Dana Andrew, Executive Director of ICOM UK, interviewed Roshan Mishra, Director/Curator of the Taragaon Museum in Nepal. Roshan is a fellow of the British Museum’s International Training Programme (ITP).
Would you tell ICOM UK members about the Taragaon Museum in Nepal?
Taragaon Museum was opened in 2014 as a private museum. Prior to the museum, the building was used as a hostel to promote tourism in the 70s. It was designed by an Austrian architect Carl Pruscha. Now it stands as a first cluster of modern architecture that was built in Nepal. With the support of the Saraf Foundation for Himalayan tradition and culture, the patron organization of the Taragaon Museum; these buildings were conserved and restored, and was later converted into a first architectural documentation museum of Nepal.
The principle mission of the museum is to document and display the work of the foreign scholars, who came to Nepal after the 1950s as travellers. Many of these individuals somehow ended up doing research about this country and they documented our heritage, cultural sites, monuments and vernacular architecture in different formats. These scholars and individual’s work was never collected and recognized before. The Taragaon Museum collects, archives and displays the works done by these individuals and scholars. The core permanent collection of the museum includes architectural drawings from the heritage sites and old settlements, sketches, maps, etchings, photographs etc.
The museum also has a contemporary art gallery, library, café, and an archive. Within the premises there also three amphitheatres, which are used for outdoor events such as performance art and music events.
What does your role as Director of the Taragaon Museum involve?
My role is very diverse. One of my main tasks is to connect with scholars, who have lived and worked in this country, and introduce them about the museum’s mission and vision. This is important to us as most of our objects come as donations from scholars and individuals.
Besides the management of the permanent collection, I am also highly engaged in our contemporary art gallery. As I am also an artist, I really enjoy getting involved with the contemporary art activities, this gallery is one of our busiest sections. The gallery was introduced in 2015 and, later in 2018 on occasion of the museum day, it was formally announced at a contemporary art gallery, as a space to promote Nepali art and the artist. The gallery displays the work of the senior, established and young upcoming artists on a regular basis. I also design and curate shows for this gallery.
Besides this, I look after other projects from the Saraf Foundation for Himalayan traditions and culture. Nepal Architecture Archive (NAA) is an integral part of the foundation and the museum, and I manage and closely work with the archive and the library. Now we are working towards making it accessible to the public as currently, it is only accessible on request only. Through the foundation we have other projects and currently we are working on a Nepal Heritage Documentation protect (NHDP), as the Foundation is the local partner I am also managing this project.
In 2019, what challenges do you think the Taragaon Museum is facing? Is this very different from the challenges affecting the wider museum sector in Nepal?
I have identified three main things as a challenge within our museum. The challenges we are facing are very distinctive to us.
- First one is our visitor count; this is very low in comparison to other museums, and we really need to work on it. We are a very specialized museum, no other museums display and document architectural maps and drawings, sketches and photographs. We don’t have any 3D objects, thus the general public tends to find less interest in our collection in comparison to the other museums of Nepal.
- As the local schools and colleges do not have a museum visit program within their curriculum, it is really difficult to bring them into the museum. Therefore this year we are introducing school children’s art competition, educational programmes, teacher training and talk programmes. We are hoping these programs will bring interest to the institutions and the students. Other museums are not doing this sort of activity in Nepal, therefore we are always trying to build awareness among school kids and college youths to bring them into our museum. We also truly believe that their engagement with our collection is really important.
- Most importantly; our other challenge is to find donors and find Nepal related materials. I feel this challenge is completely different in comparison to other museum’s in Nepal because other museums don’t necessarily always think about growing their collection like we do.
Despite all these challenges, we are still one of the most active museums in Nepal, in a way we do not stay static and dull with the collection we have, we tend to do different activities throughout the year.
I really want to address all the above challenges this year.
You are involved in a number of exciting museum projects in Nepal. Can you tell us about the construction of Sagarmatha Next in the foothills of Mount Everest and your plans for the Mishra Museum?
