Simply fabulous! Having watched and promoted the contemporary art of Nepal for over a decade now, I am stunned to see the enormous strides this art and its artists have made under the wonderful curation of Philippe Van Cauteren and the excellent management of Siddhartha Arts Foundation. All three stories of the Nepal Arts Council present works of a high calibre – exciting, innovative, thought-provoking … a total joy to behold.
Nepal Arts Council is a building with a history. Dating back to the 1990’s it was conceived and brought into being by the great Lain Singh Bangdel, the first modern master of Nepali painting. Upon his return from France he advocated that Nepal needed a “home” for the arts and managed to get the land and later build the 4-storied airy structure with funds totally from within Nepal. Up to this day there are complaints from artists and patrons that he didn’t create a “white box gallery”, but Bangdel did so very much on purpose as he knew all about Nepal’s problems with instable electricity, thus lighting, didn’t expect to change this in the years to come (and it still hasn’t, even though black-outs have beome much more infrequent just recently) and went on to equip the exhibition quarters with milk glass windows.
And even from the outside the building presents itself in fine state, painted the characteristic blue of the TRIENNALE:
In my report on the TRIENNALE 2017 I will focus on the participating Nepali artists (25 out of the total 70) as it makes sense for this blog. TRIENNALE 2017 as a 2-week mega event is themed “The city: My studio / The city: My life” and is an invitation to discover artists from more than 25 countries in total. It comprises a multitude of artistic expressions: sculpture, painting, installation, video, performance, drawings and more. Artists from Nepal are exhibited side by side with artists from other cultural backgrounds and experiences. Next to a dozen collateral venues there are four major ones: Taragaon Museum in Bouddha, Patan Museum, Siddhartha Art Gallery, and Nepal Art Council at Baber Mahal, on which this first blogpost will focus.
Manish Lal Shrestha (Nepal, 1977)
Project 1336m, 2017
Entering the building your attention is immediately grabbed by the intriguing and playful interactive installation of Manish Lal Shrestha: long colorful wooly ropes, arranged in a playful heap and meant to be touched and felt and romped around in.
The 1336m (elevation of Kathmandu) knitted ropes continue to be produced during the exhibition by a team of friendly and communicative volunteers. Visitors can watch the knitting (machine), sewing, and stuffing. Manish Lal emphasizes the notions of labor, communality, and process. On the last day of the exhibition the knitted rope will be carried through the city as a procession.
Bidhata KC (Nepal, 1978)
Artist Bidhata KC realized a new, gigantic structure placed over the three floors of the Nepal Art Council. The artists makes a contemporary ‘copy’ of the Machhindranath chariot. In reconstructing the chariot with modern industrial materials, the artist questions the link between (religious) traditions and the situation of the city today. A tribute to the beauty of this ancient tradition, at the same time the artist raises valid questions.
The large space is then also dominated by a huge sculptural work of artist Bidhata K.C., one of three spread over the whole building.
The artist departs from her painting by creating these gigantic contemporary copies of the Machindranath Chariot of religious festivals. In reconstructing this chariot with modern industrial materials, the artist questions the link between (religious) traditions and the situation of the city today. This impressive body of work is a tribute to the beauty of this ancient tradition, while at the same time being questioned by Bidhata.
Also on the ground floor amongst the international artists we find a video installation by Bangladeshi artist Mahbubur Rahman which calls for a special mention as it it constitutes a moving and totally respectful work on the topic of transgender. We enter the installation via a life-like bedroom/livingroom with real belongings and furniture only to step into the dark video chamber where a double projection provides insight into the intricate life of a Nepal transgender woman. We see the husband and father of two at home and in the street while at the same time watching him/her get ready to go to a party. There is no moment of awkwardness in watching this heart-wrenching and powerful double film.
Another international artist needs to be mentioned as we ascend the stairs to the first floor of the building. Rumanian artist Ciprian Muresan has installed a cardboard model of a few neighbourhoods in Bucarest as an obstacle for the visitor. Layed out on the floor of the landing, the visitor is obliged to destroy the city by walking on it. The work connects the 1977 earthquake of Bucharest with the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
Kailash K. Shrestha
Also on the wall of the first floor landing a wonderful diptych by Kailash Shrestha. In this seemingly “unfinished” work, we see caps and gowns of possibly powerful men. By omitting faces and hands the artist makes a gentle statement on status and power, leaving to the eye only the actual attributes which define a person’s status.
Second floor Nepal Council
Entering the second floor exhibition hall the another ceiling-high sculpture of Bidhata K.C. (see collage beginning of this post) catches the eye in the diffusely lit and very well-appointed wide room.
Ang Tsherin Sherpa (Nepal/USA, 1968)
California-based Ang Tsherin Sherpa is known for his paintings where he transforms traditional images by merging them with contemporary elements. For Kathmandu Triennale the artist makes an installation in the form of a mandala made of debris from the 2015 earthquakes. Elements, as remnants of the destructive force of nature, are arranged into the perfect form of a mandala symbolizing the cosmos.
