… connecting to the Kathmandu arts scene lies at the heart of this blog. In an exemplary fashion this blogpost shows the process of the work at the NepalNOW project. Located in Holland I had been following a lot of FB posts with images gearing up to the exhibition, had received my invitation for the opening, had become a bit sad at not being able to be there but also excited to learn more about this great artist in due time.
So I waited around for coverage of the event and was first delighted by a whole album of shots from the opening evening via ARTUDIO , some of which I permit myself to repost here.
I then searched the internet for information on the artist and came across the speech curator/gallerist Sangeeta Thapa held at Siddhartha Gallery for a previous opening of a show of Singh in 2009, which you will find towards the end of this post. This morning, finally, I was happy to find a just published article on the event itself on ekanitpur.com, written by young Sophia Pande, actually taking us with her through the exhibition (see below).
But first the artist himself in a nutshell:
Birendra Pratap Singh completed his BFA from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1979 and has exhibited in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, South Korea, Japan and the UK. His works are also in collections at the Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan, and the Tribhuvan International Airport.
His body of works illustrates various perspectives of human beings and the environment they live in, ranging from landscapes to cityscapes. He is ever attempting to represent the reality of human existence. while traditional sculptures and socio-cultural images are also captured in his works with a message of disappearing heritage in new Nepal.
Sophia Pande writes in Ekantipur.com :
Birendra Pratap Singh: Curating A Lifetime of Art
As a retrospective, the exhibition succeeds exceedingly well, mainly due to elements such as the curators’ comprehensive access to Singh’s work
Last month, Nepal’s brightest and most committed artists, curators, and art administrators participated in a five-day-long workshop conducted by Veeranganakumari Solanki, a talented young Indian curator, and run by the Siddhartha Arts Foundation.
During the workshop, the participants and observers discussed critical art theories, art historical premises, different kinds of viewership, making use of spaces, lighting, the subtle art of luring people to galleries, alternative art spaces, and everything in between. In addition to visiting sites and looking at private collections, the workshop attendees also sifted through and analysed the vast body of works of the very brilliant Nepali artist Birendra Pratap Singh—a man who has been ready to paint since he was born (this assertion is from a quote by the artist himself, beautifully taking up an entire wall in the exhibition).
The result of the workshop, which was followed up by an immense amount of research on the part of the curators, can be seen today in a stunning month-long retrospective of Singh’s work at the Nepal Art Council in Babarmahal. The retrospective spans the artist’s long, varied career from 1971 till 2015.
For those of you who have been to the Nepal Art Council before, you will recognise, with pleasure, that it has been overhauled and revamped to gleam for this particular exhibition. Also delightful, and a great indicator for those who are looking for the venue, are the outdoor banners adorning the edifice of the art council building. The fluttering signs are simply, but powerfully, just the artist’s distinctive signature, written in the Devanagari script, the lines of which convey, unmistakably, the hand of someone used to wielding a pen to do his will.
Inside, the exhibition takes up two entire floors; again an indicator of the artist’s prolific and continuous ability to evolve and produce works that are incredibly wide-ranging in terms of medium, but always sophisticated, both in their execution and in the thought that leads to the finished product.
This particular show (with Sangeeta Thapa as Exhibition Director),curated by Sujan Chitrakar, and assistant curated by Palistha Kakshapati (both Chitrakar and Kakshapati are artists themselves; both attended the aforementioned curatorial workshop), will immediately strike the discerning viewer as being different from the usual conventional form seen thus far in Nepal.
The art council has a great deal of space and the curators have used this space in a subtle, sophisticated manner, grouping together montages of Singh’s drawings, using their aesthetics to hang the different sizes and shapes of frames together to complement each particular work. There is not a lot of explication of the pieces, just the small, sometimes humourous, little plaques relating the era and method (pen and ink, etching, etc), to place the works in the artist’s timeline.
As a retrospective, the exhibition succeeds exceedingly well, mainly due to elements such as the curators’ comprehensive access to Singh’s work and the excellent and charming hand-painted timeline (a tribute to the sign painters the artist has been associated with)that tracks the artist’s trajectory, chronicling the happenings in his life related to the arts and to other life events that have surely affected him.
Then there is the very original use of space, leaving large areas blank for the mind to wander and assess what it has just seen, as well as the understated perfectly tuned warm, soft lighting that enhances the works. There is also a darkened room where those who find it harder to engage with art can view a short film about Singh’s life and work. Finally, to really draw people in, the retrospective also houses a pop-up café (run by Nanglo) as a community space for people to gather, hopefully discuss the exhibition, and maybe even repeat their visit.
All of the elements I have mentioned above are choices available to curators, choices that lead to a successful exhibition, or not. In this particular case, I cannot help but be immensely grateful to those responsible for this show for their care, hard work, and thoughtful, sometimes ingenious choices that have contributed towards making such a memorable art experience—one that truly highlights the work of this great artist, who will turn 60 this year.
