The Rubin Museum of Art opened an installation of Nepalese art today to launch its Honoring Nepal programming series, which celebrates the culture of the earthquake-devastated country. The death toll from last month’s disaster is now over 6,800, with 14,000 injured and thousands missing, and the cultural loss of centuries-old temples, shrines, and historic sites that were damaged or destroyed is still being assessed.
The Honoring Nepal lobby installation is free and open to the public during museum hours, showcasing 13 artifacts selected from the roughly 600 Nepalese objects in the Rubin’s collections. “As we all confront both the loss of life and the destruction of many cultural sites caused by the recent earthquake, our mission to connect museum visitors with the ideas, art, and culture of the Himalayas has become especially relevant,” Jan Van Alphen, director of exhibitions, collections, and research, told Hyperallergic. “Even though Nepal is far away from New York geographically, our world is increasingly smaller, and we hope this installation, along with the other initiatives happening at the museum, brings our visitors closer to the people of Nepal and honors their dynamic and vibrant culture.”
An 11th-century sandstone Ganesha rests in one niche, with visitors this morning placing coins in his hands and a dollar bill in the curl of his trunk. Nearby, smaller gilt copper alloy sculptures include an elegant rendering of Maitreya, the One of Loving Kindness, from the 15th-16th century, and a 19th-century donor figure kneeling in prayer. There are also 19th-century paintings on cloth, a towering 13th-century stupa adorned with semi-precious stones, and a 17th-century wood carving from the Kathmandu Valley of Apsara holding a garland aloft. That area was especially hard hit by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, and without contrasting the beautiful works on display to current photographs of rubble, the Rubin evokes the rich cultural heritage in peril through these examples of its history in Buddhist and Hindu art.
In the galleries, the Rubin is highlighting Nepalese art and artifacts with the label “#HonorNepal,” which it is also using on social media to promote Nepal’s cultural significance. For example, the exhibition Becoming Another: The Power of Masks features a shamanistic mask dating to the 19th-20th century from Nepal. Through the museum’s online Honoring Nepal site, vetted organizations are listed that are on the ground in the South Asian country offering help to its communities. Additional programming includes biweekly education tours and evening events each Wednesday. This week’s events include a free concert with sarangi player Shyam Nepali and madal player Raj Kapoor, both members of the Nepali cultural community. Finally, the Rubin is offering a large discount for renting its facility to any relief organizations interested in hosting benefits.