Ratneshwar Tunala Repatriation

The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney is honoured to have worked with the Australian Government in developing this moment of celebration.

May 16, 2023, 6:27 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 16, No. 19, May.26, 2023 (Jestha,12. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Namaste! My name is Michael Brand and I am the director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in the Australian city of Sydney. I feel very honoured to be here in Patan today, alongside art professionals and government representatives from both Nepal and Australia. I am also very proud to be involved in the return of a magnificent work of Nepali art to its original home here in Patan, in the beautiful Kathmandu Valley.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney is honoured to have worked with the Australian Government in developing this moment of celebration. I thank Australia’s Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs for recognising the importance of the Art Gallery’s determination to ensure this significant work of art returns to where it should be, and to whom it belongs – the people of Nepal.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales recognises of the power and responsibility of leadership in the world of culture – in the accountability of our decisions to our artists, to our citizens and tothe global arts community. As we grow in our understanding of the past, we are privileged to live in a more connected world, where collaboration is inherent in our work and in our relationships with both our professional colleagues and the many diaspora communities thriving in Australia. These connections inform our research and the understanding of the art of which we have assumed custodianship.

This beautifully carved 13th-century tunala, or wooden strut, was acquired by the Art Galleryin Sydney many years after it originally left Nepal. With the assistance of international colleagues, and through our own research, we have come to have a more complete understanding of its provenance. We now know the tunala, one of 16 similar struts that were integral to the architecture of Patan’s Ratneshwar Temple,was illegally removed in 1975. This particular tunala depicts a yakshi,or tree goddess, with lush foliage above her head. It was through photographs of Ratneshwar Temple taken by the American anthropologist and archaeologist Mary Shepherd Slusser in 1969 that we came toidentify the original home of the architectural element that ended up in Sydney.

I first visited Nepal with my older brother when I was just 15 years old. During this brief visit I met the architectural conservator John Sanday who was then leading restoration work on the Hanuman Dhoka in Kathmandu’s Darbar Square. This experience made a huge impression on me. Two years later, when I was 17 years old, I returned to Nepal by myself for almost a month, revisiting the sacred sites of the Kathmandu Valley and trekking from Pokhara up towards Annapurna. These two trips changed my life, and ultimately led to me studying the art of South Asia before becoming a curator, and then an art museum director. And from that very first trip I gained an understanding of the importance of architectural conservation.

Now, so many years later,the repatriation of this beautiful carving made for the Ratneshwar Temple in the 13th century can be seen as a manifestation of the friendship between the Art Gallery of New South Wales and our Nepali archaeologists and museum colleagues, and a representation ofthe deep friendship between the peoples of Australia and Nepal.

Thank you for welcoming me back to Nepal. Your amazing country has always had a special place in my heart. I will never forget the friendship and collegiality I have experienced here in Kathmandu over the past couple of days. I hope I can return again before too long. Jai Nepal!

Michael Brand is the Director of the Art Gallery New South Wales, Australia. Excerpts of his statement delivered during an event organised at Patan Museum to handover a 13th century tundal of the Ratneshwar Temple at Sulima Square, Patan.

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