… and then there is this additional valuable information from Sangeeta Thapa:
INTRODUCTION to BIRENDRA PRATAP SINGH’s exhibition at the Siddhartha Art Gallery (in May 2009)
I first came across Birendra Pratap Singh and his pen and ink drawings at the Srijana Art Gallery in Jamal in the summer of 1987.
The Gallery was situated close to the Rastriya Naach Ghar and over looked the scenic Rani Pokhari and the hustle bustle of the frenzied traffic intersection of Kantipath, Bhotahity and Jamal. This was before Srijana Art Gallery relocated to a more spacious address further up the road. I learnt that Birendra Pratap Singh was one of the founder members of the Srijana Art Gallery and that he was working at Gorkhapatra Sansthan, the national newspaper, in the capacity of art director/illustrator. It was not difficult to forge a rapport with this soft-spoken bespectacled artist whose intense gaze and quirky sense of humor seemed to fit right in with his reputation as the “only one irregular drawer of Nepal”. Many years later, in 2005, he participated in the exhibition ‘Celebrating Line” that was dedicated to drawings at the Siddhartha Art Gallery.
Sangeeta Thapa standing with the artist at 2015 Retrospective
For Birendra, traditional architecture and the environment are the two subjects close to his heart. His early drawings of the Benares Ghats as a student in the late 1970’s, display his command of line and his preoccupation with architecture. It is interesting to compare how this formal academic style of drawing was to change with time. The artist describes his drawings as “pure psychic automatism” – a deep personal reaction to Nepal’s unique cultural landscapes. Whether it is Bungmati, Khokana or Bhaktapur, there is a deep concern about the country’s incomparable collective heritage and the “fragile environment.” This is why his exhibition in 1994 was deliberately titled “Save Bungamati”.
Over the last thirty years, Birendra has deliberately cast aside a formal academic style and has chosen to distort perspective, maintaining that in irregular drawing “there is a value of each and every line and form”. As an admirer of the Surrealists and the Dadaists he imbues his drawings with a sense of fantasy. Like a voyeur who has stumbled upon a time past, his pen and ink drawings of Khokana, Bungamati Baglung and Bhaktapur reveal a world where men, women and children with spindly crooked legs, sprawl out on crooked woven mats that are juxtaposed next to crooked haystacks. Even the house and lanes are crooked and the temples and stupas seemed to stoop over precariously, reminding me of a poem, that we were taught as children… “there was a crooked man, who lived in a crooked house..”
Concern with Nepal’s endangered heritage
However there are more serious pressing issues in the artist’s drawings. In 1989, a major earthquake struck Nepal, causing much damage. An earlier earthquake in 1933, leveled many cultural monuments, altering the cultural landscape of Kathmandu forever. The fear that Nepal may lose all its cultural monuments in the next great earthquake looms large in the artist’s mind. Birendra also feels that uncontrolled urbanization and the recent political changes in the country have not brought in policies that protect and conserve the county’s endangered heritage. The reality is that our iconic monuments are now in a dilapidated state and have been reduced to becoming icons of apathy and fatalism. This neglect of heritage and the environment was to give Birendra his raison d’etre as an artist. Over the years he has traveled all over Nepal, and created his own archive of photographs that document Nepal’s heritage. The artist uses these photographs as reference for his heritage series. Birendra’s latest drawings of Bhaktapur draw attention to the city’s great culture. There is a deliberate heightened sense of decay in these drawings to draw attention to the pressing need for preservation – even the subjects in the drawings seem to take aversion to the ruinous state of their city. The statue of Jayasthithi Malla comes alive, and seems ready to avenge those who put this fabled city of art at peril. Even the stone animals walk across the Durbar Square in defiance of the fate bestowed upon them in the 21st century. In yet another drawing, masks come alive and decry their neglect – a villager gazes at these transformed masks in astonishment.
Birendra Pratap’s eleventh solo exhibition is a provocative celebration of Nepal’s tangible and intangible heritage. It can also be viewed as a satire on Nepal political, economic and social situation. As Nepalis we need to ask ourselves a pertinent question; what will the loss of culture and heritage mean to its citizens, to the country and to the world? It is easy to get seduced by the playful charm of the artist’s drawings but above all it is important to be cognizant that Birendra’s work advocates for a committed response from his viewers.
Sangeeta Thapa, Art Curator/Director, Siddhartha Art Gallery
My friends at TINGS www.tingsblog.com recently posted about a trip I really want to make when I am in Nepal next time. Such good info, absolutely not to be missed!!! I have featured their lovely hotel earlier on this blog and it has really been my home away from home ever since I found the place in an alleyway off Lazimpat road. We have had such good times there together, even had a big party for the ChautaraGallery artist friends there one year – such fun and good times and fantastic food!
Yesterday we got back after the most stunning trip we’ve ever done in Nepal!
We have been driving on beautiful roads on all continents on this planet. According to Annette this circuit has some of the most beautiful roads we’ve ever seen in our life.
This is the circuit we took:
1. Kathmandu (A) via Muglin (B) to Pokhara (C)
The first time you take this road you love it. The second time its OK. After that it’s a nightmare. After Muglin – towards Pokhara – you get the first beautiful views of The Annapurna Range. Here the traffic gets easier…We left Kathmandu 6:30 am (before all the tourist buses) and reached Pokhara 5 hours later.
