Life and art are inextricably blended into each otherMekh Limbu’s art needs little elaboration. It speaks the truth, laid out for all to see and reflect on. It’s real; it’s quiet, keening and sharp. Take his installation ‘How I Forgot My Mother Tongue’, for instance, which was part of the Opposite Dreams exhibition displayed during the Photo Kathmandu festival last year.
Mekh Limbu’s art needs little elaboration. It speaks the truth, laid out for all to see and reflect on. It’s real; it’s quiet, keening and sharp. Take his installation ‘How I Forgot My Mother Tongue’, for instance, which was part of the Opposite Dreams exhibition displayed during the Photo Kathmandu festival last year. The work featured historical documents collected by the artist, including four copies of Nepal’s constitutions, the books the artist studied as a child, and the question papers, notes and diaries kept by the artist’s father. All these documents, which were highlighted and modified, served as instruments to display how Nepal’s indigenous communities have been historically ostracised and marginalised. Limbu is among a crop of prominent Nepali artists who’re tackling tackle head on the momentous socio-political changes that Nepal has been going through. As part of the artist collective ArTree, Limbu has tackled marginalization and identity ‘How I Forgot My Mother Tongue’ while works such as Silent Portraits in Qatar and Kathmandu speak to the migrant labour experience. Timothy Aryal recently caught up with Limbu to talk about his inspirations, the motifs he employs, and the father-son dynamic that is so pronounced in his works. Excerpts:
How did you initially get into art?
I am not sure if I would say I ‘got into art’. Like all children, I was an artist before I even knew anything about art. I grew up in rural Dhankuta and went to a public school. Back then, we were taught with textbooks that were colourful and had images of various kinds. I would try to imitate them in my own notebooks and that’s how it started. Later, I studied art formally after I dropped out of PCL and started high school at Lalit Kala Campus, where I currently teach part-time.
A majority of your work is personal and even autobiographical. I would hardly call it ‘imaginative’, to put it bluntly. What’s behind your affinity to your own life and circumstances?
We are living through momentous times. So many political changes have been happening in our country over the past couple of decades. Of course, they have influenced my life significantly. I can’t remain untouched, none of us can. So I try to create something out of that, imbuing my art with my personal recollections and reflections. Contrary to what many believe, art is not something that is detached from oneself. Art and life are inextricably linked. I work on my emotional landscapes, on what I go through on a daily basis.
Last year, you travelled to Qatar where your father works and documented the changes in his life and in the lives of other migrant workers as well. Can you talk about your relationship with your father and what inspired you to come up with the work?
My father left for Qatar 21 years ago and this event left an indelible mark on my mind. It brought me closer to the realisation of the brutal aspects of life. When I went to Qatar for a workshop, I caught up with him and went to his residence and where he works. I documented all the places he has worked in and the changes in Nepal. The changes in Qatar and the changes here in Nepal were juxtaposed in animated time-lapse videos. But this is not only the story of my father’s life. It is what a majority of families in Nepal can relate to. Then there’s another work, also a video installation work, which features portraits of a number of migrant workers I interacted with there. It was a heartening experience.
While a portion of your work deals with migrant workers, another part of your work is about marginalisation and the ostracisation of your language and culture from Nepal’s mainstream historical narrative. How do you go about these two frames of mind and how do you compare them?
As I’ve said, both are issues I can’t escape from. The realisation of both haunts me every day. While I come from a Limbu community, I didn’t get to study in my language and over the years, I have forgotten my own language. It’s a bitter truth. And now, none of my family members are in the land where we were based. So both of these modes of work are what define my work and life. For me, life and art are not separate entities but one, inextricably blended into each other.