Looted Treasure Finds Its Way Back to Afghanistan
A work of art is more than a mere piece of aesthetic delight. It is a reflection of the culture, history and a chronicle of the sociocultural environment. It is essentially a mirror, a guidebook that helps one navigate through the intricacies of any ethnic population. When there is war, it is not only the human resource, natural wealth, financial resources that are attacked, but the art also suffers it in a big way. Attacking or overpowering the art of any place and looting it directly impacts the intellectual treasures of any community and brings the morale down. A community or a group of individuals devoid of art or cultural treasures is handicapped.
Such is the case with this exquisite Safavid tinned copper bowl. Christie’s and the British Museum in London are coming together in their noble endeavor to reinstate this 17th century treasure that was lost during the civil war of the 1990s in Afghanistan. This beautiful artefact was then sold by an Afghan antique dealer to a German couple Patrick & Paola von Aulock, who bought it from him in good faith in 1994 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. They later decided to sell the bowl forward.
In the process of selling, Sara Plumbly, who is the head of Islamic art department at Christie’s commenced a thorough research (as is the common practice for any reputed auction house) into the pieces that were to be in the sale. It was during this research that she came across a book related to the subject Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World, eighth-18th Centuries, by Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani, a learned and respected scholar. The book that was published in 1982, featured this bowl and gave a short description where it was mentioned that it was a part of the Afghan Museum’s collection.
As a standard practice, the provenance and background of the artefact takes precedence over most other factors. This mention came up as a red flag for Christie’s and they then went on to get in touch with the East department at the British Museum. The museum then confirmed the origin and provenance. A negotiation and a dialogue was then initiated between the current owners of the artefact and the National Museum of Afghanistan to restore it back to Kabul. The artefact was released to Ahmad Zia Siamak, chargé d’affaires at the Afghanistan Embassy in London, on 10th of this May.
This restitution brings hope that it is merely the first of many such artefacts that were lost or looted during the unfortunate times. The officials at the National Museum of Afghanistan see this as one of many more such discoveries of the artefacts that were removed from the Afghan museums or archaeological sites. He commends the Christie’s on their ethical treatment of the matter and urged the collectors of Afghan artefacts to help return such misplaced or looted treasures back to where they truly belong.