Mustang

Considered one of the last remaining bastions of Tibetan culture and located in the north-central part of Nepal at the edge of the Tibetan plateau, Mustang remains a remote area. Major monasteries of the Sakya and Ngor schools of Tibetan Buddhism are located in Mustang, along with numerous temples, palaces, and ruins that evidence its rich past. Although some of its murals and caves have been studied and published, portable works such as sculptures, scroll paintings, stupas and books have seldom being examined and largely remained unknown to scholars as well as general audiences. These objects attest to the region’s rich past and its relevance as an important centre of artistic production and Buddhist religious practices.

Project

In 2012 I began to explore the possibility of organizing an exhibition on the art of Mustang, Nepal, on behalf of the Rubin Museum of Art and with partner institutions in the US. During this and subsequent visits to the region, work has proceeded well locally over the last three years, and 2014 is crucial to bring the project on a broader base and an official footing.

Inventory

Part of the project is to create an inventory of portable art objects preserved in Mustang, with the information on each objects improved over time. Each participating institution receives the full photographic documentation as well as an inventory of their collection. So far objects on the following institutions have been (partially) documented:

  • 2012: Choede Monastery Museum (photography from the monastery) and Namgyal Monastery (in situ photography)
  • 2013: Namgyal Monastery, Choede Monastery Museum (some additional objects), and Kag Choede Monastery
  • 2014: the monasteries of Garphug, Namgyal (manuscripts and their covers), Lo Gekhar, and Jarkhot (Jar Choede)

Published Works

Since my second visit to Mustang in Spring 2012 I have written quite a bit on Mustang, starting with a review of the Wonders of Lo that I communicated to the authors earlier. I would like to thank the authors for their frank comments, they certainly helped me to make it more balanced. The review has now become available and here is the full reference:

  • “Review Article: Erberto Lo Bue (ed.) 2010. Wonders of Lo : the artistic heritage of Mustang. Vol. 62 (2), Marg. Mumbai: Marg Foundation.” The Tibet Journal XXXVIII, no. 3&4 (2013): 161-67.

Conservation in the Himalayas

The conservation project in Mustang, which I mention in the review, then made me reflect on the larger question on what conservation projects in the Himalayas are doing, and how I stand to it from the perspective of my profession as an art historian. In the resulting lecture for the Buddhist Art Forum, which took place in April 2012 in London, I first expressed my thoughts on this question, which I then contributed to the proceedings. The accelerating pace and scale of such work throughout the Himalayas certainly warrants such a reflection, and the interesting perspectives collected in the exceptional volume to which I contributed. I hope my text and the other contributions contain some food for thought for those involved in conservation work in the Himalayas.

In my contribution to the Buddhist Art Forum I summarize my experiences with conservation projects in the Himalayas and what their work means to research on the art of the region. Backed by plenty of examples I come to the conclusion that, from a research perspective, each intervention also entails the obscuration of particular aspects of the artwork relevant for art historical research, and at times such evidence may be made inaccessible or destroyed entirely. To me, solving the architectural problems of the monument has by far the greatest priority, and work on the interior decoration of a monument needs to be carefully evaluated and implemented. In my opinion—and even more so from a research perspective—it is not justified that we deal with Himalayan monuments and art differently than we would with our own heritage.

  • “Conservation and research in Buddhist art from an art-historical perspective.” In Art of Merit: Studies in Buddhist Art and its Conservation. Proceedings of the Buddhist Art Forum 2012, edited by David Park, Kuenga Wangmo, & Sharon Cather. London: Archetype, 2013: 187–202.

An Example

Originally I thought with this I am done with writing, among others, on the conservation in Mustang, until I compared the photographs I took in spring 2013 with the old documentation. This comparison resulted in the commentary I wrote for the current March 2014 volume of Orientations. Take a look yourself.

  • “Bringing a Masterwork Back to Life?” Orientations 45, no. 2 (2014): 184-86.

Cave of Great Adepts

More to the core of my research work, a fourth article has been published in the June 2014 issue of Orientations. It deals with the iconography of the Konchokling cave, the mahasiddha cave rediscovered in 2007. While this cave was the subject of one of the contributions to the Marg book on the "Wonders of Lo”, many questions concerning the represented lineage and siddhas, the accompanying inscriptions, the arrangement of the figures, and the age of the paintings remained open and are addressed in this contribution. I first presented my findings from a short visit in May 2012 at a conference in Beijing in October 2012. The published article is accompanied by the full photo documentation on this website.

  • “The Cave of Great Adepts.” Orientations 45, no. 5 (2014): 50–61.