Kathmandu, July 28
Itumbaha Museum is being inaugurated on Saturday, July 29.
The museum is being opened with support from the Rubin Museum of Art in New York.
This comes after Rubin returned two artefacts in its collection back to Nepal. Among the returned artefact, a wooden garland bearing Apsara (14th century) belonged to Itumbaha, which was removed in 1999 before Rubin’s purchase in 2003.
“Following Rubin’s return of this object to Nepal, a partnership was formed with the Itumbaha Conservation Society and Lumbini Buddhist University Museology lecturer Swosti Rajbhandari Kayastha along with her students, where the Rubin provided financial and advisory support for the documentation, preservation, display, and interpretation of Itumbaha’s historic collection,” reads a statement issued by Rubin Museum of Art.
The Rubin Museum of Art has contributed USD 20,000 for a three-room display and around 150 artefacts that have been documented will be on display.
Itumbaha is one of the oldest and most significant Biharas (Newa Buddhist monasteries) in Nepal. It has a collection of over 500 ancient objects.
“There were so many stories and local and social sentiments attached to these artefacts. So, we created a story around the items we had to best portray the history and cultural significance of the locals and the locality,” says Kayastha.
The first phase of the museum operation showcases over 100 historical artefacts curated across three galleries, including different unique and ancient artefacts of social, cultural and religious importance.
However, a controversy has stirred amid the opening of the museum where cultural experts and organisations involved in repatriating stolen heritage have been against the opening of a museum in Itumbaha.
Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign, released a press statement on July 27, stating it seeks full transparency from the Rubin’s Museum as to the results of its announced investigation into the accession of the Toran and Gandarbha. It also insisted that the Rubin’s Museum carry out an in-depth review of the provenance of its entire inventory, including items on display and in storage.
“While noting the support provided by the Museum to Itumbaha for exhibit space, the Campaign insists that this cannot be a way to generate misplaced goodwill nor to divert attention from the responsibility of foreign collectors and museums on the matter of stolen heritage items from Kathmandu Valley and Nepal as a whole,” reads NHRC’s statement.
Likewise, cultural experts and activists are sceptical of Rubin’s motive and find that this kind of activity is the Museum’s way to clean up its international image. And in an article, heritage conservationist Rabindra Puri emphasised that what Rubin’s Museum is doing is whitewashing. According to him, this can lead to potential conflict in the future repatriation of other artefacts if discovered in Rubin’s collection.
Another heritage expert, Professor Sudarshan Tiwari, emphasised in an article that this issue goes beyond statues or heritage; it’s about feelings, worship, and faith.
“Accepting support from a foreign museum falsely claiming to preserve heritage is shameful,” he says, “Genuine commitment is needed to protect our cultural treasures with authenticity and sincerity.”