Silk Road Conversations with Roshan Mishra (Curator)

Silk Road Interviews are inspired by Silk Road Week, an annual event conceived by Chinese Museums Association, International Association for the Study of Silk Road Textiles (IASSRT), and China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. The theme for #SilkRoadWeek 2020 is “The Silk Roads: Mutual Learning for Future Collaboration.” We thank IN ZHEJIANG, our media partner in China (on Facebook).

Name : Roshan Mishra, Director/Curator | Country : NEPAL | Years Active : 7 years | Website: Taragaon Museum   & Global Nepali Museum 

Mandala of Hevajra, circa 1461, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, via Global Nepali Museum

Q – How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about your field?

The word “curator” may sound too complicated for people who are not from an art background, particularly for the people from my part of the world, so it requires lots of explanation. Though I am known as a director and a curator, I wear many hats within this role, which makes it always difficult to describe.

When I speak with people from different backgrounds I try to reflect their own level of understanding. I believe this allows them to understand the basics of my work when I synchronize my language with theirs. And, of course, school kids would need a different interpretation compared to adults, and adults from non-art background would require a different version to understand my responsibilities. 

Q – What inspired you to become a curator?

My inspiration has multiple layers, including my own work as an artist, and being the son of an artist. My motivation is driven by the artwork, artist, audience and the space.

What has inspired me to become a curator is the process of interpretation which is key in igniting dialogue between objects in an exhibition, and making the works come to life. I love discussing and understanding the friction between the artist’s intention and their final interpretation. As a curator, I look for the gaps, voids and vacuum areas – of these in-between spaces. Also, the idea of being a keeper and a custodian of objects of art and history equally inspired me to become a curator.

Taragaon Museum, Katmandu, Nepal
Roshan Mishra at the Taragaon Museum, Katmandu, Nepal, courtesy R. Mishra

Q – Why did you choose this particular field (of research)?

Art runs in my blood. My late father Manuj Babu Mishra (1936-2018) was an eminent artist of Nepal with whom I studied and practiced art. However, I didn’t just want to have the skills passed on from my father but wanted to take those skills and gain my own experiences because I knew that, one day, I would become a custodian of my father’s heritage. 

My relationship with contemporary art and the vision to develop my father’s collection into a museum, my connection with my culture and heritage, and the intention to contribute to Nepali art field have all contributed to my choice to become a curator.

In addition, Taragaon Museum where I currently work as a director has provided me a tremendous wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise. This institution has deeply connected me with the worlds of architecture, contemporary art, documentation and archives. 

Q – What is the most memorable object you’ve researched, or worked with?

I have come across a set of hand drawings and maps of a vernacular settlement, which is about 10 kilometres away from the central Kathmandu, that were produced in 1968 by a group of Danish architects. This is done with a graphite pen on a tracing paper and is produced with a 3D aerial view. These days, the drawing are all made in a CAD program. 

Bungamati settlement 1968, courtesy Nepal Architecture Archive / Saraf Foundation / Danish Architects Group
Sanwei Mountain Buddha, Silk Road Exhibition, National Museum of China, Beijing, 2019, courtesy Sohu.com

Q – Do you recall when was the first time you heard the phrase “Silk Road”? What was your first impression?

I recall hearing it from my father who travelled to many countries along the Silk Roads. So, my first impressions were formed by my imagination visualizing an adventurous road with hills, forest, mountains, rivers and desserts.

Q – What is your most memorable experience of travelling – along the Silk Road?

Beijing, in 2019, when I was fortunate to visit the National Museum of China and see the Silk Road Exhibition. It was a great encounter with 234 pieces from 13 different countries, along the Silk Routes.

Q – Which city or region along the Silk Road are you looking forward to visit, for the first time?

I am not a great traveler, but I will love to visit Xi’an in Shaanxi Province as it is one of the oldest cities on the ancient Silk Road.

Q – What language(s) spoken along the Silk Road have you studied, or would wish to study?

I have not studied any of the languages along the Silk Road. I would wish to study Mandarin.

Q – What is the hardest part of your work that people don’t realize?

Thinking about hard work or difficulty is our mindset. I don’t see anything as hard. When we have choices and become judgmental or quantify things obviously we feel the weight of it. I am driven by my passion, but not by its load, therefore I honestly can’t say what is the hardest part.

Q – What is your dream (or even fantasy) research project?

I have many projects on my bucket list, fantasy is unrealistic, and therefore I would like to mention my two dream projects that are more realistic.

As mentioned earlier, I am working on opening a museum dedicated to my father’s art (Mishra Museum). Though I am his son, I still need to spend a substantial amount of time researching his work and life. I dream of the museum’s opening, in the very near future.

In addition, I run a virtual museum called Global Nepali Museum which currently documents Nepali objects that are displayed in different museums around the world. The documentation is an ongoing process but along with that I want to research about many of the objects that are displayed in the virtual site.  

Along with these two, I would like to work in an international large scale contemporary art curatorial research projects, where I could curate or co-curate a show.

Q – If it were possible, what historic figure would you like to meet? Why?

This sounds like lucid dream! I would have love to meet Leonardo Da Vinci because he was not only an artist we admire, he was also an inventor, sculptor and architect. Wandering about his studio or a workshop, where I can sit with him and go through all sort of creations, … and I definitely would not miss a selfie with him.

Nepali Monalisa by the late Manuj Babu Mishra, 2006

Q – What movie best depicts a historic or aesthetic aspect of the Silk Road (spirit) – in your opinion?

I am not huge movie person. The only movie I can think of is Dragon Blade (2015).

Q – What music or soundtrack most embodies the sound of the Silk Road for you?

The music of legendary Japanese recording artist Kitaro’s Silk Road album. I also remember my father playing it while he was painting at his studio.

Q – What fundamental change(s) in your work do you anticipate in the post-pandemic world?

Every crisis opens up a door for opportunities. Rather than having a footfall counter at our museum door, in coming days we may heavily rely on the footfall datas that we extract from our social medias and website. Our working pattern could fundamentally change and we will probably have different measures to evaluate our work performance. The learning process would be different, our activities could limit to touch sensitive screens. The tangibility and the face to face encounters with objects could reduce significantly because of ongoing social distancing regulations. Our platforms could become more interactive and we may reach out to audiences we never have reached out before.

Having said this in a third world countries the stories could be very different. ICOM has already predicting that 13% of the world’s museum may never reopen. For those who survive after this pandemic, our USP will change, tourism might not be a sustainable option for many of us for some time. Instead of being global we will look inward and become local. I think the museums that closed during this pandemic will be a very different when we open them to the public again. We will eventually identify alternative solutions, become resilient and come out of it even stronger.

Q – What modern day cultural trend (sports, music, art, architecture) has its roots on the Silk Road (& in Nepal) – that majority do not know?

There are many. Yoga and meditation have their roots on the Silk Road, as well as in Nepal.

Speaking more specifically about Nepal, besides Mt. Everest and Buddha’s Birth place, there are so many other things about the country that many people don’t know about. For example, Nepal has over 120 ethnic groups and languages with centuries of heritage. Luckily, restoring their culture, heritage, art, architecture, culinary traditions, and festivals are becoming more common leading to vibrant contemporary cultural practices.

Kitaro – Theme from the Silk Road: The Rise And Fall of Civilizations, a Tokushu documentary series, April, 1980.