So much to see, so little timeThe Kathmandu Triennale (KT), a natural evolution of what started out as the Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF), which was held in 2009 and 2012, will end a week from today on the April 9.
The Kathmandu Triennale (KT), a natural evolution of what started out as the Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF), which was held in 2009 and 2012, will end a week from today on the April 9. A behemoth undertaking that started formally last Friday, the March 24, but began over a week in advance with evening talks and interactions across the valley, the Triennale encompasses shows across traditional gallery spaces, public happenings and art performances, book launches, a symposium that addresses topics from transgender to memory and identity, master classes, educational outreach programmes for children and family groups, and guided tours twice daily for those who might be confounded by the idea of how to tackle such a vast happening.
Consisting of a variety of works by artists from more than 25 different countries around the world, the main artworks: paintings, sculptures, installations, drawings, performances are centred around the theme of “The City”, Kathmandu, which is positioned both as a larger studio and a source of inspiration for the works on show. The concept was refined by Phillipe Van Cauteren, the Belgian curator of KT and internationally respected artistic director of SMAK—a museum for contemporary art in Ghent, over conversations with Chairperson and Founder of KIAF and KT, Sangeeta Thapa. Thapa is also director of the Siddhartha Arts Foundation, which runs the Triennale.
Spread across four venues, but with an additional fourteen ancillary spaces, the KT is open and accessible to everyone for free. Here is a breakdown of the main spaces and summaries of what you shouldn’t miss:
Nepal Art Council (NAC), Babar Mahal:
Three floors of artworks are installed at the NAC, with Bidhata KC’s “In Between”, a monumental rendering of the Machhindranath chariot in metal and wire, connecting the pieces on view as the work rises seemingly through the ceilings and floors (they are constructed as three discrete pieces), culminating dramatically in the high roofed airy uppermost floor of the building, propelling viewers through the space in order to see the metal tip of the chariot, a modern analogue to an traditional, ancient ritual that silhouettes the Kathmandu skyline every April.
Mahbubar Rahman, a Bangladeshi artist, recreates life lived and projected in an astoundingly intimate recreation of the room of Pinky, a transgendered woman. Through the recreated room’s window the viewer can see the video of Pinky’s life as himself, a man, and his life as Pinky, the woman he wants to be; giving us a glimpse into the lives in our vast cities that we would otherwise never see.
NAC also houses the video work of Francis Alÿs, a Mexican who is the Patron Artist of the KT. His seminal work “Paradox of Praxis 1”, a video installation, is on view on the second floor. In the video the artist pushes a block of ice through Mexico City as it slowly melts over hours, an experience that Alÿs likens to situations when something leads to nothing, but can still contain valuable experience. The added takeaway from this piece is the unorthodox ways in which you can engage with your city should you choose.
For those who have only heard of Song Dong’s cookie and biscuit confection “Mandala City for Eating” was a masterpiece that was quickly consumed over the course of a few hours on opening day; a slightly unfortunate outcome that has been recorded, and is on view for all to see. While the point was to eat the city perhaps asking everyone to eat just one wafer would have been allowed more people to appreciate (and eat!) it over a period of days. In our days of excess consumption this gobbling up of a painstakingly created artwork is a little bit troubling.
Siddhartha Art Gallery, Babar Mahal Revisited
One of British naturalist Brian Hodgeson’s six multi-volumed books on the birds of Nepal, drawn by Nepali artists led by Rajman Singh Chitrakar, has traveled to Nepal170 years after it was commissioned, carefully hand carried by someone from the Natural History Museum of Britain to make up part of German artist Heide Hinrich’s work on the ground floor of the gallery. Highly airconditioned for preservation, the book, which is encased in a glass case, is accompanied by an old-fashioned slide projector to show the various, lovely, delicate drawings of the birds. The show is augmented by drawing outlines of birds on the walls, and a slight but gorgeous installation of bird feathers that hang from the ceiling, anchored by books on ornithology—an unexpected counterpoint to the other works on display at the Triennale that acknowledges the dazzling natural heritage which co-exists alongside our urban metropolis.
Taragaon Museum, Boudha
By virtue of the astounding architecture of Carl Pruscha, the Taragaon Museum, built in 1972, is one of the most engaging venues of KT, with the nooks of the museum housing works in corner after corner, delighting the wandering visitor.
Here, the wonderful signature circle windows of one of the spaces are highlighted by a varnish-like substance to give a dreamy, blurry light to the intimate galleries in this idiosyncratic museum, a device used by the Hong Kong artist Lee Kit to enhance the uniqueness of the space itself.
