[Press Note] Activities of the Rubin Museum of Art related to Nepal and the Himalaya

Date: Thursday, 27 July 2023 | Shrawan 11, 2080

The following is a note sent by the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign Chairperson Ms. Riddhi Baba Pradhan to Mr. Jorrit Britschgi, Executive Director of the Rubin Museum of Art.

The Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign welcomes the return by the Rubin Museum of Art of two items that were stolen from Kathmandu Valley and ended up in the Museum’s holdings. These are the toran of Yampi Mahavihar and flying gandarbha of Itumbaha, which were accessioned by the Museum after a lack of due diligence on the self-evident fact of their theft.

We believe that the return of the two items can only be the beginning of a process of introspection and follow-up by the Museum in terms of its responsibility toward Himalayan people and cultures, which it proposes to represent from its premises on the West Side of Manhattan, New York City.

The Campaign seeks full transparency from the Museum as to the results of its announced investigation into the accession of the toran and gandarbha. We also insist that the 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.

Over the decades, museums in the West and elsewhere have threatened the vibrations of living cultures by providing exhibition space and generating a market for stolen gods and goddesses. Sacred objects have been converted by collectors and curators into commodities and ‘art items’ displayed for inspection rather than being the focus of reverence.

We propose that the Rubin Museum of Art evolve as an exemplary institution carrying out best practices when it comes to the live and vibrant cultures of the Himalaya. It must join the eorts to ensure that the market for stolen cultural objects collapses, which requires committed curators to investigate, report and repatriate.

Return of statuary and other objects cannot be selective, nor can it happen only when activists from the ‘sending’ societies make strenuous demands for identified items from ‘host’ institutions. Lastly, we ask that the Rubin Museum of Art share in the public domain all information regarding its current and future collection, ongoing investigations into provenance, and future restitutions as they occur.

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