via The Guardian (13 Feb) and CNN (12 Feb), and other sources below: Two more reflective pieces about the repatriation of Khmer sculpture from indicted antiquities smuggler Douglas Latchford were published over the weekend, one in the Guardian by colleagues Ashley Thompson and Stephen Murphy and another in CNN. These pieces A couple of other earlier stories are also linked below.
At his death in August 2020, Latchford was facing federal charges in the US for the alleged key role he played since the 1960s in the looting and trafficking of Khmer antiquities from Cambodia and Thailand. The investigations had begun to lay bare the direct links between the building of south-east Asian art collections in the west – including at some of America’s most revered cultural institutions – and the brutal destruction of the Khmer cultural heritage on the ground. His daughter inherited the collection and consented to their spectacular return. Latchford, a British citizen by birth, operated out of Bangkok and London. Though the full extent of the Latchford family Khmer antiquities holdings is still unclear, it is understood that it was split between these two locations.
The return has been framed by some as a “gift” to Cambodians. But rather than celebrating a daughter extricating herself from her judicial dragnets, we should be commending those who have worked tirelessly to uncover and prevent the egregious looting of antiquities and the trafficking networks involved: Cambodian authorities, US authorities, academics and NGOs, including Chasing Aphrodite, Trafficking Culture and Heritage Watch.
It is time to put to rest the characterisation of Latchford as a “leading scholar of Khmer antiquities”. What are described as “foundational reference works” are seemingly self-published catalogues designed to launder his reputation and his objects. That some scholars associated with him says more about the draw of money and access than it does about Latchford’s so-called scholarship. The Cambodian government has been savvy and gracious in this enduring affair. That it offered to honour “the donor”
in labelling the objects as coming from the “Latchford collection” in Phnom Penh’s national museum says a lot about strategy, rather than an embrace of the man.
Now is the time however to turn our attention away from Latchford and to the legacy that six decades of pillaging has left around the world. Objects sold or gifted through Latchford’s networks remain with international dealers, auction houses, private collectors, galleries and museums. Meanwhile in Cambodia a new phase has just begun.
Excerpt from the CNN story, about divided opinions over the return of the sculptures:
Not everyone familiar with the case is so sanguine about the late collector’s family, however. While welcoming the objects’ restitution, the CEO of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA), Lynda Albertson, suggested that Kriangsak is motivated by protecting her family’s reputation, saying in a phone interview: “If she was looking to right the wrongs of her father, she would have clearly stated: ‘I am doing this because (how he acquired the items) was wrong.”
Albertson also said that other areas of Latchford’s collection — artifacts from India, in particular — should also be investigated, though Kriangsak declined to comment on the matter.
Latchford’s daughter did, however, claim that her father had indicated a willingness to return his Khmer items prior to his death. The dealer was alive when talks began three years ago, though, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, his involvement was limited by his ailing health. By the time of the 2019 charges “his mind had gone,” Kriangsak added, saying that her father “was never aware of the indictment and never understood that there were specific charges, and he certainly couldn’t answer them or defend himself.
Source: Cambodia is turning the tide on looted statues, but some things cannot be returned | Ashley Thompson and Stephen Murphy | Opinion | The Guardianand Controversial art dealer’s daughter will return over 100 antiquities to Cambodia | CNN