A Museum-friendly Gesture

Prem Khatry:  We Nepalese take pride, sometimes out of the right proportion, in being the citizens of a country with multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-ethnic national flavour.  The question is: How do we manage the cultural pluralism?

Current politics or even lack of correct, mature and development-oriented politics is causing untimely demise of several important cultural features before time. These, among others, include institutional mechanisms that could hold the speedy fall of our history and several sensitive aspects of our culture. In Nepal, the only active politics is 'partisan' one that has over the past two plus decades of democracy has engulfed almost all the aspects of life – social, political, educational, cultural and administrative.

Two Tuesdays ago, this writer wrote about a special project of International Council for Museum (ICOM) Nepal Chapter. ICOM Centre and International Committee for Regional Museums (ICR) had jointly planned to hold a five-day workshop (Jan 17-22, 2017) in Kathmandu, Nepal. The theme of the workshop was - Regional Museums’ role in assisting to rebuild their local communities after an earthquake. The events organized in Kathmandu and the overall programme activities organised by the international as well as the local ICOM personnel and collaborators both at home and abroad were timely and encouraging for the earthquake-affected museum curators, staff-personnel and the entire 50- plus participants.

There were nearly one dozen participants from countries like China, Greece, Israel, Taiwan, Japan, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy, USA, and Nepal.  These were officials from ICR, ICOM, and museums as well as governments. It was thus a combination of experts and managers. Altogether 17 papers were presented during the two-day deliberation.  Nearly half of them were presented by experts from the home country, Nepal. 

Minister speaks

In his inaugural speech the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Mr Jiwan Bahadur Shahi outlined the need to reconstruct the damaged heritage and expressed satisfaction that work was going on to preserve the heritage and promote tourism after a conspicuous 'lull' in the aftermath of the mega quake. The minister also expressed the hope that the international delegates would share their own experiences on how to rebuild the museums after the devastating quakes.  He assured the convention that he would spare no effort to see that relevant laws are formulated to protect the cultural heritage of the country in due course of time.

The ICR Chair Irena Zumuc expressed her view that the regional museums like the ones in Nepal need to bring the communities to the planning process of museum especially in situation when the museums are affected by calamities. ICOM-ICR were ready to support such programmes, she said. She gave examples of such cooperation in times of need.

Some papers presented by the international experts were not only relevant to Nepal's situation; they were highly technical and covered aspects such as the                                                                                                                                                                                              precaution, safety and preparedness for the disaster.  Ge Jiaqui from China's Aviation Planning and Design Institute Group said they designed anti-seismic buildings for the protection of not only buildings but also showcases and the art objects and relics with a 'floating' concept in place. He demonstrated how the floating showcases could live through the high scale quakes and save the museum collection.        

Paihsing Hsiao and Eddie Wei-Chun Lai from Huafan University, Taiwan, presented their papers on the concept of Eco-Museum for cultural-social reconstruction in ruins and the concept of community museum development in Taiwan, respectively.  Said Dr Hsiao, '... the architectural hardware is just the vehicle of spatial software, therefore it is indispensable not only to focus on the physical rehabilitation of buildings, but also to grasp and penetrate into their social-historical context while reconstructing local societies.' Lai remembered the big quake of September 1999 and its direct impact on the Taomi community at the epicentre and described how the community had mobilised the resources it had and sustained the mega event and its aftermath. They were able to share their experiences with their mainland counterparts during the great Wenchuan, Sitchuan Province earthquake.

Curious visitors in sites

After the two-day seminar, the group toured the museums of Kathmandu. They assessed the impact of the quakes on our heritage sites such as the three palaces, temples and museums. Everyone was a curious expert than a tourist while touring the sites. They took keen interest on the reconstruction bid and challenges posed by the quake before the government, experts and the society at large.

In Changu the guests were simply bewildered to see the extent of the damage and needs to repair the whole complex.  In Bhaktapur they visited all the major historical sites and monuments. Orit Shamir from Israel stopped in front of one house and asked one lady about their life now. Her daughter's response: Like many, we were shocked due to the earthquake. We sold our land property and built the house and we are happy. 'Selling property', Orit said, 'was not a good idea but happiness is something people need to have after such a disaster.'

The concluding ceremony took place at the end of the Bhaktapur trail.   Retired Prof. Tri Ratna Manandhar, ICOM-ICR Nepal Chief Brigadiers Vijaya Shahi and Dr Prem Basnyat, Prof. Purushottam Lochan Shrestha, ICR Chief Zumuc, Prof Lei, Hsiao and few participants spoke on the occasion and expressed satisfaction that post-quake life in Nepal is now normal.  But they all pointed to the fact that closer cooperation between ICOM-ICR center and the regional museums like Nepal is vital for progress in this field. Also, people's interest to have small collection of their own to reflect on their history and culture was much appreciated by the international guests.

Finally, ICOM Center will hold international seminars including its anniversary in the years ahead and Nepal will participate in such events to strengthen the existing relations and capacity of people to work for the smooth running of the museums in Nepal. The event showed a museum-friendly gesture in the statements of the government of Nepal and all the guest participants.



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