Garland Bearing Apsaras, Nepal, Kathmandu Valley, 14th century, wood (courtesy the Rubin Museum of Art, New York)

After returning two looted artifacts from its collection to Nepal in January, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York will work with local institutions to preserve the cultural riches of an ancient Buddhist monastery from which one of the objects was stolen.

In an announcement Wednesday, February 23, the Rubin Museum said that it has partnered with Itum Bahal Conservation Society and Lumbini Buddhist University, both in Kathmandu, to research, preserve, and display the collection of the Itum Bahal monastery.

Both of the objects returned to Nepal in January come from Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu Valley. One of them, the lower part of a wooden, faux-window decoration of a “Garland Bearing Apsara” from the 14th century, specifically originated from Itum Bahal, according to research conducted by the activist-led group Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign (NHRC)

Itum Bahal is recognized as the oldest and most important of the 18 Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu, and one of the few to retain its original layout. It’s believed to have been built by Keshchandra, a son of a king of the Thakuri dynasty, in the 11th century. The large complex includes several monasteries, courtyards, shrines, and other buildings.

“There’s long been a need to fully document Itum Bahal’s collection, which comprises over 500 objects,” said Pragya Ji, secretary of the Ithum Conservation Society, in a statement. “The collection includes numerous ritual objects, pieces of architecture, and particularly noteworthy works such as a golden gate, a wooden Chaitya (Stupa) that is approximately 600 years old, as well as many miniature votive stupas.”

The Rubin Museum and the Itum Bahal Conservation Society are collaborating with a class of Master’s students at Lumbini Buddhist University to document Itum Bahal’s collection and create three permanent display galleries for the objects within the monastery complex. The galleries are scheduled to open in August 2022 as part of the local Gunla festival.

The museum says it will provide the local organizations with feedback and expertise on collection care, documentation, display, and interpretation, and will assist in funding the project.

“We’re committed to strengthening connections between the Rubin and the Himalayan region and to forging partnerships that promote meaningful exchange and learning,” said the Rubin Museum’s executive director, Jorrit Britschgi. “This project feels naturally aligned as we support a new generation of museum professionals from the Himalayan region and an important monastery and its history.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...