2. The Siddharta Highway:Pokhara (C) via Tansen/Palpa (D) and Butwal (E)
This is the old road between between Pokhara and Lumbini. The road is stunning! through beautiful valleys picturesque and charming colorful villages,
We stopped over one night in Tansen. The city itself was a big disappointment. We should have stayed outside the city in a place with a view. We left Pokhara 12:15 pm and reached Tansen 4:15 pm.
3. Butwal (E) via Narayanghar & Sauraha (G) to Hetauda (H)
We left Tansen around 6:30 am and reached Butwal in Terrai an hour later. At 10 am we had breakfast with our friend in Narayanghar where we stayed). In the evening we went to Sauraha for sun downers & dinner (30 minutes away).
Before we left the following morning we went shopping: Tuborg Strong – the champagne of beers – is only available in Terrai. And at Tings when we get at chance to bring them to Kathmandu.
4. The Tribhuwan Highway: Hetauda (H) via Daman (I) back to Kathmandu (A)
We left Narayanghar around 10:30 am and reached Daman at 4 pm.The reason why we took the circuit counter clock wise was because Annette wanted to drive towards the Himalaya Range… a very wise decision.
This part of our 4 days travel is among the most beautiful trips we’ve ever done…If you don’t believe us – click on the pix below
The following morning we left Daman at 8:15 am after a sunrise so beautiful that we kept asking ourselves why we haven’t visited Daman before… and why all tourists are send to Nargakot and Dhulikhel when Daman is only two hours from Katmandu…. this does not make any sense at all
Do you have the time and prefer to travel on your own by local buses this circuit is perfect to combine with popular treks from Pokhara and/or more exotic trips to Lumbini and or Janakpur and Illam in the far east.
Almost all of our guests who visit Nepal for the first time have Pokhara and Chitwan on their itinerary.
And a lot of them also want to go to either Nargakot or Dhulikhel to get a view of the Himalaya range. We would never do this after this trip.
We would definitely skip Nargakot/Dhulikhel – the Himalaya view from Daman exceeds the both places by far! And in stead of the usual Kathmandu (via Mugling) – Pokhara (via Mugling/Bharatpur) – Chitwan (via Mugling/Bharatpur) – Kathmandu route we would definitely take the above circuit. The only reason why we haven’t done it before is because we have spend all our time starting up Tings.
The total time of transportation is around 5 hours longer… BUT that is a very cheap price to pay to escape from the horrible Mugling/Bharatpur Highway.
The bonus is a fabulous scenery, NO TRAFFIC!, fantastic roads (the quality of the roads is much better compared to the popular tourist trail) and a possibility to drop by Lumbini (F) which is only 1 hours drive from Butwal and/or trips to Janakpur and/or Illam for long term travelers.
There are all kinds of accommodation along the way – and you can find them all online. We stayed in a modest home stay in Tansen (500 NRP) and an expensive resort (80 US) in Daman instead of the 1,000 NRP Guest House around the corner…
We had our own car. But the local buses run frequently between all destinations on the map. An alternative is renting a car – more expensive but maybe more convenient. If you are planning to fly – DROP IT and spend the money on a car.
The ultimate way to take this circuit is a Motorbike….!
Today I stumbled upon a British woman blogger, currently living in Pokhara, doing an interesting post about Nepal’s star blogger Lex Limbu. This guy has a huge following both for his blog and in the social media and quite a history as the son of a Gorkha soldier spending his childhood and youth in many places other than Nepal. But read more about that in Louise’s interview with him below.
And here’s the scoop about “LuLuLoves Blog'” creator Louise Whatsham: after finding herself in a bit of a rut in the summer of 2014 , being unhappy in career, location and general mindset she decided that it was time for a big change. So in October of 2014 she was boarding a plane, alone, to Nepal, a country she hadn’t previously visited. She started off fuelled by anxiety and curiosity but is now filled with a new found happiness and appreciation for life, pursuing her dreams as a travel writer. For more about her, please see her story: Why I Quit My Job, Travelled The World & Ended Up Living In Nepal or subscribe to the LuLuLoves blog for worldly travel and lifestyle updates.
Lex Limbu is quite a phenomenon and I have been following his blog for a while now, catching interesting tidbits about the “in” people and what’s cooking in and around Kathmandu. See what Louise writes about him:
Lex Limbu – The Man of The Moment
There’s the Nepali media and then there is Lex Limbu. Described as ‘the number one source ‘Lex has become a singular media outlet in his own right representing the youth of Nepal. He is constantly updating his blog, lexlimbu.com, with important information about Nepali happenings from Nepal and the Nepali diaspora – it’s easy to see why this innovative 22-year-old is going places.
Boasting 44,000+ monthly unique users to his blogging site and almost 70,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook, and with followers swiftly increasing on Twitter and Instagram, Lex’s influence in Nepal is fast growing, yet he is adamant that his blog should not be seen as a news website. I met with Lex at Pokhara’s Byanjan Grill & Lounge expecting to interview him in a formal journalistic manner. Instead we got lost in a two and a half hour conversation about our mutual passion for all things Nepal.
