Activists Call the Rubin Museum’s Funding of a Nepalese Institution a Bid to ‘Divert Attention’ From Stolen Artifacts in Its Own Collection

Demonstrators protested the opening of the Rubin-funded museum in a historic Nepalese monastery last month. 

Courtyard view of the Itumbaha Museum in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Pranab Joshi. Courtesy of Itumbaha.

Activists are accusing the Rubin Museum of Art of using a new project in Nepal to “divert attention” from possibly looted relics in its collection. 

The Rubin, a New York-based institution dedicated to the art of Himalayas, provided principal funding for the recently opened Itumbaha Museum in Kathmandu. The museum comprises the first public galleries for Itumbaha—a historic Nepalese vihara, or monastery—and its collection of cultural artifacts. 

The partnership with the monastery came about after the Rubin voluntarily repatriated two relics—a 14th-century carving and a fragment of a 17th-century arched gateway—in 2022. But critics suggest that the Rubin may own more Nepalese artifacts of questionable provenance that are in need of return. 

“We believe that the return of the two items can only be the beginning of a process of introspection and follow-up by the Museum in terms of its responsibility toward Himalayan people and cultures,” wrote Riddhi Baba Pradhan, chairperson of Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign, in a July 27 letter to Rubin executive director Jorrit Britschgi. 

The Recovery Campaign, which is dedicated to documenting and preventing the theft of cultural heritage from the country, called on the museum to “carry out an in-depth review of the provenance of its entire inventory, including items on display and in storage.” 

The Rubin’s support of the Itumbaha Museum “cannot be a way to generate misplaced goodwill nor to divert attention from the responsibility of foreign collectors and museums on the matter of stolen heritage items from Kathmandu Valley and Nepal as a whole,” Pradhan added in the missive. 

Installation view of the Itumbaha Museum in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Pranab Joshi. Courtesy of Itumbaha.

The following day, a group of activists gathered at the Itumbaha Museum for a protest that echoed Pradhan’s concerns. Demonstrators brandished signs with slogans such as “Say No to Cultural Invasion,” “Rubin Stop Your Whitewashing,” and “Rubin We Want Our Gods Back,” according to a report from Hyperallergic 

In a statement shared with Artnet News, Britschgi said: “We are sensitive to the issues raised by those who have objected to the Rubin’s support of the Itumbaha Museum. Repatriation is a complex topic that is evolving in real time, and we welcome dialogue with all parties in Nepal in order to center local perspectives and arrive at a full understanding of the issues at hand.” 

Britschgi explained that, while in Kathmandu for the inauguration, his team “had the opportunity to discuss with the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign some of the nuances, challenges, and opportunities regarding art from Nepal.” 

The director said the Rubin is “proactively investigating” its full collection and will “continue to return any objects that have been stolen.”  

Swosti Rajbhandari Kayastha, a curator and scholar of Nepalese art and culture at Lumbini Buddhist University who spearheaded the new museum project on the ground in Itumbaha, commended the Rubin’s support.  

“At least the Rubin asked how they could help, and they were very respectful in their collaboration,” she told Hyperallergic. “Why always look at the negative side? This is a chance to come together and do things correctly. We should acknowledge that this is a positive step in the right direction, and we should commend them for trying.” 

“This new exhibition, driven by the community, is an exciting new era for the Itumbaha collection and for global museology as it foregrounds living heritage,” said Kayastha. 

 

More Trending Stories:  

Archaeologists in the U.K. Are Using Ground-Penetrating Radar to Locate the 130-Year-Old Remains of a Legendary Performing Elephant 

The Company Behind the Wildly Popular ‘Immersive Van Gogh’ Experience Has Filed for Bankruptcy 

Drake Outs Himself as Buyer of Tupac Shakur’s Iconic Crown Ring, Sold for $1 Million at Sotheby’s 

Nefarious Data Collection Masking as Public Art? An A.I. Company Has Placed Mirrored Spheres Around the World in a Massive Eye-Scanning Project 

Three Ancient Roman Coins That Were Part of a Hoard Found in the U.K. Were Mysteriously Swapped With Other, More Valuable Coins 

Fast-Rising Artist Jeanine Brito’s Visceral Paintings Put a ‘Dark and Grotesque’ Spin on Fairy Tales 


Follow Artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

artnet and our partners use cookies to provide features on our sites and applications to improve your online experience, including for analysis of site usage, traffic measurement, and for advertising and content management. See our Privacy Policy for more information about cookies. By continuing to use our sites and applications, you agree to our use of cookies.

Subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.

You are currently logged into this Artnet News Pro account on another device. Please log off from any other devices, and then reload this page continue. To find out if you are eligible for an Artnet News Pro group subscription, please contact [email protected]. Standard subscriptions can be purchased on the subscription page.

Log In