and the second-most visited art museum in the US, after the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Its permanent collection contains over two million works, divided among 17 curatorial departments.

Meanwhile, the development comes following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the US in June 2023.

The Indian government has been making serious efforts to bring back stolen Indian antiquities, the living symbols of rich Indian heritage and culture, from abroad.

In recent years, there has been close cooperation between India, the US on the restitution of antiquities. During PM’s 2016 visit to the US, 16 antiques were handed over by the US side.

Similarly, in 2021, the US government handed over 157 artefacts which returned to India following the visit of the PM to the US in September 2021. With these 105 antiquities, the US side has handed over a total of 278 cultural artefacts to India since 2016, as per the release.

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