Outing evilGoogle “art VAW” and you will find an endless treasure trove of links directing you to art projects that deals specifically with VAW—Violence Against Women.
Rape Me. That was the title of the art Sadhu-X wanted to make: art depicting a topless Kumari, a dare from the goddess herself, a jab at the hypocrisy of our society. “I worried that the authorities would have used that piece to crack down on a just-emerging street art scene in Kathmandu,” he later explained. Two art exhibitions turned down the artist’s proposal to make and exhibit Rape Me. Just past midnight on 16 December 2014 Sadhu-X finally finished his piece for exhibition the next evening for City Museum Kathmandu’s #OCCUPY exhibition. “Oh, it feels good to get this off my chest, and on canvas!” he said looking at his work, as it dried slowly on the floor.
Rape Me is an imposing piece of art, not just conceptually, but physically too. It is 4.9 feet wide and almost 6 feet tall. By December 24, Sadhu-X had produced a wheat paste of the artwork in real size and pasted it at one of the most public junctions in Kathmandu: on the Nepal Law Library wall, in Jamal. The artist’s statement, in English as well as Nepali, was pasted alongside the art. It’s almost February now, and the artwork remains intact. There have been no religious outbursts from conservative quarters. No controversy even. Kathmandu, it seems, has come to terms with its evil ways: that VAW is reality that needs to be done away with, that there is no point in lashing out at a provocative art piece that makes a point about it. Or maybe Kathmandu simply doesn’t care enough, or find it relevant to get mad about an art piece, even if it does involve a topless impression of the virgin goddess. Perhaps Kathmandu is so exposed that it now needs more to be shocked, to be moved. Or maybe, Kathmandu, or at least those who pass the Jamal junction and notice the art, reflect on Sadhu-X’s work quietly to themselves. Only Kathmandu knows.
One of the clearest outcomes of the Occupy Baluwatar movement was not a massive reorganisation of the legal system (far form it) or a massive transformation of our doggedly patriarchal society with deep political cover for criminals. The most visible effect was in the mainstream media and how it was forced to address VAW issues. As a society, at least we address them openly now, and the media doesn’t shy away from them, but rather gives them the space they deserve.
Kathmandu’s vibrant art community too is moving in similar directions, led by a new generation of young artists who are globalised in their ideas and philosophies, but rooted in Nepal and its ways, artists who live in multiple worlds simultaneously.
This post-Internet group of artists are painting heartbreaking
obituaries on canvas (Hitman Gurung) to tell the sad tale of our remittance-based economy and how it is breaking apart the threads of our society, and our world class street artists are making sure we don’t forget about, or escape, the nastier aspects of our society.
For too long that canvas has been occupied by vile and violent slogans, by a politics that refuses to make systematic changes towards accountability to the public. In the last three years our art community has proved their phenomenal skills as street muralists.
Now, it is upon them to internalise the many challenges in our society, and to take their skills and use the city as their canvas.
To read the artist statement on Rape Me, you can visit www.TheCityMuseum.org/Occupy
The author is the Director of the City Museum Kathmandu and the curator of the #Occupy: An Expression of Global Conscience exhibition that ran from 16 December 2014 - 15 January 2015. He can be reached at email@example.com