The Artivist“I have always been a deviant,” artist Ashmina Ranjit remembers, “I always had questions against gender inequality at home and beyond.”
“I have always been a deviant,” artist Ashmina Ranjit remembers, “I always had questions against gender inequality at home and beyond.”
Ashmina never liked how the conventional gender roles were more favourable to the men in her family. “I didn’t know what feminism was, but its seed had been planted in me long before I was educated about it.”
An artist by accident, hadn’t Ashmina loathed doing household chores that always fell on a daughter’s shoulders, she probably wouldn’t have pursued art in the first place. But when she finally did, she made sure that her artworks spoke of the matters that matter.
“People always told me art should never be political,” Ashmina says, even though she knows that art has always been a powerful tool of change. “Something just as simple as standing for your own values is already political, nobody is untouched by politics.”
In 1998, after returning from an undergraduate programme in Australia, Ashmina first exhibited her artworks on Women and Sexuality, and she recants how some of the audience asked her to go back to the ‘west’. They accused her of trying to contaminate Nepali culture where sex was never to be spoken of, and more so, not ever by a woman.
“It was a time where women were not supposed to know their own body, unless it was through a man.” The reactions acted as the fuel to the artist’s fire, and there has been no looking back. Ever since, Ashmina has produced works on canvas and beyond, to reflect on and fight stereotypes surrounding not only feminism but also other important socio-political matters.
On May 1, 2004, Ashmina orchestrated a performance art where more than 100 performers dressed in black took to the streets of Kathmandu against the demise of democracy and the ongoing civil war.
The performers walked in pairs and took turns to suddenly fall on the ground, faking death, while the partner drew their outline on the street with a chalk. The performance was accompanied by a sound installation of wailing war victims that was broadcast across all private FM stations and Radio Nepal for one full hour.
“People could not stand the sound, but it was important to raise the voice.” By 2007, Ashmina had already realised that Nepal needed a space that accommodates research-based, conceptual artworks that went beyond just aesthetics. “We needed a space for Art-Activism or Artivism, hence LASANAA was founded.”
LASANAA, a brainchild of Ashmina, is an alternative space that conducts conversations, workshops, and residency programmes with national and international artists to nurture conceptual art in Nepal through critical thinking. “The alternative art space exists to promote horizontal sharing and of course, growth” 10 years down the line, LASANAA has its own book/art café—NexUS, which hosts art talks, healing workshops, book talks, gallery, artists’ residency programme, and an organic farmers market.
Looking back at the two decades of contribution Ashmina has made to the Nepali artscape, she says,“I always wanted to fly, and I thought I would eventually become a pilot,” being an artist or contributing to the society as one was never in the plan, “Little did I know that the flight was just a metaphor for a spiritual awakening.”
— By Abha Dhital