Karan Shrestha’s piece, in a close by gallery, titled “Everything at centre is a little off” consists of an arresting, golden, three dimensional resin map that encloses the boundary of Nepal within the boundary of our valley, signifying our Kathmandu-centric ways. His multi-component video installation is a riff on how things work in this country, with an unforgettable extract of a Nepali film where a line of people hold guns to the heads of those ahead of them. Karan’s triptych of drawings is particularly striking with his skills as a draughtsman on show; these works symbolise his own experience within the walls of the valley; bringing personal myth into a contemporary account.
It is at the Taragaon Museum that the work of an Indian woman artist who wishes to remain anonymous (though word has got out) originates, with the title “I Replace You”—a gesture of inclusivity and solidarity that acknowledges the amassed creativity of all artists present, in KT, and around the world. This charming, engaging piece is defined, at Taragaon, by a room full of names of artists written all over the walls of the gallery. Emanating out of the room to the outside spaces of the museum are lines of silver foil objects of varying shapes and sizes that add to and accentuate parts (of buildings, of gardens, of corners) that might otherwise be missed. These little silver objects have been placed at all of the four main venues, unifying the whole.
Patan Museum, Mangal Bazar
Along with the Taragaon, the Patan Museum is a dream space for displaying art of all kinds. Visitors are greeted in the first courtyard by Ricardo Brey’s dreamy clay “Dust Bathing”sparrows scattered across the first courtyard as you walk through the entrance of the Patan Museum. The courtyard beyond, adjacent to the café is ornamented with our anonymous artist’s silver foil baubles, gently adorning the way to the Kathmandu Contemporary Art Centre’s (KCAC) galleries and open lawn area behind the café which is displaying a variety of installations. The suspended, revolving mirrors of Indonesian Leonardiansyah Allenda, titled “Alter Numbers” gives the viewer a euphoric sense of multiple selves in moving spaces that is hard to describe but unforgettable as an experience.
Tayeba Begum Lipi’s “Unveiling Womanhood” is similarly both jarring and beautiful; she makes her point with a tent covered by multi-coloured blouses. Inside, connecting everything, is a video with layers of white cloth giving additional depth to a scene of a woman slowly unveiling herself from behind a hijab made of razor blades; that hijab hangs to the left of the projection, its sharp, glittering edges a pointed reminder of how identity can be such a painful subject.
In the galleries above the courtyard are some outstanding works by the young Nepali artists Youdhister Maharjan, and Saurganga Darshandari. Youdhi’s works titled “Nepal” are detailed cutouts of the Rising Nepal newspaper pages, which are then embellished by finely detailed collages, bringing attention to and then obscuring headlines in these troubling times of “alternative facts”. Saurganga’s work as a printmaker is equally detailed and fine, with her poetic series titled “My mother’s purse” opening up the wall on the second floor of the gallery, showcasing her luminous imagination.
Not all of the wonderfully diverse artists can be mentioned here, for which I beg their pardon, but that in itself is a testament to the scale of this unique Triennale, an effort that has been supported entirely by private individuals and institutions; an astonishing accomplishment when one compares it to other such events, like the Venice and Kochi Biennales that have massive state backing.
Triennale Director Nischal Oli reiterates the challenges in coordinating such an effort, one that took the energy of over 200 volunteers, 20 managers, 5+ curators, and 100+ partners, supporters, and sponsors. Phillipe Van Cauteren equated the time and energy spent running the Triennale to climbing Mount Everest; it did not strike me as hyperbole.
The efforts of Oli, Sangeeta Thapa, and Van Cauteren, have been loyally supported by talents like Symposium Curator Veerangana kumari Solanki, an independent Indian curator and art writer, and the remarkable, energetic educational outreach efforts of Sharareh Bajracharya, the founder of Srijanalaya and the tireless director of KIAF 2012.
So, go to whatever you can, and see as much as you can. The world has been brought to our city, where a meeting of Western conceptualism and Nepali traditionalism has resulted in the creation of a unique series of concepts, collaborations, happenings, and other notional originalisms that are a specific blend of the here and now. KT will happen again in three years, but don’t miss the stuff on show right now on your doorsteps.
For more information go to: www.kt.artmandu.org; Other supporting KT shows at Image Ark, Newa Chen, Park Gallery, and Tangalwood; see website for full list of venues.