In the interview below Lex discusses the power of social media, making a difference in Nepal and his new business venture Tracing Nepal.
For those who don’t know you Lex, tell us a bit about yourself?
I was born in Dharan in the Eastern region of Nepal but as my father was a Gurkha soldier my family moved to Brunei in 1994, I was two-years-old. We stayed in Brunei for six years before making the move to the UK where I lived until 2004. Then it was back to Nepal between the years 2004 – 2006 where we lived in the Pokhara Gurkha Army Camp. After that we eventually settled in the UK.
I have spent the past year living in Kathmandu completing work experience jobs, internships and travelling around Nepal. I also set up my own company, Tracing Nepal, in August 2014, reconnecting Nepali’s that live abroad back to their roots. With regards to my blog, it has been going since 2008, I created it just before I started my degree at The Queen Mary University to study Human Geography.
You have almost 70,000 likes on Facebook, how does it feel to be so influential on social media?
I first started using social media when I was 17-years-old when I hadn’t experienced much of the world, I would just post anything that amused me at the time. Once you start to develop as a person you realise that you have to be very careful with what you share with the world especially as a public figure. I have to remember that what I now post and share on social media questions peoples thoughts. If used in the correct manner social media can be a powerful tool and if I can make a small difference to just one person a day then that makes me happy.
What is your opinion of internet trolling?
I don’t allow myself to be a victim of trolling. In the early days when I was ‘vlogging’ on YouTube I would get the odd comment that would leave me feeling vulnerable but you soon learn that people are attacking the person and not the subject. Once you react you instantly fuel the fire so I made the executive decision, when I was 18, to of course read all of my comments but to not let them affect me. You have to remember to not take it personally, people troll public figures online for all sorts of reasons and rarely is it out of genuine spite. I also have control over my social media channels so if I do receive a truly awful comment it can always be deleted or reported. I used to be quite opinionated online which encouraged trolls but I now tend to stick to the facts.
Do you find social media and blogging addictive?
Yes. I certainly have days where I question sharing so much about myself on the internet as it automatically leaves me open for public assumption and misunderstanding but I have a very loyal following who I interact with regularly on a personal level. I feel like I have now gotten to a stage where I can’t now stop especially as my following is increasing daily and I suppose to a certain extent people rely on my blog posts for information. My main demographic is 18-35 year-old Nepali’s, the majority of which are male, that tend to look on social media for their news fix instead of reading a newspaper. I use my social media platforms to influence a positive change so the addiction isn’t necessarily a bad one.
You have certainly become a journalist in your own right, have you had any sort of media training?
No, I am self taught. I studied Human Geography at University but that’s about as far as my media training goes.
What do you think the biggest problem with the Nepali media is?
One of the biggest problems for many media outlets in Nepal is that they have yet to realise the influence that social media has on an international scale. Many businesses in the West employ social media managers to update consumers regularly, this beneficial online strategy has yet to be acknowledged to its full extent in Nepal.
If you could change one thing about Nepal what would it be?
That would be Nepali people feeling limited in their environment, not realising their full potential and not seeing a life beyond their parents houses. Due to education generally being viewed as better in the West, Nepali’s are always encouraged to move abroad to seek a ‘better life’ yet what they don’t always realise is that things are on the up in Nepal and there is huge potential unfolding all around them. The most important thing in Nepal is networking, it’s all about who you know.
Tracing Nepal is an experience that aims to bring Nepali youth living outside of Nepal together to experience Nepal like never before. The whole idea is to foster the relationship between Nepal and Nepali people that now live abroad, reintroducing them to their heritage. The overall mission of Tracing Nepal was to create a memorable experience for the volunteers and to encourage the exchange of skills between Nepalis living at home and abroad. I feel confident that we achieved just that after completing the first sixteen-day excursion last August.
Tracing Nepal 2015 will run from Monday April 6th till Friday April 17th, the experience will consist of volunteers spending time at Maya Universe Academy followed by an epic journey across Nepal to Dobate Village in Ilam to see the endangered red panda. The experience will conclude with an adventurous high at the popular hub for thrill-seekers, The Last Resort.
What is next for Lex Limbu?
I am travelling back to the UK in May to be with my family. I then plan to study my Masters degree in Sustainable/ Global Development, an extension of Human Geography. I do want to return to Nepal in maybe five or six years time and my overall aim is to split my time between Nepal and the UK once I have established my own business. What will I do? I’m not 100% sure yet but definitely something in the tourism sector, something that will benefit Nepal. With regards to my blogging, I will continue to put information out there to my followers, to increase Nepal’s international exposure and I hope to help local communities whilst I’m at it.
“I don’t like the idea of creating an image so far from myself that I get trapped in it. The thought of living to maintain an idea for someone else is just suffocating. I can be funny, boring, kind, shy, honest, rude, mature and immature but at the end of they day – I am just lexlimbu.”
