Incense perfumed the hall as visitors entered a room full of photographs hung on the white walls of Taragaon Museum on a recent Saturday evening. The guests quickly dispersed, drawn by the pictures from every corner of the country, photographed by Judith Conant Chase in her travels criss-crossing Nepal since 1976.
Below the photographs 400 everyday objects were lovingly displayed from Chase’s collection. Together, such photos and objects make up the Living Tradition Museum, opened by Chase in 2012 in Changu Narayan, but damaged in the 2015 earthquakes. Luckily, the collection was saved and after rebuilding, the museum will re-open in a few months.
The photographs present a vivid replication of the past. An 88-year-old Newari woman with a wrinkled face walks holding the hand of a woman in haku patasi Newari dress behind three small monks as they celebrate her 88 years, 8 months and 8 days jankhu.
The objects displayed are simple items, like a brass vessel used to store and carry water, a spinning wheel for weaving shawls and mats, and a special coat called a gyanma worn by the men of the Nyinba ethnic group from Humla district. Most of these everyday objects of decades ago are a rarity now.
“I appreciate an old pot, gagri, for the workmanship,” says the exhibition’s curator James Giambrone. When he first came to Nepal in 1970, all the items exhibited were in daily use. Today, these objects of purpose are to be seen and admired. “One of the things we wanted to showcase here was that people make murti to worship, not to showcase,” Giambrone added.
The exhibit reminds us of the rich culture and diversity of Nepal, from the Tarai, to the hills and the high Himal. It opens a window for younger generations to see how utilitarian objects were created and used in daily life.
‘Communicating the basic nature of Nepali arts and cultures, emphasising the distinguishing qualities unique to each culture, i.e. why things are made, how they are made, how they fit into the social and religious context,’ is the goal of the Living Tradition Museum.
Judith Conant Chase’s book, The Beauty of Purposeful Living, which documents the places and people she has visited and the objects that are essential to their daily lives, was also launched at the opening.