Reconstructing Pasts and Curating Futures in Bhaktapur, Nepal
Reconstruction of built heritage has emerged as a central focus of post-disaster recovery in the city of Bhaktapur, Nepal, following the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake. And though form, material and technology are key concerns within heritage reconstruction, evidence from Bhaktapur suggests that these aspects are constantly negotiated and contested in very distinct ways. In this paper, I examine the ways in which these concerns configure ongoing reconstruction in the city. The distinction between whether a practice qualifies as maintenance, repair, restoration, reconstruction or construction, is inextricably linked to the articulation of these concerns. For instance, within the authorised heritage discourse, material and historic authenticity continue to feature prominently with respect to reconstruction, despite a growing recognition of (re)building traditions, crafts and skills that predate westernised approaches in heritage conservation. In contrast, within quotidian practices of (re)building operating in Nepal, materials and technologies are approached as ecologies, with diurnal, seasonal and geological life-spans, which may be cyclic or finite. I argue that forms, materials and technologies are thus constantly adapting and evolving the practice of heritage reconstruction in response to changing environments as well as shifting aspirations and constraints of the community and participants involved. I analyse how the influences of international discourse through institutions like UNESCO and ICOMOS engage with national institutions such as the Department of Archaeology in Nepal and are then negotiated with the concerns of the Bhaktapur Municipality and local community groups to produce a specific set of aesthetics and forms, corresponding to a specific historical narrative during reconstruction. These threads of analysis shift the focus from heritage as an object of reconstruction to how notions of heritage interact with religious belief, community identity and aspirations as well as developmental and economic considerations during reconstruction.