On the ArtSome Blog a whole number of artist residences in the Indian subcontinent were featured yesterday, and to my great pleasure two residencies in Nepal were name: BIKALPA and KCAC which I show below as an excerpt of the post.
Proud to know the people behind both residencies and I say to any international artist: DO GET IN TOUCH and treat yourself to a creative time in Kathmandu!!!
Bikalpa Art Center, Kathmandu
The center offers two residency sessions in a year. Each lasts about three months and the artist will have the opportunity to showcase his work at the end of it. They constantly engage their artists in workshops, activities, presentations and the like. Their residency is open to artists of all mediums. The studio space is provided free of cost. They do not offer accommodation, but do have a sister organization which can be contacted to make accommodations. Artists can fix up their own accommodations too. They will soon start operating an exchange program too for artists.
They rent out studio space to international artists. The money proceeds from this residency programme goes directly towards supporting Nepali artists with studio space, scholarships and other opportunities. Through The Nepali Scholarship Programme they award recent Nepali art graduates with studio residencies for four to six months. The Nepali scholarship artists get to work side by side with the international artists. The studio also offers mentoring, individual support and various other opportunities.
On March 15, 2015 there was a good post by Bibbi Abruzzini on the GoodElephant website, created by Alok Appadurai as a response to the barrage of media outlets who simply spew stories of drama, violence, greed, political corruption, anti-this-anti-that. Alok decided the world needed a media outlet that would celebrate inspiring stories from around the world of acts of kindness, love, empathy, community, collaboration, and uplift. Maybe you want to follow his great site, too.
Slums are largely known as crowded and unsafe areas where streets smell of sewage. In Nepal, artworks of epic scale in one of Kathmandu’s largest shantytown are increasingly attracting people to this seemingly inaccessible world.
Seb Toussaint and Spag from the Outsiders Krew, an art collective founded by British and French street artists, started splashing the slum with colors during their visit to Kathmandu in May last year. The artist duo, in association with the Nepal Children’s Art Museum, and a group of about 20 young painters, collaborated on the ‘Share the Word’ project to beautify the area.
Narrow crooked alleys and crumbling shacks have been turned into giant canvasses giving power back to the slum community in this fascinating labyrinth.
The initiative aims to understand what slum communities want to express and upgrade the habitable environment through art.
“They managed to turn the most horrible place in town into a livable and colorful neighborhood,” said Mr Arjun Khdak, a construction worker who has been living in the slum for the past 32 years.
What has now become an unexpected street art zone was built in the 80s on the banks of the highly polluted Bagmati river. Today roughly 800 people live in the slum’s 156 small houses.
Using art as a medium, the aim is to bridge the gap between this apparently blighted area and the rest of the city. The slum is situated right in the hearth of the city meaning that tourists, school kids and commuters can have a look at the monumental murals and interact with the inhabitants.
Many locals allowed artists to spruce up the walls of their tumbledown settlements with uplifting words such as ‘Change’, ‘Welcome’ and ‘Thank You’. Locals themselves, especially the younger ones, took brush and colors and started wall painting under the eyes of curious passers-by.
In Kathmandu, squatter homes are periodically being demolished. The latest eviction occurred in 2012 when the municipality and the Armed Police Force dislodged 257 households without providing any alternatives, leaving around 944 people homeless. Despite warnings, most slum dwellers have rebuilt their homes on the same spot. Researches show that by tearing down houses, you also tear down social networks, which help people to cope with a difficult situation, and offer a sense of identity and belonging. This crowd-funded project on urban settlements around the world shows the power of slum upgrading initiatives, in contrast with eviction and bulldozing.
“I am not ashamed of living in a slum anymore,” said Sajana Silwal, while washing her clothes under the bright afternoon sun.
-Bibbi Abruzzini is a journalist for Good Elephantpassionate traveler working as a foreign correspondent in South Asia.
Good Elephant is dedicated to inspiring stories and mobilizing good. Are you a Good Elephant? Get involved. Apply to be a blogger from your country! Check out http://www.goodelephant.co/ !
In the spring of 2014 an article in KATHMANDU POST nicely described three of the more recent additions to the city’s art scene, all of which I had the chance to see on my last visit. I was greatly impressed by the fabulous modern minimalist architecture of the Kathmandu City Museum, hidden away in a side alley off Durbar Margh (and across the street from YAK AND YETI HOTEL which is accessed via the same small street) and found it a haven of calm and aesthetic pleasure.
The Nepal Childrens Art Museum is a bit of a misnomer but a wonderful space: not so much a museum but rather a lovely airy and sunlit workshop space. It is a new construction on top of an existing building right across from the Air India offices on Hattisar Sadakh, overlooking the neighbourhood with views all around.
Bikalpa Art Center and Café have moved since the article was published to an alleyway off Pulchowk (across from the Sahaj gas station) in Laltipur.
The article featured below was written by Nhooja Thuladar, titled “Coming together in Kathmandu”, all subheads and images, if not credited, mine.
