Capturing the nation’s mood through abstract artSuresh Basnet offers commentary on the nation’s prominent issues through his own paradigms of societal norms and biases in his painting for the masses.
Having done his Bachelor's in Fine arts, artist Suresh Basnet first exhibited his artwork alongside four other artists at the Being Together 2019 art exhibition. Since then, Basnet has progressed much as an artist and honed his craft to a degree where his canvases demanded being showcased on their own. As such, Siddhartha Art Gallery—a gallery long known for exhibiting contemporary art from Nepalis—and the Himalayan Light Foundation have presented Basnet with the due spotlight, displaying Galpa: Episodes in My Life at the gallery from December 27, 2022 to January 17, 2023.
The arsenal of paintings on display touches on multiple ongoing discussions of this nation. The viewer can categorise these into three sections: the political, the infrastructural, and the social.
The most obvious one of the three themes are the political happenings in the nation. Under this theme, multiple paintings feature figures sitting on their kurchi (chair), careless and indifferent to the plight of those less fortunate.
Titled 'Drowned In Contemplation', a set of three paintings by Basnet has donkeys sitting on varnished chairs with typical Nepali carpets laid beneath them. Each donkey places itself in front of a background featuring the emblems of the nation's political superpowers and the national flag, expressing the desire for "self-fulfilment, thoughtfulness, and worry" in their posture. It is pretty apparent when you put two-and-two together to realise who the donkeys symbolise—especially when not one conversation about the leadership in this country goes without mentioning the confident promises our leaders have made, feigning thoughtfulness, and how they fall short after putting up their selfish agendas above those of the nation.
The idea of the kurchi and the obliviousness feigned by those sitting on it recurs on a canvas featuring a man asleep on a chair while those around him try to nudge him to get awakened to the plight and sorrows of the citizens. But alas, the man atop the chair sits dry as a bone while the nation drowns.
Much of Basnet's art revolves around this very theme, painted to be satirical in nature in line with the happenings in the nation, and ingeniously delivering commentary to those who care to look for it.
Basnet also leans into the promise of a modern and innovative future for the people—"better" for those who think of it as so and "worse" for those who think otherwise. Basnet dives into the idea through the lens of the malleability of what we deem socially and infrastructurally desirable. The latter two sections of paintings are discussed through this lens.
'State of Somnolence I' features themes of infrastructural development in this nation, using a symbolic turtle carrying a paper boat. While the people hang on tuins (rope) to cross the river, the nation is fed visions of unattainable levels of development through a loudspeaker. Yet, the children and the elderly alike have no choice but to close their eyes to the obvious and live in the survival mode—any progress that might have come, comes at a turtle's pace.
Basnet has much to say about the human nature of desire and its impact on everything else.
'Nature III' features the exposed crosssection of trees with a lifetime's worth of age rings and tears reaching towards the centre. A bonsai plant sits atop the tree's remains, symbolising how humanity's wants have led to unfulfilled needs—if the cost of a niche want is universal, are we headed in the right direction?
The same idea is explored in another one of his paintings where various animals live in leashes and cages, with only barren land behind the person responsible for it. Another one of his paintings features a sickly rawboned old man with a railway wagon atop his head, speaking about not just the exploitation of nature but of human efforts as well.
In many of these paintings, eyeballs on stems—our own bystander eyes, akin to our societal perception—do nothing but look and never act.
In the same vein, two other paintings—perhaps the exhibition's highlights—take prominence beyond being accessories to the subject. 'Virtual Illusion I' and 'Virtual Illusion II' move away from the political and developmental, diving into social commentary. In both paintings, the subjects assume minimal to no clothing, with the viewer's eyes facing the most sexualised parts of their bodies. While both images speak on the same subject, their message differs vastly.
Speaking on 'Virtual Illusion I', Basnet said, "In our country, vulgarity is not tolerated much. In an effort to become modern, both women and men change how they dress, but do not change their mentality and perception. The eye on the top symbolises how the subject perceives herself."
'Virtual Illusion II', on the other hand, serves just as much, if not more, commentary without painting in subjective opinions as much as before and featuring new—much less subtle—symbolisms. "We refer to people who look at others through a sexualised point of view as a boka (goat), so I've used the goats in the painting to symbolise them, negatively," said Basnet. One goat lies belly-up with its tongue out, looking at the subject's bare body, while the other seems to be reaching out for the subject's breasts. Our eyes repeat the same patterns of behaviour we've previously shown.
Despite everything happening to her and around her, the subject perceives herself through her notion of beauty—not of cultures that have set unrealistic and hyper-sexualised standards—loving herself and shining as bright as the petals behind her.
In conclusion, 'Galpa: Episodes in My Life' exists to serve viewers with a superficial perception of the socio-political happenings of our nation, sketched and painted through the artist's paradigms and biases. The arsenal of paintings does not go deep into the nuances of the ideas being conveyed. Still, in not doing so, Basnet widens the demography that could be related to and to enjoy the exhibition. Additionally, while the skill and abstract creativity expressed through Basnet's paintings are something to be revelled in, his commentary on social norms may not align with contemporary ideas.
Basnet is an artist; beyond that, he is just another individual. His art speaks not from expertise, but from subjective paradigms. Hence, it should be viewed as such: a superficial and subjective overview of the nation's most talked about matters.