Australia returns 13th-century ‘Yakshi’ sculpture to Nepal

Nepal, Kathmandu Valley, Patan Temple strut (tunala) depicting a tree deity (yakshi) 1200s, photo © Art Gallery of New South Wales.

SYDNEY, 13 May 2023: The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Sydney, is voluntarily returning a carved wooden architectural sculpture to Nepal. The 13th-century temple strut (tunala) depicting a tree deity (yakshi) was donated in 2000 as part of the bequest of Alex Biancardi (c1923–1998). In 2001, the Art Gallery of NSW became aware that the sculpture had been illegally removed in 1975 from the Ratneshwar Temple in the historical city of Patan in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, says a media release posted on the art gallery’s website.

In 2021, the Art Gallery indicated it was open to the possible return of the sculpture. During ongoing discussions with Nepali heritage organisations and government representatives about its possible return, the sculpture remained in the care of the Art Gallery.

Back to Nepal. Photo- @TimWattsMP

In preparation for its voluntary return to Nepal, the deaccessioning of the sculpture was ratified by the Art Gallery of NSW Board of Trustees early in 2022 and, in accordance with New South Wales law, approved by the Governor of NSW in October 2022.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Tim Watts with Nepal’s Foreign Minister Narayan Prakash Saud in Kathmandu on 16 May, 2023. Photo- @TimWattsMP

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand said the preparation for return of the strut to the people of Nepal has been a collegial negotiation.

‘Working closely with the Nepali government and heritage organisation colleagues, the Art Gallery is pleased to have learned of the new location in Nepal for this exquisite 13th-century sculpture.

We are also very grateful for the support of the Australian Government and the Australian Embassy in Kathmandu in assisting the Art Gallery to appropriately commemorate its return,’ said Dr Brand.

‘During the past decade, the Art Gallery of NSW has put in place the necessary processes for provenance and due diligence research for all proposed art acquisitions and follows current international best practice standards.

Such procedures ensure our decisions are legally and ethically sound, responsible and transparent,’ he said.

The 13th-century yakshi sculpture will be officially handed over at a ceremony in Kathmandu on Tuesday 16 May 2023 at the Patan Museum, with Assistant Australian Foreign Minister Tim Watts in attendance.

By SAT News Desk

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