Heritage Gallery in Bhaktapur

In August 2009, when Rabindra Puri inaugurated the traditionally restored Toni Hagen House in Bhaktapur, he made it a point to stress that his team consisted of artists who created artworks and not of craftsmen who produced handicrafts.

Puri, who is most widely known for the restoration of Namuna Ghar in Bhaktapur, still maintains his stand.

“There are many galleries for modern art but not for traditional arts,” said Puri, 42, at a gathering held at the Toni Hagen House on Saturday, May 12.

While Puri’s family lives in the House, its ground floor has now been converted into a space to showcase artworks by traditional artists.

The Heritage Gallery, an initiative of the RP Foundation, covers an area of 1,200 square feet. It may be relatively smaller than most galleries in Kathmandu, but it is neatly designed and curated, respectful of all the artworks on display.

The current exhibit mostly consists of sculptures in stone, wood and metal by local artists – Indra Kaji Shilpakar, Surja Bajracharya, and Shiva Thapa, to name a few.

Right now, Heritage Gallery only has artworks by individuals who are already working with the RP Foundation which was established by Puri in 2010. “We’re open to other artists but we’ll have a careful selection,” states Curator Mindira Puri.

About the gallery’s next exhibit, she shares, “We’ll be showing drawings by children from the Muscular Dystrophy Center in Bhaktapur.”

Children born with the disorder have a maximum lifespan of 25 years. “The money generated from the exhibition goes back to the kids,” highlights Puri, adding that they first did a similar exhibition of 60 drawings by the children in Germany.

Besides providing a permanent home for traditional arts, Heritage Gallery was started for one more purpose. All profits made by the sale of artworks at the gallery will go to support the Museum of Stolen Art, a major ambitious project under RP Foundation’s belt.

“The target is to create replicas of 50 stolen sculptures and install them permanently at the museum,” puts in Puri.

In the last two years, Puri and his team of artists have managed to pull off 10 replicas based on photographs collected through research of published books and photographs.

The complete works are on display at the gallery for now, while seven are in the making.

Hundreds of traditional Nepali sculptures have been stolen and smuggled out till date, mostly in the 1990s, from temples, temple vicinities and guthis and have landed up in museums abroad. “Our selection is based on the amount of information we have of the stolen artwork,” Puri informs.

These include the original location of the work, the year it was stolen, local stories related to the robbery, where it is now and what kinds of investigation, if any, is happening to bring them back. Puri has been researching on all of these for nearly five years now.

Jaya Ram Shilpakar, 34, is one of the nine artists involved in this project. “We start working directly on the stone (black stone from Pharping) by sketching on a centerline,” he explains and adds.

“It can be of any size if we don’t know the original measurements.” And that’s one of the many challenges of transforming a two-dimensional photographic reference, most of which are poor, into a three-dimensional sculpture.

Puri envisions the Museum of Stolen Art in Panauti to touch the hearts of Nepali people. “It’ll make Nepalis realize what we’ve lost and also help start a campaign to bring stolen works back to Nepal,” he states. There has been no government assistance so far to the Foundation’s initiatives.

Puri’s goal of 20 years is to transform Panauti into a town entirely built in traditional architecture. The museum is, therefore, also set in the area.

Also under construction in Panauti is the Nepal Vocational Academy. When operatonal, it is expected to train 100 artisans each year and employ them once they complete the course.

Heritage Gallery is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. For location information, call 6613197.

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