The Museum, located on the first floor of the Library, originated as a repository of art and artefacts offered to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was laid out in consultation with the National Museum of India and opened to the public in 1974.
The Museum has expanded steadily since those early days and now exhibits one of the most important collections of Tibetan art in the world. Major exhibits include a three-dimensional carved wooden mandala of Avalokiteshvara and a thread-cross mandala of Arya Tara, both commissioned by the LTWA; a bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara commissioned by the 13th Dalai Lama, said to stand as tall as he did; and a contemporary life-size statue of Je Tsongkhapa.
Museum Renovation Phase
The collection at the Museum is considered one of the finest in the world, comprising more than 1,000 Tibetan Buddhist and cultural artefacts. Much of the artwork in the Museum serves as a reminder of the once-flourishing monastic centres and Dharma life in Tibet.All of the items were rescued from destroyed monasteries by individuals who fled Tibet. They were offered to H. H. the Dalai Lama for safekeeping so that Tibet’s cultural treasures would be preserved.
After almost 40 years since its establishment, the existing exhibition concept and physical design are outdated, and many of the showcases are old and dysfunctional, and some artefacts lack adequate explanations and are in need of restoration. The renovation of the Museum aims to provide both Tibetan and foreign visitors with a close encounter with the art objects and clear explanations of their symbolic significance.
The renewal of the Museum 40 years after its establishment is a task of monumental importance for the preservation of Tibet’s spiritual, cultural and artistic heritage. The aim is not only to present objects in an inspiring manner but to convey more clearly their symbolic meaning to visitors of varied backgrounds. Over the last two years, a team of experts has developed both a new curatorial concept and a new design concept.
Since 2007 the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and the Israeli Friends of the Tibetan People at Jerusalem have been collaborating towards the renewal of the Tibetan Art Museum at the LTWA. The Museum contains more than 1000 art objects, mainly metal sculptures that were offered to His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Tibetans who fled Tibet. The collections are regarded as very important and invaluable to human race particularly among Tibetans.
The museum’s renewal is currently in its final phase of planning. A group of Tibetan Buddhist art experts at Jerusalem, on the advice of the LTWA Director, Venerable Geshe Lhakdor, has been developing a scientific design plan but without losing the traditional value and significance.
THE PROJECT’S ANTICIPATED OBJECTIVES
The project’s anticipated objective is to set up new galleries where contents are presented in a clear and communicative manner; where exhibition elements and space derive inspiration from traditional Tibetan design and where items are scientifically displayed and protected from further deteriorations. The new design will enable optimal viewing conditions and inspiring presentation of artifacts and the spiritual tradition they symbolize. The Museum’s environment will aim to create a sacred atmosphere, respecting the original environment of the artifacts and their meaning for Tibetans in exile.
ESTIMATED BUDGET FRAMEWORK
The estimated budget for the museum’s renewal is approximately 117,000 USD for work and expenditure both in Israel and in India. This sum will enable to enlarge the current exhibition area by 50%, to renovate the Museum’s envelope, to renew the complete display, to install new museum-friendly lighting and to add completely new visual communication elements such as titles, explanatory panels, individual labels and illustrations for the complete exhibition. The budget will enable the Israeli Friends of the Tibetan People to continue to support the Israeli experts with minimal contributions, travel, board and lodging until the project’s completion.
The primary emphasis of the renewal plan will be on the spiritual nature of Tibetan Buddhist art as a core element of religious practice. The display will emphasize the uniqueness of Tibetan Buddhist history, religion, its art and culture, the Exile, and the mission to preserve and disseminate this cultural heritage. To contextualise the artefacts, the human, natural and architectural landscape of Tibet will be reintegrated into the exhibits as a reminder of their original settings.
The curatorial concept therefore, is based on three main themes:
First theme,The Tibet Adopts Buddhism, will focus on the gradual adoption of Buddhism by Tibet since 641 CE, the prominent figures of kings and scholars who enabled the development of Buddhism in Tibet and the different schools that developed from the unique master–disciple relationships. Most of the items from the Museum’s collection that will illustrate this will be original manuscripts.
The second theme will focus on The Tibetan Buddhist Spiritual Path and will be divided into three sections: The Best of Teachers, Beings for the Sake of Other Beings, and the Direct Path to Enlightenment.
The third theme, Exile and Continuity, will unfold the way of the artworks from Tibet to their current setting in the LTWA Museum, which is the story of the Tibetan Exile. The display will end with works of living Tibetan Buddhist artists carrying on, in exile, Tibet’s spiritual heritage.
The goal of the Museum’s renewal is that the spiritual context and meaning of the artifacts and their artistic value become evident to all the visitors – Tibetan and non-Tibetan alike. Communicating the content of Tibetan Buddhist art and culture is the ultimate purpose of the renovation alongside the renovation of the current and new exhibition spaces.
Content and Visual Communication: Each main and secondary section of the display will open with a written introduction accompanied by a group of special artifacts to convey its spiritual meaning. Special items will be followed by extended commentaries illustrating their rich symbolic language.
Renovation of the museum’s interiors: Traditional Tibetan design elements will be integrated into the new design. The floors will be replaced and a new lighting system added. The museum’s current entrance will be replaced by a new one, creating a view into the Museum from the stairwell. Special preventive conservation standards will be integrated, where humidity, temperature and the materials of the new furniture will assure that the artifacts are well preserved.
Restoration of the existing traditional furniture: The existing traditional furniture will be restored by Tibetan craftsmen. Their façades will be cleaned, their interiors replaced and new lighting will be integrated. This phase of the work has already begun.
Implementation of new Exhibition Furniture: Exhibition furniture design will be developed in collaboration with traditional Tibetan craftsmen and modern, up-to-date design methods; special elements, safety and preventive conservation standards will be integrated.
Conservation of sensitive and damaged items: Dharamsala’s weather suffers from sharp fluctuations in temperature and is one of the most humid areas of India. On top of that, it is highly prone to earthquakes. The design will aim to integrate measures to meet these conditions so that items have the best possible conditions and are protected as much as possible.
FUTURE DESIGN PERSPECTIVE
A gradual development plan will try to meet both immediate and future expansion needs. First-stage renewal will include the current Museum spaces and an adjacent classroom that will enable enlarging the museum’s floor area by 50%. The extended plan suggests that the Museum spaces can occupy most of the second floor and will include a temporary exhibition gallery, offices and workshops (for scanning original manuscripts, a restoration lab and a safe). Extending the Museum spaces in the future, will enable a display of ethnographic items such as costumes, theatre masks, household items and more. The added value of gathering museum and museum-related professions in the second floor is that safety measures and preventive conservation standards can be implemented within a limited floor area. The estimated budget aims at covering the first stage plan.
Name: Geshe Lhakdor