Known for his paintings where he transforms traditional images by merging them with contemporary elements, the artist has here created an installation in the form of a mandala of debris from the 2015 earthquake. The elements, as remnants of the destructive force of nature, are arranged into the perfect form of a mandala symbolizing the cosmos.
Pratima Thakali (Nepal, 1987)
The Glimpse of Contact, 2017
“This city is not my home; however, it has given me a space to live in (temporarily). As a migrant, moving from one place to another, I cannot own the space of this city but the memories. The fragments of spaces are the stories which I fold and unfold through ordinary visuals. Dealing with collage of physical and mental space gives a sense of spatial memories in forms of temporary attachment, displacement, disorientation and decay of the space.”
Birendra Pratap Singh (Nepal, 1956)
City Drawings, 2010 (from Private Collection of Prithvi and Pratima Pande)
These drawings depict in a frank and often humorous style the different iconic places of Kathmandu, Patan and Bakhtapur. The nervous lines gives the depicted structures a sense of instability. Upon closer inspection visitors can find the artist merging elements of modern society with ancient Newari temples and settlements. Through these drawings the artist chronicles the changing city.
Sanjeev Maharjan (Nepal, 1983)
Maharjan’s works are often inspired from his social surrounding, which he represents through drawing, painting, photography, installation and murals. Through his work, he wants people to wake up and notice what they would normally pass by.
Sujan Chitrakar (Nepal, 1974)
Stories shape places and places foster stories. A place as old as Ason, in downtown Kathmandu, has an unending flow of events and memories. They play out around the gallis and chowks of Ason from generation to generation. The shops and homes, crumbling buildings and new structures, commerce and religion create a vibrant space. Happiness, hope and joy are layered over despair, displacement and sadness in the many told and untold stories that have settled down around Ason over time. Through a series of intimate conversations with fathers and sons, the artist anchors his work in Ason and through the space he is able to empathize with their personal experiences and the complexities of relationships. Within a patriarchal system, father and son relationships can be fraught, lacking in both compassion and conversation, but the presence of love cannot be denied. The artist captures the fragments of memories, stories, spaces, memorabilia and people that he has discovered over the time he has spent in Ason.
Sheelasha Rajbhandari (Nepal, 1988)
With this installation the artist pays tribute to her grandmother. Through objects, personal photographs and sound recordings Sheelasha Rajbhandari digs into the past, and sometimes forgotten history of her city through the personal stories and collected memories of her grandmother. The work is characterized by its intimacy and personal layers.
Third floor Nepal Council
Moving on to the light-filled third floor, we first see societal commentary in cartoon-like form.
Mehk Limbu (Nepal, 1985)
This work takes the form of a comic strip. Normally heroic stories are being told in comic strips but these painted comics are fragments telling the story of Nepali migrant workers and their unfortunate fate. A relation is made with the consequences of the blockade and the earthquake. A Pop Art like element such as a comic strip is used to tell the often tragic story of thousands and thousands of people. No phrases are written; empty speech bubbles are there for the spectator to imagine the dialogues accompanying the events.
Bikash Shrestha (Nepal, 1985)
The work of Bikash Shrestha consists of three cubic forms on which elements of different parts of Kathmandu are printed. The artists transfers elements of public space on a small sized intimate format. The wood refers to the traditional architecture of the old Kathmandu.
Sujan Dangol (Nepal, 1981)
If we don’t know where we come from, we don’t know where we are going, 2017
Sujan Dangol has been meeting and talking with refugees weeks prior to the opening of the Triennale. This video is the result of a collaboration between the artist and a group of urban refugees living in Kathmandu Valley. The video is straightforward and simply a recording of the game ‘musical chairs.’ This ‘performance’ by actual refugees functions as a metaphor for the harsh fate that they have been and are forced to go through. This banal, playful game makes us think about the lives of others who maybe quietly living around us.
And an exception will be made here, too, by mentioning a very impressive international artist (just like on the ground floor with Mahbubur Rahman’s video installation and on the second floor with Ciprian Muresan’s destroyed model of Bucarest) from China.
Song Dong (China, 1966)
Mandala City for Eating, 2017
Food is a recurring element in the work of Song Dong. On different occasions Song Dong has been building models of fictional cities made out of cookies, biscuits and candies. The cityscape of a city turned into a sweet utopia. For the occasion of Kathmandu Triennale the artist made a city in the form of a mandala with biscuits, wafers and candy. At the end of its completion the mandala is swept away by visitors of the exhibition who eat the edible city. During the exhibition an empty plinth with leftovers becomes a witness to the eating event. On two screens, the whole performance of ‘Mandala City for Eating’ is documented.
Here on the third floor is looms also the largest of Bidhata K.C.’s structures, third in her series which is spread over all three floors:
… and on the way down the stairs the visitor’s eyes fall upon one of the few paintings in the exhibition:
Laxman Karmacharya (Nepal, 1986)
Private Collection: Himalayan Bank Ltd.
This painting can be situated in the tradition of the Pop Art. The artist combines banal vernacular with religious imagery. A god being depicted as a superhero is an image which can be read from different perspectives. The artist connects an American icon, Superman with the iconic imagery of Hindu deity.
… and so much for the this first post on KATHMANDU TRIENNALE 2017, with many more to follow!