Home is where the heart isIn the latest exhibition by Siddhartha Galley, artists Jagdish Moktan and Priyanka Singh Maharajan not only create personal artworks, but also experiment in medium and approach.
When one enters Siddhartha Gallery, they will instantly notice the changes to the gallery. The walls aren’t plain white anymore. On the ground floor, there are hues of grey painted on the corners, while all the walls of the first floor are painted in blue.
The gallery looks fresh, new and there’s a sense of bewilderment and excitement in the air. And in this gleaming newness, what is paradoxical is the artworks that are present, which are based on themes of the past and the memories of the yesteryears.
The ground floor of the gallery is dedicated to exhibiting the works of Jagdish Moktan. Titled as ‘The Way Home is Away from Home’, Moktan displays his versatility as he uses various mediums to depict his artistic expressions.
For instance, in the series Traces, he uses the medium of soil to depict the ongoing changes that are taking place in his birthplace, Ramechhap.
The high demand for connectivity has forced the government to build roads there. But are roads doing any good? Or are they only causing locals to lose their culture, their flora and fauna, and their homes?
Moktan’s works dwell on these themes, which he is able to visually translate. For instance, in ‘Traces I’’ and ‘‘Trace II’, by using images from Google maps as a reference, he paints the geographical terrain of his village, where he uses soil to denote the roads.
While the paintings individually are difficult to interpret, when they are viewed together, their meaning becomes clear. The artist isn’t just recreating the physical landscape of his village. Rather, through his work he is trying to disseminate an underlying message attached to it: the soil isn’t carved neatly, there are no roads; instead, the soil is flowing, like a river, signifying the landslides and the ecological damage haphazard development work brings to the land.
For someone for whom “home” has always been a central theme of his artistic pursuit, it is evident from his works that these developmental changes bother Moktan deeply. Haphazard development is snatching away the beauty of his home, the originality of his home, but most importantly, the identity of his home. But there’s nothing he can do because it’s not in his hands. He’s just an observer, a witness to these changes. The only thing he can do is highlight this restrained state, and that is what he does in his self-portrait, ‘Marks On Hill II’.
But what stands out the most among his creations is the 108 frames of charcoal on paper which are displayed on the walls of the gallery. Titled as ‘Fragmented Clouds’, the series, which was created during the lockdown, is deeply personal.
When lockdown forced people to stay indoors, Moktan too had to live in his room, far away from nature. Out in nature, he would often enjoy time looking at the open skies, but under lockdown, even if he wanted to look at the sky, the only view he got was of its reflection on his windows.
Recreating the same experience, through the series, he depicts the visuals that were stored in his mind of the open skies, which are in fragments.
While Moktan’s work on the ground floor is based on his idea of home and the values attached to it, on the first floor, we are presented with creations of Priyanka Singh Maharjan, who through her exhibition, ‘In the Realm of Recollections,’ take us on a journey of reliving the old good memories presented through an innovative medium.
On every corner of the room, there are old black and white pictures of her and her family members hanging in the embroidered hoops. But these aren’t just plain pictures. The artist has scanned the photos and transferred them into a fabric and embroidered the edges.
However, as per the artists, the embroidery also carries another purpose—it’s her way of including a form of art and skill she learnt from her grandmother.
The photos she exhibits give us a peek into her private life. We see pictures of her when she was a child, her dog (who’s no more), photos of her parents, her grandparents, uncles and aunts. Every picture has its own story and the embroidery in them adds not only aesthetic value but also reflects her views and emotions.
For instance, the embroidery and the stitches in the photograph of her phupu (aunt) not only become a mere exhibition of the person, rather through the artwork, she also makes a commentary on the social rules that restricts widows to wear red colour clothes.
In the artwork we can see the black and white photo of her phupu who’s standing. The black and white photo here doesn’t only become the quality of the photograph, as it also symbolises the lack colours in her phupu’s life, both literally and figuratively, because of the social norms.
However, in the photograph, on its side, there are red dot-like embroideries spread over. Here through the red embroideries, Maharjan challenges the system, by embracing the red colour on her phupu, through which she conveys her resilience against the system that prevents a woman to wear red colour clothes if their husband is dead.
Similarly, in another work, in a photograph featuring her ajis (grandmothers), she makes halos with the help of embroideries to pay a tribute to them.
The beauty of her works, however, is that it transcends beyond the personal expressions, as through her artworks, she also depicts the culture and traditions of her Newa community.
For instance, we get the glimpse of her grandparents wearing traditional Newa attires, her family members performing Mha puja and so on. And this makes her works more significant and poignant, as besides preserving and depicting her personal stories, her works serve as a repository in telling stories of her community, its people, their culture and arts as well.
For instance, in one of her best works displayed for the exhibition, she recreates the main door, the traditional entry gate, Lukhaa Dvaa, of her old home. While the size of the fabric as well as the photograph creates a life-like effect, the detailing of the embroidery of the traditional symbols in the gate is exemplary as she masterfully fills the space of the symbols, beautifying it with the help of colourful threads.
The efforts put by the gallery to showcase both Maharjan and Moktan, awardees of the Himalayan Light Art Scholarship, also deserves applause. The gallery doesn’t only provide a physical space for the artists to exhibit their work, they have also taken care of using available resources to amplify the efforts and impact of the artworks of the two artists, by allowing them to use the space in a way that can increase their effectiveness of the artworks.
For instance, the grey background on some of the walls on the ground floor serves as a contrast to the ‘Traces’ series of Moktan, which are earthy and have warm colours in them. Likewise, the blue colour, on the first floor, creates a calming and cosy atmosphere, elevating the story-telling of the personal photographs of Maharjan, whose old house was also painted in blue colour.
From paying attention to the details like providing adequate information to visitors so they can understand the artworks to even tiny little things like adding a sukul for visitors to sit on and look at the art in the middle of the first floor, there’s hardly any issue that affects the impact of the artworks.
Both artists not only create personal artworks, but also experiment in medium, in approach, and most importantly, in depicting their emotions and experiences in an effective manner that can be understood by a larger audience, making this exhibition a must-visit one among the recent physical art exhibitions held in the city.
The exhibition will be held until February 15, at Siddhartha Gallery, Babar Mahal Revisited.