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With the help of a curator at the Peabody Essex Museum, Mehra correctly identified the statue in the fall of 2019 as depicting the deity Annapurna.
But the shady history of how MacKenzie came to have the statue started up a conversation, and Mehra asked that the MAG try to return the statue to where it belonged — in India.
“We have started that process,” said Hampton, noting that the task is long and complicated.
“It’s almost its own … adventure in trying to find the original shrine where this was taken from amongst thousands that exist along that stretch of river.”
In the meantime, Mehra created a replacement piece for her exhibition, which drew inspiration from the popular film character Indiana Jones.
“She filled a bag with sand at the approximate weight of the sculpture and we’ve displayed it on a replica of the shrine from Raiders of the Lost Arc as a stand-in for the object that is not on display and which will be … hopefully returned to its rightful place.”
The stand-in piece fits in well with Mehra’s exhibition, which is titled From India to Canada and Back to India (There is Nothing I Can Possess Which You Cannot Take Away). The exhibition critiques MacKenzie’s own colonial mindset and challenges viewers to think about their own.
“It is about the West’s obsession with both defining and consuming the histories and identities of other cultures,” Hampton said of the exhibition.
“It looks at how we participate in tourism, in souvenir culture and in creating our own narratives of what other cultures look like.”