Art and Nepali timesThe second edition of the Himalayan Art Festival showcases the creative prowess of today’s youth
One question that always comes up in our discussions, reviews, humanities pedagogy and tourism is: can art become the measure of Nepali times? The nomenclature ‘Himalayan’ is another subject in its own right. But Nepali artists, and even writers, often tend to append ‘Himalayan’ to their programmes. In most cases, it only invokes a sense of Nepali identity that largely forgets the great Madhesh, the southern plains that have always remained home to great art heritage and history of this land. The two major, often-overlapping, marks of Nepali identity are Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, and the Himalayas that represent completely different altitudinal and latitudinal geographical coordinates. But the subject of this review is not geography, but a review of an exhibition under the rubric ‘The Second Himalayan Art Festival’, organised by E-Arts Nepal at Nepal Arts Council, Babar Mahal.
I am trying to briefly put the impression of my visit there and the observations I made of the exhibition/festival that happened from 11-15 September, 2018. The exhibition featured works of both contemporary and traditional artists of Nepal. The exhibited objects were paintings, paubha art, prints, sculptures, installations, ceramic and photographs. The festival also featured performances by theatre artists through installations and musical tours of the galleries to evoke the fluidity and power of the times represented in the 135 or so art objects on display. Art talks and creative activities for children organised by Actors’ Studio were other featured at the exhibition. Broadly, the paintings were curated by experimentalist artist Manish Lal Shrestha, the paubhas by senior paubha artist Lok Chitrakar, sound and installations were set up by Salil Subedi and a dance performance was presented by kathak dancer Subima Shrestha. The exhibition was organised by the dynamic artists of Kasthamandap Group. The group organised this exhibition without any assistance either from the government, ministry or donors, said Asha Dongol, a member of the Kasthamandap Group. This zealous participation of such young theatre artists seemed to me an encouraging sign for the fine arts scene in Kathmandu.
New power in art
The group’s determination represents a new power that is emerging in Nepal, where we are almost conditioned to talk about the negative drives in politics, academics, literature and civil consciousness. The reason why we tend to be talking more about the negatives rather than the positives is because our society is in a state of quandary created largely by fast political transformation, and the direction-less drive towards the anarchy of sorts that is present in the country allows people to shun not only ideological but also moral responsibilities by not fulfilling their duties diligently. Our society today stands in the throes of a conflict between change and obscurantism. The art objects on display and the performances organised by these young artists and curators that included the works of older and younger artists, however, shows that there is a latent energy of creators who refuse to surrender to hegemony, flatteries and perks.
Spreading our reach
Prominent art curator Sangeeta Thapa, of Siddhartha Gallery, who has made great history in the Nepali art sector by organising hundreds of art exhibitions and colloquiums, said in her opening remarks of the exhibition that she is seeing excellent works created by young artists. In her remarks, she invited more young artists to be a part of the growing sphere of artists and encouraged them to participate in the third Triennale, a platform where Nepali artists collaborate with international artists, which is going to take place in 2020.
The effectiveness of art forms
The art works on display at the exhibition employ various mediums. I saw both innovation and repetition in them. Some are very well organised with proper delineation of forms of colour expressionism employed to enhance their motifs, but some still needed more finesse and training. Some compositions featured a rigidity in composition that did not let the eye move smoothly from sheer joy to thoughts. However, I was also delighted to see some canvases that were so brilliantly created, with a fine balance of forms, exquisite use of lines and pigments.
There is an old question that arises between the flatness of modernist art and the three dimensional forms of fine representational art. This however does not find much discussion in Nepali art criticism, when it shouldbe talked about in discussions about the effectiveness of the art forms. Many paintings in the exhibition, I found as before, were executed to represent both. The modernist need to eliminate representative forms is not fully accepted by Nepali young artists. Their temptation to represent figurative reality by using techniques of abstract art characterises nearly most of their paintings. Some forms however are either modernist or representational. But the entry of a photographer into this world of paintings is a remarkable intervention. I take one telling example of Deependra Bajracharya’s photograph of the third eye of Swoyambhunath. The picture shows Swayambhutnath’s third eye, cracked by the 2015earthquakes, coloured in a texture that brilliantly gives the motif of an unmistakable expressive quality. There are other such works that blew me away too, but that’s a point of discussion for another time.
Paubha paintings are great tools of expression. Some of the artists in the exhibition have made the use of thick textures by departing from the norm of a paubha or what the Tibetans call thanka paintings. They have used Buddhist iconography of Tara, and also some Hindu iconography.
But the main focus is on presenting the maturity of this art form, though all have not achieved the same degree of success in that. Few sculptural works show maturity and sincerity though they are not foregrounded in the exhibition.
On the whole, this exhibition has metaphorical value for me. I have seen these artists painting Kasthamandap, working to depict ruined objects of art and sculpture, acting with brush and palettes in message-oriented works, and working with theatre and sound artists. This exhibition, by combining visual, oral and aural forms, is an art festival of sorts, albeit on a small scale. I would not say all art works were excellent and mature, but the energy they cumulatively exuded in difficult and challenging moment was quite significant.