Artists protest as Bangladesh sends rare art pieces to Paris

Dhaka (IANS) : Bangladesh has flown out rare archaeological artefacts for an exhibition in Paris, triggering a massive protest by artists, intellectuals and students who fear that these may be stolen or damaged.

Ten crates containing 189 art pieces were taken out of the National Museum here Saturday amid an angry protest by placard and banner-waving artists. It was sent as a special cargo aboard a Bangladesh Air Force aircraft, The New Nation newspaper said Sunday.

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The artefacts, representing Bangladesh’s ancient history, were collected from five different museums earlier. Breaking the emergency rule, hundreds of protesters assembled in front of the National Museum gate upon learning that the art pieces were being removed secretly.

Trucks were sent to the National Museum premises in the early hours of Saturday for taking the art pieces to the airport amid heavy police presence.

In order to camouflage the mission, the authorities utilised vehicles bearing ‘Save The Children Cyclone’ and ‘USAID Sidr Emergency Relief’ signs, which are part of the relief operations for the Nov 15 cyclone, media reports said.

The protestors, including artists, archaeologists and students of the nearby Fine Arts Institute, clashed with the police as they tried to intercept the vehicles, prompting a baton charge by the police.

The government has maintained that utmost security is being enforced to ensure safety of the artefacts that are being sent as per an agreement between Bangladesh and France and would be returned after the exhibition is over.

Among the objects are a copy of ‘Prajna Paramita’ (Buddhist manuscript), terracotta heads dating back to the 4th century, the 8th century bronze sculpture of Lokanath, and 10th century sculptures of Nataraj, Mahamaya, Chamunda, Kalyansundar, Panchamukha Shiblinga, Surja, Nabagraha, Shyamatara, Marichi and other mythological and historical characters.

The artefacts also include an 11th century wood sculpture of Lokanath and headgear of Shah Abbas II of Persia of the 18th century.

The artists had gone to court earlier and the government had responded by appointing an experts’ committee.

Media reports said the government sent the artefacts despite the matter being sub judice and that the government officials did not cooperate with the experts’ committee.

Supporting the protest, the New Age newspaper said in an editorial Sunday: “The museum pieces are a national treasure and they should not be transported outside the country unless the government can assure the nation that all precaution has been taken to ensure that they are not lost or stolen or faked or defaced.”