Kathmandu’s art scene more vibrant than ever
As Kathmandu pursues the stature of a metropolitan city that could well compete with other big cities of the world, the Valley’s art scene has been attaining new heights too. The streets have never been more colourful and the cinema halls around are seeing more people coming in with every new release. Musical acts are more regular than ever. It’s almost like the creativity of the city is yearning to gush out through any outlet it can find.
The Kathmandu City Museum
image by Kashish Shrestha
images for collage of the lovely museum café taken from KCM website
Among the many such ventures cropping up at present is the City Museum Kathmandu (CMK), which recently hosted a programme titled ‘Khumbila’, a concert and live-art fundraiser for the families of those who lost their lives on Everest this spring. The May 8 programme saw performances by Shree Tara, Aveeg, _RHL, Night and Kutumba (who were also celebrating their 10th anniversary as a band). Also present was Jamie Catto from the double Grammy-nominated band 1 Giant Leap, who collaborated with Kutumba to perform a song titled Little Prince. As the musicians were performing their numbers in the garden, a group of visual artists—namely, Kailash Shrestha, Aditya Aryal, Shraddha Shrestha, Kiran Maharjan, Sudeep Balla and Kane Alexander—were making art on the third floor gallery of the complex. What was exciting about the setup was how artists from different backgrounds and different styles had come together for a cause. And this is just one of the many collaborative programmes happening around town in recent days. Perhaps artists and facilitators alike have begun to acknowledge that getting together is integral for the development of the scene as a whole.
Kashish Das Shrestha has been promoting artists in audio and print media since the late 90s, but this year, with the opening of the CMK, he intends on doing much more. In 2004, Shrestha had organised an exhibition of photographs taken by his late grandfather, Dwarika Das Shrestha. It was then that he realised the need for a fixed space that showcases works of art that bear a degree of historic importance. “All of it would be useless locked up in my hard-drives, so we thought of establishing a permanent space that would house these artefacts,” says Shrestha. The museum accommodates old and new photographs of Kathmandu, revealing the transitions the Valley has gone through over the years. Apart from that, the CMK building also houses an art gallery, the Fig Cafe, and an art shop. “I felt the works needed public ownership of some sort, hence the museum. The gallery and the art shop is for the curation of contemporary art,” says Shrestha, adding that plans are being made to form gallery policies that would benefit artists each time the art work is sold. “We are also thinking of merchandising works by local artists, which will in turn provide them with equated royalties.”
Apart from fair curatorial policies, Shrestha also states that the joint will be organising events that will, through sharing and interaction, benefit local artists in Nepal. “Irene Taylor Brodsky, who won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for her film Hear and Now in 2007, was here with us earlier this year, and we did a workshop with her and asked local filmmakers to participate,” says Shrestha. Such programmes, where local artists are exposed to the tricks-of-the-trade from experienced artists like Brodsky, is certainly admirable. “Through these kinds of events, we are not helping local creatives directly, but we are, in a way, setting up a platform.” http://thecitymuseum.org
Nepal Children’s Art Musum
Sneha Shrestha, a graffiti artist, is attempting to set up a similar kind of platform, but for a younger demographic. She recently started the Nepal Children’s Art Museum, due to open in about a month, although various workshops and projects have been started already. The organisation aims at endorsing art literacy through a variety of workshops designed for children. In a country where art is included in the school curriculum, but only implemented by a handful of schools, most within the boundaries of the Valley, the establishment of a facility where children are free to express, contemplate and enjoy, is a step forward. While education in arts is being deemed important more and more around the world, its importance in Nepal is still relatively understated.
The museum, located in Hattisar, will facilitate kids with books, art materials and other resources. Story Time—one of the sessions planned—will let children explore books and reflect upon them through words and images. Another such programme is titled Alphabet Workshop, where participants will learn to look at alphabets not as mere text but as an art form. The workshop intends to instil love and pride for Nepali alphabets and is also an attempt at showing children that reading and writing can be fun. The facility has also been planning collaborations between local artists, teachers, visiting artists from outside Nepal and, of course, children. The joint effort will result in an exhibition of artworks for the children to see. www.nepalcam.org
Bikalpa Art Center
Bikalpa is trying to raise funds for an additional building
While the two museums have opted for a more subtle approach to the development of the art scene, the Bikalpa Art Center in Pulchowk has taken a more direct route. Founded in 2012, the organisation was started as a platform for practicing contemporary art. Saroj Mahato, an MFA graduate in Video Art from the Korean National University of Art, was thoroughly inspired by the art scene in Korea and was keen on contributing to the Nepali scene in some capacity. “There is a huge gap between the public and art here,” says Mahato. It was to overcome this very obstacle that he decided to establish a number of sub-organisations under the Bikalpa umbrella.
Random Line Production, BAC Art Cafe, Bikalpa Art Gallery and Bikalpa Initiative—which share a common campus in Pulchowk—all contribute to the growth of the artscape in their own ways. “People who come to the cafe see the gallery, get curious and check the space out. The name itself manages to create interest,” says Mahato. Random Line Production, on the other hand, produces documentaries and also organises weekly screenings of social-themed documentaries, while the Bikalpa Initiative strategises new projects.
