A new home for artYou take your shoes off before entering Kaalo 101. The cold from the terracotta tiled floor is for everybody to soak in. Also, the gesture makes you feel like you are entering somebody’s home, not a gallery.
You take your shoes off before entering Kaalo 101. The cold from the terracotta tiled floor is for everybody to soak in. Also, the gesture makes you feel like you are entering somebody’s home, not a gallery. The alternative art space is almost everything that a white cube gallery is not. It’s not cutting edge with slick spot lights illuminating the white-washed walls, and it’s not neutral (or distant). The old building that is Kaalo is tucked into a sub-square within Nagbahal, Patan, and bears the distinct quality and character of a long-inhabited Newar home. It’s musty yet cosy, and does not provide you with the no-distraction art viewing experience that a typical white cube would. But the place is set up such that it intends on doing much more than just showing art: The primary goal of the space is to develop into an alternative hub for artists and creative professionals and a platform where they can exchange, share, and collaborate.
Kaalo 101, which was formally established last May, is run by German academician and political activist Helena Asha Knox. The art space is a narrow building with three floors of gallery space that also doubles up as workspace for local artists, workshop, and talk venues. Knox says she planned on setting up the space because she found the artmaking approach of young Nepali artists to be quite interesting.
“I came to Nepal for my PhD work and it was fascinating for me to see all these young Nepali artists making use of media, technique, and references—all which are considered standard in the global scene—to reflect on issues and subjects that they come across in their lives here,” says Knox. It was this trans-cultural approach to making art that won Knox over and inspired her to create a space which a budding alternative scene could call their own.
Since its inception, the space has hosted a handful of events around the topics of art, poetry, music, and philosophy. And recently, on January 2, 2018—which was a full moon evening—they hosted what is a monthly series of art events titled Moonshine Affairs—an affair that best describes what Kaalo intends on doing long-term. The first edition is a month-long art exhibition called Boksi and features works by an all-women artist line up of Irina Giri, Keepa Maskey, and Anjila Manandhar.
According to the organiser, the primary idea behind such an event is that artists can collaborate on an inter-textual level. The opening day of the show saw Irina Giri (Flekke) and an all-women act Didibahini perform for the gathered audience. The musical performances were held at the gallery premise itself amid a modest, but cramped audience of a little more than 30 people. The art installations doubled here as décor for the performers; Keepa Maskey’s textile collages—which deals with the stigma that is attached to menstruation in our culture—with red pigment smeared across at different spots, hung on top of the Didibahini members as they performed their versions of traditional songs originally performed by women of different ethnic groups from around Nepal. Some of the audience sat next to Manandhar’s sculpture of a man masturbating through a window as they watched the neo-folk band get up at the end, arm-in-arm, to sing their rendition of Mahila Deuda, a tune that they had picked up during a visit to Kalikot, Karnali.
“The idea is to bring the audience into an intimate setting to observe, appreciate, and share with the artists,” says Kishan Shrestha, a musician who is currently working with Knox to make the monthly performances happen. The people present were, indeed, seen interacting at the opening of Boksi. While exhibition openings in Kathmandu are usually disorienting, in that they eventually turn into an elaborate meet-and-greet session, this one saw people actually sitting around, having conversations with the artists or with their own respective groups. This probably was because the gallery itself strays far off from posing as an institution and presents itself as rooms that are meant to be inhabited.
Shrestha says that they have been trying to get people who are not usually acquainted with the non-mainstream art scene in Kathmandu to attend. “It’s a small circle and everybody knows everybody. The idea with the performances is that new people experience works by these artists, all the while in a closed setting, and take something back home.”
An audience does seem to learn new things about art and artists when they get to observe from a close range. Even little technical instances like Giri tweaking frequency parameters of her Keyboard or Mannu Shahi of Didibahini requesting the crowd to be patient while her band members tuned their traditional percussive instruments between songs, give the audience an idea as to the nature of effort that artists put into their works, and all that they do and go through. As the distance between the performers and the viewer is diminished, a whole new perspective opens up for the audience to explore and experience.
“I think it is the process that is most intriguing. Just a few days back, I’d seen Anjila creating in the same space where her sculptures are installed now. She’d be seen resting in the same space at times, too. The happenings during the process build up to add to the overall experience of an art project,” says Knox. She further adds to the importance of the perception and making of art to be an organic process. “More than anything else, we would like to create a space where genuine sharing is possible.”
And as the space shies away from an instiutionalised gallery setup, it also tends to avoid the prospect of being a conventional art business; it seems as if the intention has never been there. “A place to make and show art in Nepal does not have to be a copy of galleries in the West. Nepal has such a great cultural value and we are surrounded by it every day, throughout the day. It is all about making an attempt to bring young Nepali people to such a place because they have grown up in this environment,” says Knox. And as she further explains Kaalo’s aims to me, I can’t help but think about how further away from reality a white cube is for us and how being able to sit down together and to see, listen, and tell is more real.