Sunday 23 January 2022

Nepal: the Threat From Collectors


The theme of the role of scholars as facilitators of artefact collecting seems of more general relevance (including to the issue of the increased popularity of "metal detecting" in the UK alongside collaborative partnerships like the Portable Antiquities Scheme), but in any case this University of Columbia webinar by Prof Erin Thompson  “Kingdom Under Glass: Repatriation of Nepali Sacred Art” (February 14, 2022 6:15 PM - 7:45 PM ET) sounds fascinating:

Nepal became a country of fascination when it opened its borders to foreign visitors in 1951. But as Westerners increasingly drew inspiration from its artistic and religious traditions, Nepal’s sacred artworks began to vanish. Nepali cultural activists have recently located dozens of sculptures of deities in American museums and private collections, matching them to photographs of the artifacts in active worship in temples and shrines in Nepal in the 1970s – before they were stolen and smuggled out of the country to feed the new fashion for “Eastern spirituality.” Some of these photographs were taken by American scholars who played an uneasy role in facilitating these thefts, believing Nepalis were incapable of preserving their own heritage.

Having served in an advisory capacity in some of the recent repatriation claims, I will discuss the relevant legal landscape as well as negotiation and media strategies applicable to claims for antiquities, sacred art, and other stolen cultural heritage from the region and beyond. I will also ask what our role as art historians can and should be in fields built from histories of cultural exploitation.

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