Since last year, the organisation has been hosting three month-long art residencies for foreign and local artists. During these residencies, artists from different backgrounds share a common studio and interact while creating. This offers them the opportunity to learn from one another, and the curve is especially high for local artists as the country has a limited number of art galleries and museums where such interactions are facilitated. “In my experience, the residencies create long-term connections between artists,” says Mahato.
Establishments like the Kathmandu Contemporary Art Centre and the Sattya Media Arts Collective, among others, had already laid the groundwork for facilitating collaborations in art. And new concepts such as the CMK, the Children’s Museum and Bikalpa, which build on that interactive, are now readying to take things forward and further than ever before. www.bikalpaartcenter.org
Kolor Kathmandu was a year-long project of Sattya Media Arts Collective based in Kathmandu, lasting from August 2012 to August 2013. As a resource network and a connective place for artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers and other creative types of people Sattya has contributed to the creative world of Nepal since 2010.
Kolor Kathmandu transformed Kathmandu into an open gallery where creative expressions of modern Nepal go hand in hand with temples of ancient times. The participating artists and volunteers wanted to make art accessible to all, where art is done for the people, by the people, envisioning a capital that thrives in artistic hues truly representing the young nation that Nepal is emerging to become.
“… as we revive the streets and sights of the city, we allow artists and community members to direct what their neighborhoods should like. We want to inspire change through the streets, and make it our canvas. In doing so, we engage community to be reflective of the new Nepal that is going through a cultural explosion, based on inclusion, where stories of all groups and communities are equal and should be heard.
We believe that visual arts can be powerful agents of change to create ownership of the space and add value to the neighborhood, at the same time, foster an environment where citizens can reflect and witness the cultural revival of new Nepal based on inclusion. As we do so, we want to make people aware of elements, stories, and impressions of 75 different districts that each mural will represent, to give meaning to this public gallery.”
Kolor Kathmandu had a total of 60 artists taking part, 38 Nepalese and 22 international artists taking part. They painted 75 murals to represent the 75 Nepalese districts. Each artist, who had to apply and be accepted in order to participate, was given a district to research and had to come up with murals that represented that area.
Ceramic artists in Nepal are far and few between. One outstanding artist is Gopal Das Shrestha Kalapremi, whose amazing works I was fortunate to see earlier in SIDDHARTHA ART GALLERY in the Baber Mahal Revisited Complex in Kathmandu. The KATHMANDU POST featured an article on the present show in the gallery, title “Masculinism” which I would like to repost below:
Bulls on parade
Nepal’s pioneering ceramic artist Gopal Kalapremi’s latest collection deals with the sufferings of males in society
Where women are dominated, men are dominated and where men are dominated, women are dominated. This concept of artist Gopal Das Shrestha Kalapremi has driven him to create his latest body of work. Kalapremi’s newest collection consists of four separate series bound within one theme—masculinity. Titled Masculism, the exhibition is a continuity of the artist’s Key series, and the exhibit is primarily based on the still life object that is a key. But for the artist a key is something of a very different nature.
Although Kalapremi is a multi-disciplinary artist—whose experimentations range from performances to land art—Masculism is all about ceramics. The artist, over the years, has garnered a reputation as the only Nepali artist who has been practicing and exploring the media as a form of art.
This series of his, set to be exhibited tomorrow at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, is an example of how much of the material he has explored.
The artist briefing about his bulls
According to the gallery set-up plan, upon entering the gallery ground floor, a herd of bulls will confront you. Titled Godana Godieka Sandeharu, these are proud bulls—while some graze the floor, others are swinging their heads as if in some sort of a trance. And in their crack-textured raku (a Japanese pottery technique) bodies are brandings and tattoos.
“It is a religious act to brand a bull with a trident and send it off. It was alright to do so in the past as there was enough pasture in Kathmandu for the bulls to graze on and they could find cows to mate with. But things are different now. These bulls who are let go for good end up in Pashupati, unattended to, eating junk and rolling over in their own faeces,” says Kalapremi.
For the artist, these bulls of his are a metaphor for men in society. Kalapremi believes that, although hardly talked about, men in our society have been suffering physically, psychologically and spiritually.
“The pursuit of equality has not been of balance, but has been like a fight almost,” he says. According to the artist, “Males are more victimised than females.”
Kalapremi’s Key represents the male. And along with the bulls is Nalekhieka Katha Haruka Rekhachitra. This series, a collection of 12×12 inch raku-ware slabs, are wax-resist illustrations. The check board dominates the compositions—something that is the artist’s symbol for politics. Padlocks recur in the images—evidently, the artist’s symbol for the feminine.
One of the 12×12 raku slabs
Appropriations of works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Munch and Schiele have been done in some of the blocks. The content is surreal and expressionist—I especially like the one where a man is sitting on Van Gogh’s chair, likey to be the Dutch painter himself, his face on his palms.
“In our society, a man has never been given the liberty to cry. He cries in solitude, in torture or in insanity,” says Kalapremi.
All the works in this series are ‘black and white’, rightly suiting the artist’s concept. Sancho Bhitrakaa Kathaaharu, the third series, will be lined in a semi-circle on the top floor of the gallery.
