Cultural objects returned to Mexican Government

Two significant objects belonging to the cultural heritage of Mexico were returned yesterday in a special handover ceremony at the Embassy of Mexico in Canberra.

Minister for the Arts, the Hon Tony Burke, returned the objects to the Ambassador of Mexico His Excellency Eduardo Peña Haller.

The two imported objects were seized by Inspectors from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts with the assistance of Australian Border Force. The seizures took place under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, which provides for the return of foreign cultural property which has been illegally exported from other countries and imported into Australia.

The objects are an ex-voto painting traditionally made in Mexico to illustrate a miracle and honour the intervention of a saint, and a copper bowl dating back to 13th century crafted by the indigenous Mixtec people.

Minister Burke said it was important the cultural heritage of other nations was protected.

“I’m so pleased that our two nations, as signatories to the UNESCO 1970 Convention, are able to work together so that these two objects can return to their rightful home,” Minister Burke said.

“I’m proud to work with the Mexican Government to protect and return their cultural heritage.”

Ambassador Peña Haller said he was delighted the objects would be returned to Mexico, where they belong, and recognised the commitment of the Australian authorities in returning cultural heritage to its original owners.

“I would like to thank the Australian Government, with whom we closely collaborated, for its commitment to the safe return of these objects to our country, where they can be protected for generations.” 

Ambassador Peña Haller said that these objects are not “merely things”; rather, they are an integral part of culture that tells a story about Mexico’s peoples and their livelihood.

"The ex-voto tells the story of the survivor of a mining accident and their gratitude to the Saints”, whereas “the miniature copper bowl, albeit small, is a rare item and has symbolic significance in the Mixtec culture, as copper was not a common or readily accessible material.”

Ambassador Peña Haller added that countries must keep up with the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods and increase public awareness of the cultural significance of heritage objects.

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