Artists from Doha and Kathmandu cooperated under the curation of Dina Bangdel on a project to research and artistically interpret the burning issues of what migration does to peoples identity: “Built/Unbuilt: Home/City”. More than 150 guests joined the opening at Tangalwood in Naxal, being treated to great art and even greater artist talks later in the evening, including a performance by Nepali artist Sunil Sigdel. The exhibition was inaugurated by the ambassador of Qatar and eminent Qatari artis Yousuf Ahmad was honored as “KT2017 Distinguished Artist”.
Close to 500,000 migrant workers live and work in Qatar, more or less slaving away to keep the fast-paced modernization and building boom of the small emirate going. A lot of media coverage has focused on the hardships the migrant workers suffer, the many deaths due to poor work safety – but recently conditions seem to have been improving.
So three Nepali artists set out to research the situation themselves, being invited to Doha for a period of two weeks. Sheelasha Rajbhandari, Hitmaan Gurung, and Mekh Limbu got to meet many workers, were invited to the many many Nepali organisations, and interacted in art projects with the workers. At the same time three artists from Doha were invited to Kathmandu to deal with the Triennale’s main topic: my city/my studio, namely Abdulla Al-Kuwari , Carolina Aranibar-Fernandez, and Emelina Soares.
Curator Dina Bangdel gives background information on the exciting “Built/Unbuilt: Home/City” exhibition
Dina, how did this project come about in the first place?
My longstanding interest in the built heritage and the dynamics of the urban landscape and the agency of the community have been central to my research, and has in this project combined both the curatorial intent within a strong research-based intervention. Notion that the city can be seen as an instigator and catalyst for creative narratives is at the core of this interdisciplinary focus. The experience is mediated through the voices/lenses of the diaspora Nepalis living in Doha to explore these spaces of liminality within the city. How do these communities express narratives of home, belonging, and self within the city? How do artistic expression/entanglements serve to ‘create communities’ within the urban fabric? Artists will then create a body of work that will respond to these transcultural intersections, the lived histories and memories, and narratives of Doha’s past histories.
Why these six artists?
The practices of the six artists that I have selected for this collaborative project complement the exploration of two cities: Doha and Kathmandu, with the notion of city serving as the catalyst for dialogue. The city of Doha has historically been a rich palimpsest of cultures—particularly those of South Asia—and the focus of this research-¬‐based curatorial project is on the ways in which artists experiences and identities will touch upon multivalent narratives, storytelling, and orality.
Qatar/Doha plays a critical part in this narrative of nation-¬‐building for both Qatar and Nepal. Qatar has the highest number of Nepali migrant workers, approximately 500,000 who have made Doha their ‘home’. This project therefore seeks to find the narratives of belonging, memory and self within a palimpsest of narratives—centered around the city and its unbuilt or rebuilt spaces. By bringing together Nepali artists and Doha-¬‐based artists in dialogue with the local communities with the city as catalyst, the aims are to examine the layers of narratives that emerge within the lived space.
And the very interesting works showed just that. In a series of photographic works Hitmaan Gurung and Sheelasha Rajbandhari played with the issue of identity when donning the work uniforms of Nepali migrant workers whilst standing next to them, dressed up in their personal clothes.
They also conducted workshops with the workers having them draw their families, getting in touch with the loss and missing of their loved ones (the workers can go home on a visit only every three years and often completely miss the growing up of their children):
Qatari artist Emelina Soarez presented a fascinating work of a “Persian carpet” made in the way of a sand mandala with earths from Qatar, Nepal, and India. She created a beautifully impermanent work of art an invited the guests to walk all over her “carpet”, making the different earths mingle beautifully:
The exhibit also featured video installations by Mekh Limbu (whose own father has been working in Qatar for more than 20 years and whom he got to see again after a period of two years during this project) and Doha-based Bolivian Carolina Aranibar Fernandez, as well as two works by Abdulla al Kuwari – one a rather sharp image of a Kathmandu scenery and the other a total blur, referring to the dust and chaos he experienced during his time in the city.
After the artists talked briefly about their works in the lovely upstairs showroom of Tangalwood, the guests took back to the garden to witness a performance by Nepali artist Sunil Sigdel who proceeded to draw blood from his fingertips, dabbing it up with cotton balls and then offering to the public “his last drops of blood” on a shovel and clad as a desert labourer.
The evening proceeded with a fascinating symposium session with both groups of artists, dealing with identity and migration and how they are personally affected, moderated by Dina Bangel and Christine Brosius of Heidelberg University (for the Nepali group) and Veeranganakumari Solanki Jamwal from India (for the Doha-based group).