Bringing the old into the new

Art Issue 136 Jun, 2013
Text by Isha Gharti / Photo: Ecs media

Whenever one thinks of ancient Nepal and Nepalese in pictures, images surrounding royals and the Ranas immediately springs to mind. The images of these elite minority cannot be representative of the majority of Nepalese living a simple life in an ordinary setting. Keeping this in focus recently held an exhibition in its new photo gallery in Patan’s Mangalbazar. The gallery is intended to showcase and highlight photographs taken by ordinary Nepalese of their life and living in the past that can serve as a doorway into a better understanding of Nepal and Nepalese lifestyle before the intrusion of globalization and westernization in Nepalese society.

The Swotha Gallery is home to exclusive works archived by Nepal Picture Library (NPL). The gallery is located in a lively neighborhood in Patan surrounded by rich history and charm that Patan is synonymous to. NPL has several large collections from Patan so it is not a coincidence that Patan is a location that the owners have opted for. The ground floor of a beautifully restored Newar house serves as a perfect setting for this rather unique gallery. A charming little courtyard opens up behind the gallery where one can soak in the history of Patan with a cup of tea from the neighboring tea shop, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The space reflects the spirit in which NPL attempts to preserve and celebrate personal histories.

The gallery has not officially opened but its first informal exhibition is already underway. After Mukunda Bahadur Shrestha’s very successful debut exhibition at Siddhartha Art Gallery last year, the owners decided that this and other collections archived by NPL deserve a permanent space if they are to reach and engage a wider audience. That is also how the inspiration for the Swotha gallery came about. The first exhibition showcases photograph taken by 82 year old Mukunda Bahadur Shrestha during the course of his colorful life. The exhibition is also open for sales.

The gallery has been opened with the objective of promoting Nepali archival and contemporary photography. It aims to showcase two to four collections a year. Signed and limited edition archival prints will also be available for sale. The gallery hopes to welcome travelers, but more importantly locals who are interested in engaging with NPL. This will be valuable not only from a distribution point of view, but also to collect old photographs and stories. The gallery aims to organize small events throughout the year during which locals can come in with their old family photographs, get them scanned, annotated, and have their stories documented. With each exhibition the gallery hopes not only to promote photography but also to develop text that aids in documentation of Nepalese history.

Some of their plans for the future are to try and exhibit both professional and amateur Nepali photography. But at the moment the gallery is not exhibiting other work. As photography is still not recognized as an art form in Nepal, the gallery is also intends to help establish photography as a basic and powerful genre of art. With this, the Swotha Phot Gallery should bring some portion of the past into our present.n