The ancient world of art dealership is filled with crime and bloodshed – mainly caused by wealthy first-world countries taking advantage of those with less power, all in the name of culture and fine art.

But in 2021, the US is starting to make amends by returning some of the stolen paintings and artefacts that they took many years ago from both India and Ukraine. In total, the US has returned 248 previously stolen items, of which the overall worth is $15 million.

New York art dealer, Subhash Kapoor, was found guilty of trafficking these highly priced items between the US and India. He is now in an Indian prison, facing charges of illegally trafficking over 2,500 South-Asian artefacts.

Kapoor may be found guilty of addition charges via a pending United States extradition. A large portion of the stolen artefacts have already been retrieved from his New York-based storage units, and are being returned to India.

In addition to India, there are over a dozen other countries whose artefacts have been trafficked, including Ukraine. A collection of ancient Crimean artefacts had been put on loan to a Dutch museum in 2014, during the Russian annexation of Crimea. The artefacts formed a part of a collection of Scythian gold, which is an extremely valuable and rare type of gold which originates in the Golden Age of Persia.

These Crimean artefacts were borrowed from four different Ukrainian art vaults to be exhibited in Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum – and have remained there ever since.

Originally, the Dutch Supreme Court established that the Crimean artefacts were to be returned to the Ukraine in 2016, but the Crimean museums appealed against this decision the following year it was made. Ukrainian museums are now considering filing a fresh appeal for the Dutch supreme court in 2022.

This development has caused tension between the Ukraine’s fine art and art history community, who are waiting in anticipation for their artefacts to return home. In fact, all over the world, there is a shift in attitude towards the longstanding tradition of wealthy countries using stolen artefacts in their museums, often as a result of violence, slavery, or colonization.

Native countries are starting to wake up to the reality that their cultural and historical artefacts have been wrongfully taken from them, and used as exotic spectacles for gallery-goers in wealthy countries. Slowly but surely, dealers of this trade such as Kapoor are being prosecuted for their participation in the international art trafficking market.

Jesus College at the University of Cambridge has become the first ever UK institution to return a traditional Nigerian Benin Bronze, which is a prestigious collection of metal sculptures and plaques that once decorated the royal palace in the Kingdom of Benin, Nigeria.

It is the hope that through unprompted returns such as this, other Western countries will follow suit by returning the looted artefacts and treasures that are as valuable as a win at and that hold such prevalence to native countries. This is a happy time for Nigeria’s rich cultural history – hopefully, Ukrainians will experience the same relief when Crimea’s artefacts are returned.