Bangladeshi Durga at Rijksmuseum

A Hindu goddess with ten arms prepares to kill a small figure emerging from a buffalo. It is the popular Durga portrayed at the moment when she defeats the demon Mahisasura; she is holding weapons in nine of her ten hands. The scene is portrayed on a lotus-shaped base. Beneath it we see a Hindu believer, hands clasped in worship. This stone relief was originally built into the wall of a temple. The piece was produced in Bangladesh in the eleventh century.

The website of the Rijksmuseum shows the statue of a late 11th or early 12th century Durga, a Hindu goddess, killing a buffalo demon (1). It is one of the thousand masterpieces of the museum, and comes from Bangladesh. At the bottom of the invoice of the Peter Marks Gallery in New York, where the museum purchased the statue in 1992 for USD 65,000, it says: ‘Ex Collection: David Nalin’. drs Jos van Beurden, interviewed here by Shahidul Alam, informed the museum that it was possible that the statue was exported illegally after 1970 from Bangladesh and they answered: ‘Nice to know,’. Jos says ‘I trust that the Rijksmuseum acted in good faith, when it purchased this masterpiece, although Bangladesh’s instability of the early 1970’s and its impact on provenances should be general knowledge for insiders. The question is, whether the museum should reinvestigate its acquisition with this new information.’

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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