What is the ‘Sonar Bangla’ Exhibition?
This exhibition is scheduled to showcase 189 pieces of Bangladeshi ancient art, over four months from October 2007 to March 2008 at the National Museum of Asiatic Art, the Musee Guimet, Paris.
It has been planned for several years, and has involved extensive negotiations between the Governments of France and Bangladesh.
It is being held at one of the most prestigious venues for Asian Art in the whole of Europe, a major national museum which holds an important permanent collection of South Asian Art. It recently held very well reviewed exhibitions of Afghan gold and Cambodian ancient art.
It is the first major international exhibition of Bangladeshi ancient art – the first opportunity the world will have to see our national heritage, and to see it in all its diversity and richness. It will show a face of Bangladesh which is little known in the west. It is likely to generate not only new interest in Bangladesh, but to catalyse further research and perhaps also future cultural exchanges and engagement.
Why are some people objecting to the exhibition?
1. The Musee Guimet is not a state museum.
[stated by the writ petitioners’ lawyer]
The Museum is a national museum, and regulated, like all other national museums by the Director Museums, an official of the Ministry of Culture. It’s not very difficult to find this out, just go on the website of the French Government.
2. The Musee Guimet is not well known and has a dubious past.
The Museum is internationally renowned as one of the leading European museums of Asian Art.
3. The artefacts listed for exhibition include unique pieces and these are too valuable too travel, so only replicas should be taken. [stated by ‘experts’ eg Prof. Shafi]
International exhibitions do not show replicas, but only originals. Visitors to art exhibitions are interested in seeing original, unique pieces.
Please check the details of the Tutankhamun exhibition, the Pompeii Exhibition, the Arts of Persia Exhibition etc etc all held in major international venues, and more recently the Gupta sculptures exhibition held in Paris.
4. The artefacts have not been insured for sufficient value. [stated by writ petitioner’s lawyer]
They have been insured in accordance with standard international practices, by valuing pieces against the market value of similar items based upon the catalogues of international auction houses, with the insurers have themselves been chosen through open tender.The lender ie Bangladesh Government proposed the rates. This is how the insurance for other exhibitions such as the ones of Afghan Gold or Cambodian artefacts were held, or that of Gupta sculptures from India in Paris. If there are concerns, which there may well be, should these be addressed by more appropriate rates being suggested – through a process involving actual experts ie people with knowledge and experience of this specialised area – rather than contemporary artists, architecs, botanists, professors of literature and others who have weighed in on the issue – and then agreed by the two Governments? Or should they continue to be questioned (with no solutions) resulting in nothing other than delay and presumably eventual cancellation of exhibition.
5. The artefacts if sent in the original will be copied while abroad, and the French Government will keep the originals and return the copies and no-one in Bangladesh will know the difference.</strong> [Dr. Yuree, and also Prof. Shafi] In addition to a clause in the agreement that the artifacts will be returned within four weeks, the French Government has passed an order – as is usual– clearly stating that under no circumstances could the artefacts be retained in France on conclusion of the exhibition. It should be noted that while many artefacts have been and continue to be smuggled out of Bangladesh, this is invariably by individuals and is hardly likely in the context of a government to government agreement.
6. The French would never allow the Mona Lisa or Picassos to travel. . [prof. Nizamuddin, an ‘expert’ and petitioner seeking injunction]</strong>
Of course the Mona Lisa has travelled abroad as have many Picasso artworks (including to India).
7. The removal of the artefacts will hamper research. [prof. Shafi of Jahangirnagar Univ.]
Quite the contrary. It will enable new interest in the artefacts to be generated. Physical examination of individual items is not always necessary for research.
Concerns for Clarification
One of the Government officials who is supposed to travel with the exhibit has earlier been accused of theft of artefacts. [raised by writ petitioners and their lawyer]
This is of course a concern if correct. The Government should clarify this issue immediately, and if it is correct, then, in the interests of transparency, steps should be taken to depute another person in his place, and to take proper legal action against the person concerned. The Government’s documents in Court already indicate that the person in question is not in fact accompanying the exhibition.
The Government did clarify before Supreme Court that no such person is accompanying the artefacts! But no response to that received from any of the ‘concerned people’.
There is an absolute prohibition of any unique antiquities being taken abroad.
This is a misreading of the law. Antiquities may be sent on ‘temporary export’ ‘for purposes of exhibition etc…’ (See Rule 22 (1) (a) Antiquities Act).In this case the artefacts are obviously going abroad for temporary export as exhibits
What is the current status of the Exhibition?
Due to a High Court stay order on the artefacts being sent to France, the Exhibition will not be opened as planned.
If there is no change in the situation, the Exhibition will be cancelled. Bangladesh will likely have to compensate the French Government for all costs incurred in making preparations for the exhibition printing publicity materials, catalogues etc.
Who will benefit if the exhibition is cancelled?
People who were not part of the process of preparing for the exhibition and who it seems had an axe to grind against it.
People who believe that any interaction with a foreign state is ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-state’ and have no vision of how Bangladeshi art can be and is part of a universal cultural heritage.
People who for unexplained reasons are intent on Bangladesh not currently being seen in a positive light.
What will happen if all those concerned agree to try to seek a solution which enables the exhibition to take place ?
The Exhibition will go ahead. And thousands of people will be able to learn about Bangladeshi art architecture and our heritage and to understand the depth and diversity of our culture – in a contrast to the negative images portrayed through the news every day.
This in turn will generate interest in Bangladeshi art and architecture, promote research possibilities, and create opportunities for future investment and exchanges of art and culture between Bangladesh and France.