Unboxing the mystery of the Tibetan Thangka

Written by Karen Kindt, Collection Manager First Nations Cultures

Queensland Museum’s collection is built upon over a hundred years of sourcing and documenting items from Australia and around the world, many of which come into our possession through donations. Recently, the museum received a postal delivery containing a thangka (a Tibetan Buddhist painting on silk applique), however the package was missing any information of the sender/owner’s name and contact details.

Finding a rightful owner

Despite best efforts to track down the sender, due to collection policy guidelines and legal reasons, the museum was unable to keep the thangka and register it into our Cultures & Histories, World Cultures Collections. With no return address, the challenge now was establishing an appropriate new home for the item.

A repatriation pathway was established when I identified the thangka’s country of origin as Tibet, and reached out to my contacts at Chenrezig Institute, at Eudlo.

Chenrezig Institute is a Tibetan Buddhist study, retreat and meditation centre situated in the Blackall Range in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The centre is home to a Tibetan teacher, resident nuns and monks and a community of lay students, volunteers and guests.

The process of repatriation

Soon after, Leitha Assan, Senior Curator First Nations Cultures, and I travelled to Chenrezig Institute, to meet with the community and attend Venerable Geshe Phuntsok Tsultrim Friday teaching, in the gompa (temple).

Following the teaching, I spoke to the community about Queensland Museum and the Tibetan holdings in the World Cultures Collections.  A small gifting ceremony was held and the thangka depicting Vajrapani (deity symbolising Buddha’s power), was handed to Venerable Geshe PhuntsokTsultrim.

Paving new connections

The visit also paved the way to gather contextual information about the Tibetan religious objects held in the museum’s collection and discuss our Marson Musical Instrument collection which holds 33 Tibetan objects. Plans are now underway for the community to visit the museum to view the Cultures & Histories Tibetan collections.

Object donations are vital and ensure that the museum collection represents the diversity of stories that make Queensland distinctive. If you have an item that you think may be of interest, learn more about donating to the state collection.