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Damage to the building that houses the Nepal Fine Arts Academy (photo by @Priita Joshii/Instagram)

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.

Damage to the building that houses the Nepal Fine Arts Academy (photo by @carakeats/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

“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.”

The Nepal Fine Arts Academy building before the recent earthquake (photo courtesy the Nepal Fine Arts Academy, via Facebook)

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

2 replies on “Nepal’s Only National Art Collection in Peril After Earthquake”

  1. While reading this article it seems
    like all the rescuing effort of artworks is solely done by National Academy of
    Fine Arts (NAFA), Sita Bhavan , Naxal, Kathmandu. But in fact..

    More than 41 Nepalese artists and art
    students from Fine Art Campus , T.U risked their lives to take the artworks safely
    outside of partially collapsed and hazardously cracked building of NAFA.
    When we entered the building, floors were shaking and dust were falling from
    the ceiling, there were broken pieces of glass and bricks all over the floor. The
    building could collapse at any time .But still we went and took the artworks
    out.
    Whereas only Ramesh Shrestha ( Head of painting department) ,Nima Lama (Head of Traditional painting department) and some
    staff were present representing NAFA. After we stored all the artworks in the sculpture room on NAFA’s
    ground , some members of Academy and the chancellor Ragini Upadhayay
    came with reporters. Mrs Ragini Upadhaya was so busy with the reporters that she did

    not even respond to artists and art students who had fully volunteered.

    To see the factual video please check this link.https://www.facebook.com/hitmaan.gurung.3/videos/vb.100000430249416/996440830380249/?type=3&theater

  2. It’s a pity that the reporter did not have a chance to talk to the artists who were in fact the key individuals volunteering to save the collection, of what was Nepal’s first permanent collection of modern and contemporary art of Nepal — what used to the be the “Birendra Art Gallery.” This would have been an opportunity to understand their critical role in the salvage, and the role of NAFA as well. I’m also slightly disappointed that the reporting perpetuates an Orientalist take focusing only on the “thankgha” paintings which is not part of the permanent collection but was a selection included in the annual exhibition. “It contains many valuable works including a great many Thangka paintings.” Nepali art is indeed that and much more–should have done your homework !

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