The Musee Guimet affair: Part Deux

Last week we reported about the bloggers reactions on the controversies surrounding the exhibition of the masterpieces of Ganges in Musée Guimet of France from the collections of the Bangladesh museums.

The apprehensions of the art lovers who were protesting the unclear processes of sending the artifacts including their fear of loss, theft, replication, even accident (on the way) came true as on Dec 22, one of the 13 crates in the 2nd shipment of artifacts to Musée Guimet in Paris vanished from the tarmac of ZIA International Airport, Dhaka.

Today we bring to you latest on the issue.

Shafiur of Imperfect | world | 2008 reports:

Ah yes the bumbling and incompetent Inspector Clouseau must have been in charge of the precious bits and pieces at Zia Airport the other day when the nation’s heritage was under the care of Air France. Two priceless pieces have gone walkies. And the rest have been returned to the national museum as the powers that be finally resolved to not send the stuff to the Guimet in Paris. As I said in an earlier post, this whole thing at the Guimet lacked process even apparently the final decision to send them according to the New Nation.

And amazingly, Ayub Quadri, the education and cultural adviser to the inappropriately named “caretaker” government, is mulling resignation. I guess he is hoping Monsieur Clouseau will find the priceless Vishnu artefacts and save his skin.

Meanwhile I reckon Inspector Clouseau’s spokesman has started the damage limitation exercise at the French embassy in Dhaka. They reckon the whole thing was “highly suspicious.” Mon dieu! Yes it gets better. And they are effectively blaming those people who objected to the exhibition for the theft! This is a quote from their press release:

‘’… could also be the result of a conspiracy by a very small nexus of people to embarass France and Bangladesh.'’

Although according to the agreement the transport of the artefacts were responsibility of borrower (i.e. the French authorities) there were lapses in securities as a local news source reports:

Homebound, the shipping agent hired by France, had declared the 145 artefacts awaiting shipment to Paris as ‘general cargo’, leading to the crates being left unattended for three hours on the tarmac and the theft of two Vishnu statues.

Meanwhile grapevines (as not supported by a second source) kept appearing in the media:

A confirmed source told Weekly Blitz that the authorities of Guimet Museum is now looking into legal aspects of holding the whole batch of first consignment of artifacts sent from Bangladesh for, what Guimet says, non performance of the contractual obligation of the authorities in Dhaka in sending the second consignment of artifacts.

Further reports in a Bangla blog (Chemical Ali) quoting a museum official suggest [bn]:

“the French officials requested Bangladesh national museum officials to quote the value of the artifacts lower so that insurance value becomes lower and promised that they will carefully handle them. The Bangladeshi museum officials were also lured with the chance to visit France along with the artifacts which made them co-operate.”

Arup at Sachalayatan posts an interview which tells that the French authorities have opened the first lot of the artifacts without the presence of the accompanying Bangladeshi officials, which is the due process.

And finally everybody loses as broken pieces of the two 1500 year old relics were found in a dump yard in the outskirts of Dhaka city. Apparently the petty thieves were trying to cover up their crime and could not handle the hunt on them.

Arup writes an emotional piece addressing the French ambassador in Bangladesh in Sachalayatan titled “Désolé Monsieur Romnicianu” [bn]:

সেদিন মিডিয়া আর বাংলাদেশের প্রতিবাদী কিছু মানুষের উপরে আপনি ক্ষেপে উঠেছিলেন। কূটনৈতিক শিষ্টাচার (যা আমাকে নিকটজনেরা শত চেষ্টায় শেখাতে পারেনি) ভুলে আপনি কতোকটা ফুঁসেই উঠেছিলেন। কেন? গরীব দেশ দেখে যাচ্ছেতাই করবেন আর বলবেন, আর আমরা হজম করবো?

That day you showed your outburst of anger to the media and some protestors ignoring diplomatic etiquettes. Because we are a poor country, does that give you the right to say anything at your will and we should digest that?

No I have not come to talk about that. Keeling down before a hated man like you, I want to say something… Please take away all the archaeological artifacts from Bangladesh as soon as possible. Please keep those which were already sent to you. We have protested a lot on the apprehension of theft. But what good it did to us? Some people of this country had stolen a 300 Year BC artifact on the notion that its a consignment of mobile phones and later broke them into pieces and dumped them. The people of this country do not deserve to protect their priceless assets. We are condemned sons and daughters of this country. So let these objects go to you, the colonialists. You can be colonialist, but can value and respect the history and tradition. Please take them away, still we will be happy to know that they are safe.

A French Blog Rue89 reports the incident in their post titled “Vishnu disparu au Bangladesh, le musée Guimet ébranlé” (Vishnu disappeared in Bangladesh, the Musée Guimet shaken ). A commenter -“Illusion (archaeologist)” aptly points out [fr]:

Si la situation a escaladé ces derniers mois, c’est aussi parce que les organisateurs n’ont pas réagi avec doigté aux remarques qui leur étaient faites, forts qu’ils étaient d’avoir le support du gouvernement bangladais (et probablement surpris qu’on puisse contester l’organisation d’une telle exposition), mais il serait faux, comme on a tenté de le faire croire, que ce mouvement est uniquement une critique exercée par des opposants au gouvernement en place à Dhaka. Parmi les opposants, il y a des archéologues, ..

Machine Translation:

If the situation has escalated in recent months, it is also because the organizers did not react sensitively to the comments that were made, they were strong to have the support of the government of Bangladesh (and probably surprised that we can challenge the organization of such an exhibition), but it would be wrong, as it tried to have us believe that this movement is only a review carried out by government opponents in place in Dhaka. Among the opponents, there are archaeologists, art historians, university professors and it is insulting them than to eliminate out of hand the criticism they have made. It's true that the government of Bangladesh has made mistakes, but France took advantage. The opposition is not an opposition to the principle of the exhibition but is based fundamentally on the choice of objects.
Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country, it is true, but nevertheless, it is the Bengalis’ countries (Bangladesh), and they are extremely aware of their past and their culture. They are respectful of their ancestors and their achievements and do not expect the West to shed light on this matter, but it might actually help by supporting educational projects, or training (what Guimet tried to offering training museology), or by sharing our knowledge on the restoration, conservation, and so on. — But only if they apply: nothing is worse than being allowed to believe “help” when in fact, it does impose its own vision of the world.

And finally, knowing also retire at the right time: we are no longer the “blessed time of the settlements”, but unfortunately have bad habits die hard. Exhibitions of this kind we are happy, but we must not forget that we eat at this time of the culture that is not ours, and for which we do often than condescension. Let's hear another on the spot and accept that his vision of the world can be radically different from ours.

Since the beginning of the process French diplomatic pressure was acute on Bangladesh. The adviser (minister equivalent) of the cultural ministry had taken responsibility and resigned. Times Online reports that it had created a diplomatic rift between Bangladesh and France. The president of the Musée Guimet had expressed his opinion in “Le Monde” as “écœuré” (nauseating) and ofcourse blamed the Bangladeshi authorities keeping mum about their lack of processes.

Today's latest news is that the Bangladesh ambassador to France has died of Brain hemorrhage. Close acquaintances say he was under a tremendous pressure for this affair. France may have had lost some amount of money in this debacle but Bangladesh had to pay dearly, all in priceless objects.


  • M J McMichael

    Ahh but looks like it was a Bangladishee airport worker who stole the statues because his “boss” thought they were filled with gemstones! Another case of airport workers stealing goods. At least 2 people have been arrested in Bangladesh for the thefts!

  • […] what people are saying about the theft of artifacts from Bangladesh en route to an exhibit at the Guimet Museum in […]

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