Personal yet universalAmrit Karki, an emerging visual artist, talks about exploring rather unconventional mediums for his art in Nepal’s already niche art market.
If you walk towards Kirtipur from Tribhuvan University campus, your first view of the historical town is most like going to be of a hill of densely packed houses. If you look hard enough at those houses, you might even notice a faded red rectangular mural painted on the stacked buildings.
Amrit Karki made this gigantic mural as part of the Kathmandu Triennale 2017. This idea to treat the Kirtipur as a canvas turned heads back in 2017. And in October 2022, the visual artist returned to Kirtipur for his yet another exhibition, ‘Breathing Through the Stillness’.
But unlike his 2017 mural, ‘Breathing Through the Stillness’ is a performance art. As part of the performance, Karki, in front of a live audience, stood still as masons constructed a wall and integrated him into it. The performance lasted for four hours and 30 minutes and ended with the walls falling behind Karki.
“Many who had come to see the performance felt uneasy, stifled, and suffocated. Unable to watch the whole performance, many left midway,” remembers Karki, who stood still for three hours and 30 minutes.
Karki, who has used his body as an artistic medium since 2014, says that he didn’t find the performance physically challenging. ‘Breathing Through the Stillness’ was Karki’s fifth performance art. In the last eight years, he has explored many mediums, performance arts being just one of them. As a conceptual artist, Karki has also used visual mediums like paintings, photographs, installation arts, and mixed media to portray his concepts.
There’s a popular saying that goes ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. But whichever medium Karki touches, he seems to make it his own.
Exploring various mediums over the years also means that Karki has yet to specialise in one medium, but he says this doesn’t bother him.
“The only thing I want to master is to portray my thoughts in the right way. Depending on my concepts, I choose the mediums that I feel will best help me express my ideas. That is why I cannot limit myself to one medium only,” says 32-year-old Karki, who was born and raised in Pokhara.
A quick look at Karki’s archive of artworks, one cannot help but get the feeling that his works are personal yet universal in what they address.
Once Karki finishes an artwork and puts it out for exhibition, he likes to let the audience interpret it in whatever way they feel.
“A singer sings a song, people resonate with the song with their own personal reasons and memories. I also try to do the same with my artworks,” says Karki. “I like to ask the audience what they felt seeing my artworks, and then I go ahead and explain my idea and motifs.”
The unconventional mediums Karki uses have helped attract people’s attention, but pulling them off has been anything but easy. Many of the artworks he has done required a lot of funds to execute.
The idea for ‘Breathing Through the Stillness’ first came to Karki in 2015. But it took Karki seven years to execute the concept, and one of the main reasons behind the delay was finances.
“I knew this project was going to require a big budget. Although it was performance art, a lot of work went into it before and while executing the exhibition. I had to consult with engineers while designing the performance. I needed seven construction workers on the exhibition day, a doctor on standby, a videographer for documentation and, of course, an art gallery. And I had to pay for each of them. So, it took a while to put together the funds to make this happen finally,” says Karki.
Another challenge that Karki says he has to deal with is finding buyers. In the international art market, if somebody wants to buy performance arts or other mixed media artwork, they buy the documentation and get the letter of authenticity, says Karki. “One of my mixed media artworks, ‘Oil Barrel and Balloon’, was sold in Pakistan while I was pursuing a Master’s Degree there in Pakistan. It’s more of buying the idea. But this isn’t a common practise here in Nepal,” says Karki.
Karki understands that painting is the safest medium for artists to get into if they are to sustain themselves financially in the country. And every once in a while, Karki also makes paintings.
“The artistic concepts I come up with and the mediums I choose to execute them often mean dealing with many challenges. It’s definitely not easy,” says Karki. “But I am in no mood to stop doing what I do.”