“Sagarmatha” is a Nepali name of Mt Everest. The Sagaramatha Next project is initiated by the Saraf Foundation and Eco Himal along with other local organizations. Located near Namche Bazar on the way to Everest Base Camp, this project is much more than a museum. The centre is currently under construction and we are aiming to launch the centre by September 2019. The centre has movie saloon, a learning centre that includes virtual reality stations, a gallery and art park, along with a workshop, café, shop and a residency space for visiting artists.
The whole concept and idea anchors around waste, environment, climate change and sustainability. This centre will also become a hub as a learning centre for tourists, trekkers, mountaineers, local people, and students and youth from Nepal so that they can learn and exchange knowledge about environmental conservation, eco-tourism, and climate change. The gallery, art park and the house are focused on the artists; it can be used by local and international artists. It is really a unique project and we hope to replicate this concept in other areas. Currently, the Saraf Foundation is funding this project, and now we are also inviting international donors to be a part of this project.
Mishra Museum will house and display the work of my father Manuj Babu Mishra, who passed away last year in August. He was one of the most prominent artists and art writers of Nepal. I want to operate this museum within the next 5 years. There are sketches, paintings, photos, manuscripts, library and his personal belongings that can go into this museum. Currently, I have all the materials, objects, stories and narratives for the museum, but I don’t have a building. In a way, I am the only person who can open this museum, but having said that I don’t want to delay this. We don’t have any funding mechanism in Nepal to support such projects, therefore, I am aiming to convert my own house into a museum. We do not have any museum dedicated to an artist yet, therefore this could be the first one if I can make it happen.
The Global Nepali Museum is an impressive digital initiative. Could you tell us why and how you created this database of Nepali objects housed in museums around the world? How could ICOM UK members and UK museum professionals support the Global Nepali Museum?
Global Nepali Museum is a database and a web-based platform. I call it a virtual museum. This is where all the Nepali objects from the museums around the world can be found all in one place. It is a very ambitious project, but I think it is also a very important initiative as this sort of database has not been created yet, even the Department of Archaeology doesn’t have any such compiled records.
Currently, this virtual museum displays, sculptures, paintings and manuscripts, cultural objects, contemporary art, drawings and photographs. I have also been connecting with different museums and have been requesting them to allow me to use the data that belongs to them. I really want museums to grant me permission to create this platform. I have also been expressing to the museums that this platform has not been created to start a campaign for repatriation, rather this has been designed as a database for reference, researchers, and for those who want to know more about our heritage history and culture. This digital initiative is singlehandedly managed until now. I have been in talks with several institutions to provide support so that data can be uploaded timely and the site can be managed in a more efficiently with more user-friendly interfaces.
Through this ICOM UK platform, I would really like to know about the Nepali collections that may have been in UK museums and other countries. I would like to request that museum professionals connect me with the right people in their museums because I need the data and the permission to use their digital materials. Without this data, the Global Nepal Museum cannot exist.
What is your future vision for museums in Nepal?
I want to see a world class museum in Nepal. We have a rich culture and history, and in a way, we should be capable of making a museum like the Rubin’s because we hold a huge amount of such collections. I want to see a modern art museum because we have no such museum here in Nepal that displays modern and contemporary artwork.
I want existing government museums to be more managed and more pro-active. I do not want them to be a static museum and be happy with what they display. Our museums need educational programmes and more interaction with the community; they need to be more approachable and accessible, like other museums in the west. I would like our museums to offer a complete package to its visitors and audience. And it would be great to see our museums equipped with facilities such as libraries, archives, conservation units, photography labs and research centres.
We need more museums from the private sector. There are lots of private collectors and I wish in the future they develop their collections into a museum or an archive. Without public access to these collections, they do not mean anything to us. As a museum professional, I would like to engage in the formation of many other museums in the future. I myself am very much committed to creating more museums, besides the museum for my father. I really want to work on other museums which can become a hub of resources for the generations to come.
Director/Curator, Taragaon Museum
Head of Special Collections, Archives & Library, Saraf Foundation for Himalayan Traditions & Culture / Nepal Architecture Archive (NAA)