The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Saturday, August 17, 2019

India Pride Project: Facebook sleuths bring home India's most valuable antiquities
In this photograph taken on November 11, 2016, Additional Director General of Police Economic Offence Wing Prateep.V. Philip speaks during an interview in Chennai. Art theft is big business all over India. But the richest pickings are in the state of Tamil Nadu, where centuries-old religious artefacts with huge potential sale values in the West lie largely unprotected in out-of-the-way rural temples. Arun SANKAR / AFP.

by Claire Cozens

CHENNAI (AFP).- By day, Arvind Venkatraman works as a software engineer in India's tech hub Chennai. But in his spare time, he is an international art detective whose efforts have helped bring back some of his country's most valuable antiquities.

Venkatraman is part of a group of art enthusiasts known as the India Pride Project (IPP) who are using Facebook and other social media to identify religious artefacts stolen from temples around the country and secure their return.

Art theft is big business all over India. But the richest pickings are in Venkatraman's home state of Tamil Nadu, where centuries-old religious artefacts with huge potential sale values in the West lie largely unprotected in out-of-the-way rural temples.

Two years ago, the IPP claimed a significant victory when the National Gallery of Australia returned a $5 million bronze statue of the Hindu god Shiva that had been stolen from a Tamil Nadu temple.

At first Venkatraman says the gallery, which is now suing the Manhattan dealership that sold it the statue, was reluctant to entertain the idea that its purchase was stolen.

So the IPP organised a social media campaign using images comparing the stolen idol with the one on display at the museum.

"Initially typically there is a denial," he told AFP in Chennai.

"Whether it's Australia, Europe, Singapore or the US, initially there will be resistance from the museum curators... because they've spent a lot of money and they wouldn't want to let go of an object."

The idol is among those allegedly trafficked by Subhash Kapoor, a former Manhattan art dealer who was the subject of a massive US federal investigation known as Operation Hidden Idol.

Kapoor was arrested in Germany in 2012 and is now on trial in India, accused of conspiring in the theft, trafficking and sale of religious idols. He denies all charges.

Many of the antiquities he dealt in dated back to the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Chola dynasty presided over a flourishing of Hindu art in Tamil Nadu.

'Easy prey'
"This operation went on for many years," said Prateep V Philip, who heads Tamil Nadu's Idol Wing -- India's only police team dedicated to tackling art theft.

"He (Kapoor) was himself not on the scene, but he was the mastermind."

Philip said Kapoor won over the international art world by donating millions of dollars' worth of pieces to museums in the United States.

He ran his own freight company in India, allegedly concealing priceless antiques among modern replicas.

"Whenever a theft took place in the past, sometimes people were not even aware," said Philip, describing the thousands of small shrines that dot the state as "easy prey".

"It would be a derelict temple only visited at certain times of the year. So when a theft took place it was discovered long after."

This means much of India's stolen sacred art is never even registered as missing, allowing it to be bought and sold on the international market.

Solving the puzzle
Donna Yates, who lectures in antiquities trafficking at the University of Glasgow, said she was "absolutely flabbergasted" when it emerged the Australian gallery's statue was stolen.

"If you'd asked me in 2011 (before Kapoor's arrest) whether this kind of thing was still possible, I’d have said no. I believed the due diligence of museums had vastly improved," she said in a phone interview.

Since the arrest, Washington has returned hundreds of artefacts recovered under Operation Hidden Idol to India.

But idols are still disappearing. This year, Philip's team arrested an art dealer in Chennai after recovering hundreds of metal and stone statues of Hindu gods from a warehouse.

Yates believes the grassroots work of the IPP in documenting cases of theft and bringing them to public attention is crucial -- and unmatched anywhere in the world.

"The amount that they’ve been able to do with zero resources is amazing. It has happened nowhere else," she said.

The volunteers, who are all passionate about Indian art, go through old catalogues from auction houses, using any blemishes or imperfections to match lots with idols stolen from temples.

Founded by two Singapore-based art enthusiasts, it now includes activists from all over the world.

The work is unpaid, but Venkatraman says it is all worth it when an idol is returned to the temple it belongs in.

"When finally the idol is restituted, the temple comes alive," he said.

"It's a kind of cycle... Once that cycle is complete it's like saying, ok, the puzzle is finally solved."

© 1994-2017 Agence France-Presse

Today's News

January 4, 2017

India Pride Project: Facebook sleuths bring home India's most valuable antiquities

"The Body in Movement: Dance and the Museum" on view at the Louvre

British art critic, revolutionary John Berger dead at 90

Madrid to hold major Picasso exhibit for 'Guernica' anniversary

Four films examine the lives of revered artists of the Renaissance and 20th century in theaters

World-renowned George Eastman Museum collections now accessible online

Exhibition at Berlinische Galerie displays about 250 works from its collection

Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' becomes German bestseller: Publisher

Phillips names Vivian Pfeiffer as Head of Business Development and Deputy Chairman, the Americas

Holy grail of American ceramics discovered in Philadelphia

$20 million endowment received by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art from The Walton Family Foundation

Year on, Bowie remembered as engaging until end

With tourists scarce, Egypt struggles to maintain heritage

Briton Ruth Mackenzie to head top Paris theatre

Exhibition of new paintings by the Leipzig painter Ulf Puder opens at Marc Straus

...Hounded by External Events...: Group exhibition on view at Maureen Paley

Art Projects at London Art Fair 2017: Highlights and 'Dialogues' collaborations announced

Van Abbemuseum presents works by 4 artists

"Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art" on view at the Whitney

Sharjah Art Foundation announces artists participating in Sharjah Biennial 13

Sculptor Sir Antony Gormley unveils sculpture at University of Cambridge

Bruce Nauman 75 year birthday exhibition can now be experienced until march

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts receives $500,000 naming gift for Printmaking Shop

Syrian star turned pizza boy dreaming of Hollywood ending

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- Conservation reveals Wellington Collection work was painted by Titian's Workshop

2.- New dinosaur discovered after lying misidentified in university's vaults for over 30 years

3.- Unseen Texas Chainsaw Massacre outtakes and stills sold for a combined $26,880

4.- National gallery reveals conserved Italian altarpiece by Giovanni Martini da Udine

5.- London's Tate Modern evacuated after child falls, teen arrested

6.- Bavarian State Minister of the Arts restitutes nine works of art

7.- Boy thrown from London's Tate Modern is French tourist visiting UK

8.- Child thrown from London gallery has broken spine, legs and arm

9.- £10 million Turner masterpiece may leave British shores

10.- Tourists banned from sitting on Rome's Spanish Steps

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful