The Solace of ArtArt Gallery depicts a wide range of emotional responses to the April earthquakes
In less than a month’s time, it will have been one year since the first earthquake struck and our lives were changed. Such was the magnitude of the quake that money poured into Nepal from all over; the whole world wanted to help. While most people gave directly to relief efforts, as they should, a group of artists from Bangladesh, stricken by what had happened to their neighbouring country, organised a fundraiser at Athena Gallery in Dhaka, raising money from almost 90 artists who donated their works for the cause: to help their fellow artists in Nepal.
There are 31 artists from a wide range of disciplines who are beneficiaries of that fundraiser, most were assisted by a small bursary, and five were selected to be awarded with additional support and six month long residencies at Bindu, Space for Artists, which was founded by Saurganga Darshandari, and Prithvi Shrestha, both artists themselves, and at Kathmandu Contemporary Art Centre (KCAC) of which Sangeeta Thapa is director. The Solace of Art, the current exhibition at Siddhartha Art Gallery curated by Thapa, is a result of these six months.
The exhibiting artists have dealt with the earthquake, each in their own way, some choosing to express their experiences in the earthquake overtly, others moving towards elevating the mundane to celebrate the normalcy that we took for granted, but became so important to us after the earthquake.
Anil Shahi’s installations consist of a cabinet of drawers, made to his specifications by a carpenter, in the shape of a cross, with six drawers bookending each arm of the cross. The entire cabinet is covered in panels of mirrors, some artfully broken, and others not, to give a shimmering, surreal sense of warped space to the viewer who walks around it. Each drawer contains something that we are likely to spot in the street, like corn seeds to feed pigeons, part of a Coca Cola advertisement, a sign about littering, and one drawer is sealed shut, representing those places the pedestrian cannot access.
Titled Diaries of the Unsung this striking, thoughtful installation is a mapping of our changing streets, the drawers representing the minutia of the everyday, just as the mirrors signify the ever-changing quality of our city’s roads.
With Sandhya Silwal’s work, which is in perfect contrast to Shahi’s – both are exhibited on the ground floor of the gallery — we see an artist returning to the purity of just one medium with exquisite cutwork on plain Nepali paper that invites intense scrutiny, evokes a sense of wonder, and with her iterations of mandala forms, a sense of meditative awe as well. Silwal wanted to depict the wheel of life, or Jeevan Chakra in Nepali, examining birth and death through their cycles. Jeevan Chakra I is a massive 91 by 91 inch piece, hung between two columns, with an human foetus at the centre of an intricate six point star that is encircled by a lattice of abstractions taken from temple designs. It is a potent symbol of our culture’s belief and faith in the renewal of life.
Silwal’s smaller abstractions are as riveting, and her choices to portray the life cycles of other beings, the spider’s web and the beehive are both subjects, are perfect for her elegantly executed, labour intensive medium. These are works by a disciplined artist who has chosen a form and extracted all that it can give her.
Jeewan Suwal’s work, covering the second floor of the gallery, are medium sized acrylic paintings ranging in subject matter, from a meditative cornfield to anguished depictions of broken houses and destroyed cityscapes. Suwal is from Bhaktapur; he lost both his home and his father in the quake. He says, candidly, that with each aftershock, his attention would refocus, resulting in the shifting subject matter of the eleven canvases on show, all of which are linked by the fact that painting each work provided him with catharsis, or some measure of solace from the losses he has endured.
Suwal is a skilled painter whose scope is apparent in his works, which culminate in a luminous canvas titled Sacred Space, a gorgeous rendition of the steps leading up to the Nyatapol temple, superimposed with iridescent beams of light, signifying the transcendent energy that the artist believes saved the historic five story temple from collapse during the earthquake.
Muna Bhadel’s canvases, like Suwal’s, are larger art works, the majority of which depict women who are her grandmother’s age, and in two instances portray her maternal and paternal grandmothers themselves, now in their eighties, whose life stories help inform the symbolic manifestations in each work.
Saubhagyawati Bhava (an blessing give to married women) is a vibrant, colourful celebration of an older woman’s life, as told to Bhadel: her love story with her husband, her enduring habits of getting dressed up and accessorising, even in her old age. Standing at 48 by 60 inches, this is an eyeful of a picture, yielding richness with repeat viewing. The Pattern of Sentiments which hangs next to this is in marked contrast, showing Bhadel’s range and conceptual skill. The woman in this painting has a face made for portraiture, depicted by an accomplished painter. The lines of hardship in her face are thrown into stark relief by the many bright, textured, patterned fabrics surrounding her, signifying the variety and richness of her life.
With Jenney Ghale’s work we find an artist preoccupied with contemporary society’s absorption in self-documentation, the limitations and alienation that selfies in particular can perpetuate, even as we seek to document ourselves in social media. Using print as her medium, and with her playful sense of humour and vivid imagination, Ghale’s unconventional works show portrait after portrait of women with duck faces (the term for the pouting lips ubiquitous in selfies) posing for their cellphone cameras, alone, and in groups. These images are leavened by other print-works of hybrid chimeras in female forms as part-peacock or winged bird, surrounded by floating bubbles that symbolise the ephemera that is the selfie.
This show is a pleasure, a surprise, and an indicator that art can help to heal, as people experiment with forms and concepts while they come into their own. It will be intriguing to see what comes next from these five engaging, refreshing, young artists who have grappled with a life-changing event, and made some fine art out of it.