Buoyed by a series of recent antiquity return agreements, Cambodia hoped it would soon restore the full panoply of statues looted from a 10th-century temple north of Angkor Wat.
But an Ohio art museum announced yesterday that a sculpture it houses will not be making the return trip just yet.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper yesterday reported that the Cleveland Museum of Art contests Cambodia’s claim that the kneeling Hindu monkey god was pillaged from the Prasat Chen temple.
According to the newspaper, the museum sent one of its curators to Cambodia last winter to investigate the origins of the Hanuman statue. Equipped with a replica of the statue, the art historian could not make a match with any of the temple’s empty pedestals. Cambodian officials said they were not aware the museum had conducted the investigation.
“It’s surprising they would say it’s not from there. We’re sure this monkey is from the Koh Ker [complex],” Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts heritage director Hab Touch said.
Archaeologists from the French School of Asian Studies helped the government identify the looted statues of Prasat Chen using tableaus of the full scene of the temple as well as of the nearby Banteay Srei temple.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said the investigation is a “politically and strategically motivated” defence, not a search for truth. He added that the Cambodian government needs to hire an independent expert to examine all evidence.
The Cleveland Museum of Art did not return requests for comment yesterday.
With six of the temple’s nine statues on the way back to the Kingdom, the National Museum is preparing a special exhibition to open in June, including two pieces returned by the New York Metropolitan a year ago, one returned from Sotheby’s, one from Christie’s and one from the Norton Simon Museum.
Meanwhile, the Denver Art Museum, which houses the Rama statue that Cambodian experts allege was also looted from Prasat Chen, said it is “committed to further research regarding [the] history and provenance” of its artefact.