“Archaeology and history are no longer subjects catering to the urban dwellers and the upper class in Bangkok,” says Dr. Phacharaphorn Phanomvan (Phacha), an economic historian, archaeologist and heritage scholar. “Netizens are using social media to share photos, exchange information about objects and their whereabouts, and track down additional material.”
This perhaps first occurred in 2016, at a Sotheby’s auction featuring a photograph and description of a Prakhon Chai bronze sculpture surfaced. Facebook became a vital forum for exchanging academic ideas. Since then, the movement has fostered heritage activism, but later it hit its glass ceiling.
Phacha’s interest in art restitution began while working on sites across Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia. In her view, “many sites are neglected and heavily looted even though they have great potential for conservation and restoration.”
Southeast Asian countries suffered an unprecedented loss of cultural heritage over the past 150 years, in part through colonial appropriation, looting, and illicit trafficking, resulting in extensive collections of archaeological and art objects now located across the world in museums and private collections.