Stefanie Lotter (London): Collecting Loss: Curating the Earthquake

The physical impact of a natural disaster such as the major earthquake in Nepal in 2015 is immediately visible: lost lives, displaced people, destroyed houses and a shattered cultural heritage. However, the longer-term impact of such an event is less apparent. Now three years after the disaster loss is half way between memory and memorialisation. The SOAS led project »After the Earth’s Violent Sway: the tangible and intangible legacies of a natural disaster« ( researches the disaster as well as it archives it (currently ca. 1200 processed entries). The project examines public discourse to understand social change. It studies efforts to reclaim and reinvent material culture using also archival material to identify the permanent marks left by previous disasters. As part of the project this paper discusses how the earthquake became an object of curation. As such, this paper will discuss three different local approaches to collecting loss in the event of disaster: »Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Museum« in Kathmandu opened its earthquake exhibition on 25th April 2018 showing objects, retrieved from the rubble alongside »hidden secrets« as the curator Anie Joshi puts it. These hidden secrets are like the foundations of collapsed monuments meaningful objects that had been invisible before the earthquake struck. Kasthamandap’s mandala shaped foundation for example as Robin Coningham explains, had not been visible for the past 1300 year due to the monument that stood on it. »Rebuild Kasthamandap« a group of Kathmandu based heritage activists curate a different Kasthamandap from the one envisaged by Conigham. With the aim of reconstructing identity through collaboration, members of Rebuild Kasthamandap collect oral traditions, search archives, advocate and plan a community led reconstruction that refuses international donors and government institutions alike arguing that rebuilding is a process of identity formation. Self-help is likewise the goal also of »The people’s museum of the earthquake«, a fundraising initiative of Kathmandu intellectuals with the purpose of physically building a museum to educate the people. One of the founders of the initiative, Brabim Kumar KC, explains the need for the museum »so that future generation can remember and learn from the devastation caused by the lack of preparedness.« By analysing how loss is curated in each of the initiatives this paper contributes to the discourse of collecting loss.