The collection of the Nepal Fine Arts Academy (NAFA) is at risk of being lost following the April 25 earthquake that killed thousands and destroyed countless historic and cultural sites. The academy’s chancellor told the Guardian that the country’s only permanent art collection is stuck in NAFA’s badly damaged neoclassical building, which dates from the 1930s and may collapse at any moment.
“The building was very damaged, walls collapsed during the earthquake and there are still 700 paintings in there that we haven’t been able to rescue,” NAFA chancellor Ragini Upadhyay said. “It contains many valuable works including a great many Thangka paintings.” Thangka is an extremely ornate, colorful, and precise style of Buddhist painting that typically depicts a deity or mandala.
“There are paintings there that date back to the time of Buddha and this traditional style has been passed down the generations,” Nima Lama, the curator of NAFA’s Thangka section, told the Guardian. “The artists working today are the direct descendants of those working then.”
Though relief workers were able to rescue artworks from the 2015 edition of the annual National Exhibition of Fine Arts — which opened just nine days before the earthquake — the academy’s permanent collection remains stranded on the unstable building’s third floor.
Upadhyay said surveyors from the Nepalese government initially deemed the entire building, a former royal palace, too unsafe to enter. “But then the US embassy rang us and asked if we needed help and we said, ‘Yes! We need to take out the art.’ They were very helpful and told us which parts were most dangerous and we managed to take out the work from the temporary exhibition but we haven’t yet managed to reach the permanent collection,” she said. “We have nothing older than these paintings left in Nepal because I’m sorry to say that it’s all been sold abroad. It’s in Japan and China and the UK. The country has already lost this part of its cultural history. It’s why it’s so important to try and get these paintings out.”
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