Birendra Pratap Singh: Curating A Lifetime of ArtAs a retrospective, the exhibition succeeds exceedingly well, mainly due to elements such as the curators’ comprehensive access to Singh’s work
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.