Nepal to open art treasure trove to world

October 16th, 2009 - 3:39 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Oct 16 (IANS) Want to buy exquisite, original art at an affordable price? Visit Nepal , just an hour’s journey from India, where the art market, once depressed due to 12 years of violence and political turmoil, is now seeking to invite the world and be linked to global developments.

From Oct 30 Nepal will hold its first international art festival where works by Nepali artists will be displayed along with those of international artists from nearly 30 countries as diverse as Aruba, Curacao, Jordan, China, Palestine and Japan.

It is the brainchild of Sangeeta Thapa, Nepal’s only woman art curator, who had been planning the event since 2006, when Nepal’s Maoist civil war ended after 10 years.

The five-day festival, to be held simultaneously in three different venues - also a first in Nepal - has a theme: “Separating the Myth from Reality - Status of Women”.

“I felt this is the right time to hold the festival,” says the 48-year-old, who also runs the Siddhartha Art Gallery in the capital from what in the past used to be the stables of a Rana palace but now has been converted into one of Kathmandu’s most trendy places with its shops and restaurants.

“Out of the 601 members of parliament, a large number are women. Women have never been more politically conscious in Nepal with such high representation in the house.

“And yet we have instances like women being tortured in villages on the suspicion that they are witches, wives being murdered for dowry, increasing violence against women and that too in a society that reveres women deities. I think it is unacceptable.

“Visual arts can play an important role in presenting such issues to a broader base of people. It can influence these very people to remove the stigma and exploitation that women have been shackled with throughout history.”

Artists from different parts of the world will contribute to the theme reflecting the cultures of their own countries. Jordanian painter Juman Al Nimri, for instance, will focus on honour killings in Islamic countries while the artists from Tibet will comment, tongue in cheek, on the restraints they have to live with.

Nepal’s own indigenous art can be traced back to the 11th century when King Jaya Sthiti Malla ordained that the community known as Chitrakars - picture makers - should dedicate themselves to art and they became painters for the temples and palaces.

When Nepal was ruled by the hereditary Rana prime ministers, they too encouraged artists but only for their own consumption.

“There were 41 palaces during their reign,” says Thapa. “So there was a great demand for portraits of the premiers, their children, favourite concubine and hunting scenes.”

When the Ranas were overthrown by a pro-democracy movement in 1950 and the Shah kings took their place, ironically, King Mahendra, who sacked the elected prime minister and banned political parties, encouraged the arts and artists.

“He realised that art was a way of holding people together,” Thapa says. “He invited all the artists who had gone into exile in India or Europe to return and evolve art in Nepal.”

Though many Nepali artists studied in art colleges in Kolkata, Mumbai, Vadodara and Paris, their work was not known in their own country or in the neighbouring region due to the continuous turmoil that saw three pro-democracy movements in 1950, 1990 and 2006.

“The Maoist movement decimated the people who could afford to buy art,” Thapa says. “So the price of art in Nepal still remains very low.”

The October festival, Thapa is hoping, will act as an ice breaker.

“I am testing the waters,” she says. “If it is successful, we can think of having a Kathmandu Biennial like the Berlin Biennial.”

It will also test the tolerance level of Nepal.

“Nepalis have a high tolerance level,” she says. “In countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, the moral police are cracking down on art exhibitions if they include nudes.

“But we have several exhibits that will shock you and challenge you. Like this work from the Netherlands. Titled ‘Prickpot’, it comprises a glass vessel filled with penises. The audience reaction will prove how tolerant Nepal still remains.”

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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