Singapore’s National Heritage Board’s collection-policy, and ethics, in question

I’ve talked about this in a previous blog (click here): “With all our world-class museums in Singapore, we are still a world away from being a global leader in being ‘ethical’ in heritage issues. Perhaps it’s because we have nothing in Singapore to be looted for us to care about another country’s stolen treasures? And/or because the trade in looted artefacts makes lots of money for this free port of ours??”

The Hindu newspaper reported on 5 Dec that an important allegedly stolen bronze sculpture is now allegedly in the hands of Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum (click here for the article). The price ACM supposedly forked out was a whopping USD650,000! According to the newspaper, “[they] wrote to the museum authorities in Singapore in July, enquiring about the provenance of the Uma Parameshvari sculpture. However, they did not reply. The Hindu contacted the museum again to get its response to the recent developments. Until this story went to print, the museum did not reply to the email that followed a telephone conversation.” A serious case of ‘No Comments’ from NHB?

Let’s see what ACM says about this, since they are now under international scrutiny. I would also like to hear what ACM’s collection policy is: how do they buy artifacts, and how are they sure they are doing it legally? ACM is part of National Heritage Board, which is a statutory board of the Singapore government. Surely a government like ours cannot condone a local institution buying things that are not legally for sale, right? At the very least, ACM must help assure the Singapore taxpayer that there is no wrongdoing here. If there is indeed some monkey business, ACM should come clean, apologise, and return the piece (like what many museums around the world have already done). I think I know who the Director and Curator in question are, and also the group of non-ACM people who had to approve this large expenditure (nearly S$1,000,000 in those days?) in the first place. If there was any professional misconduct or oversight, it is important that the wrongdoers face the music also. Now that NHB’s collection policies are in the limelight, perhaps we would finally find out what these policies are (if there are any clear policies, that is).

Beyond this one sculpture, ACM must have spent millions on a buying-spree leading up to its opening in the early 2000s. What other artifacts are in the same predicament? The fallout may be explosive!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Singapore’s National Heritage Board’s collection-policy, and ethics, in question

  1. Anonymous

    As far as I know, NHB still does not have any due diligence policy. Their so-called acquisition policies do not cover how and to what extent provenance checks should be carried out, so these are inadequate in dealing with the issues of ethical collecting. Yes, the future fallout might be explosive!

    • you mean even after this high profile case where Asian civilisations museum made the global headlines that nothing has changed? but what you said about the ‘fallout’ is true; they may enact new policies that make future purchases more legit, but NHB has already bought millions of dollars of stuff in the past 20years under the relaxed policies. well, whatever it is, there are lots of well-paid, well-travelled museum professionals in NHB that SHOULD know what they are doing, right??

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