Gallery owner Sangeeta Thapa’s statement for the exhibitions states that the series is a “phallic sculptural series that dwells on identity.” It further adds: “The ‘Keys’ seem to be engaged in a conversation of their own importance and uselessness.”
The first floor exhibit Nil Ratnaharu, which is the fourth of the series, is similar in shape to the ones on the top floor. They are copper carbonate glaze and according to Thapa’s statement is a “homage to the Blue Diamond Society” and that they “mirror the trauma of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender group with its ribbed, slashed phallic sculptures which sometimes merge the feminine.”
Kalapremi’s sculptures and paintings are a delight to look at. They are a product of years of experimentation, of spontaneity (in the drawings) and most importantly an artist’s urge to express himself. But how will Kalapremi’s concept fare when the exhibition opens to the public tomorrow?
In her statement, Thapa says that the artist’s work conveys the pain and tragedy of the male. “However,” she says, “the concept of Masculism may not sit well in a nation, where women are clamouring for their rights… Masculism has been alive and kicking in Nepal for an eternity on multiple levels.”
Although the artist might seem a bit extreme to make such claims, when I asked him in person, he responded by saying: “Looking for equality is a good thing, but what is happening in its name is bad. Men and women aren’t supposed to fight each other. They are to form a bond of love and exist together in balance. A natural balance.”
Published by Nhooja Tuladhar in KATHMANDU POST 20-2-2015
In late January I missed an interesting performance at Siddhartha Gallery. In a haunting performance Sujan Chitrakar made an emotional political statement by letting himself be shaved and later bodypainted by colleague artist Pranab Man Singh. The performance was lauded in an article Kurchi Dasgupta wrote for MyRepublica and which I repost here due to the importance of the event.
Marks of our Time
January 27 saw the unfolding of an intriguing art event at the Siddhartha Art Gallery (SAG) in Baber Mahal Revisited, Kathmandu. Artist Sujan Chitrakar, who heads the Painting and Design Department at Kathmandu University, presented himself to an open group of participants/viewers as he underwent a performance orchestrated by himself and Pranab Man Singh. The event started on schedule at 2 PM and right after a few preliminary remarks (including those by SAG curator Sangeeta Thapa), Sujan sat himself down and allowed a local barber to shave off all his hair as well as his signature moustache and beard. Enmeshed in his own inner silence, the artist sat stoically as lock after lock fell to the floor.
The artist as catalyst
The artist seemed to be shedding not only bits and pieces of his personal physical markers but also pieces of his own socio-cultural identity. And gradually assumed the role of a catalyst—igniting public opinion through the performative act of subjecting himself to the razor. It was a moment of personal loss and remembrance—the artist was simultaneously mourning the loss of his grandfather Chiniya Chitrakar 40 years ago on this very date. A moment of remembrance and tribute to a pioneer who had consciously veered the course of the Chitrakar community’s role in society from the ritualistic to a more commercial, and therefore, ‘modern’ art. The act, however, took on an element of public lament. No words were spoken but soon it was obvious that the artist was also taking onto his flesh the burden of a state that has yet again failed to deliver a Constitution to its people. A ritual act of remembrance soon took on an explosive element of resistance. Afterwards, as Sujan took off his clothing and sat himself before us on an elevated white platform in just a pair of white linen trousers and socks, he himself became a canvas. Against a white background, his unclothed torso and newly shaven head became the space in which the second half of the ceremony unfolded.
Taking on the nation’s mantle
Neatly folded, tiny slips of paper awaited us in a glass fishbowl at one corner. We, random participants and viewers, were invited to pick one each and read out the name inscribed upon it as we proceeded to write the same on Sujan’s body. In white paint. As each willing, random participant read out the text in each slip, it was obvious that we were beginning to enumerate the current Constituent Assembly’s lineup. Sujan had receded from his person and identity and allowed his body to take on the nation’s mantle—and its political debacle. Students, artists, aficionados, spectators crowded in as the implications sunk in. They hurried, scurried, jostled to pick up a slip each and inscribe upon him a name, calling out the perpetrator’s name each time, and loudly. What started as an intense act of personal mourning transformed itself into an hour-long calling out to those who have failed us again, and again. The anger and fury and helplessness that we all feel today in Nepal was vented out in white inscriptions on the artist’s body. By the end of the two hours, the artist sat silent, immersed in his act of public, ritualistic atonement. The fishbowl is significant; we have all seen those goldfish go round and round and nowhere—the metaphor for our CA is unavoidable.
Deletion of identity
As Sujan’s last act – when he rinsed his face off with clear water and walked away – a silent act of penance that ignited many fervent, committed souls that afternoon. The artist has deleted his identity, taking on the nation’s—its helplessness and fury—and given us the possibility of new beginnings yet to come. It is not often that we see an artwork evolve into a live outpouring of public emotions and turning into a simultaneous political comment. This one did. Good work, Sujan!
Kurchi Dasgupta, the author, is an Indian artist and writer based in Kathmandu.