A Gallery of Galleries

Features Issue 24 Aug, 2010

Kathmandu is a fast growing city where even today every ten steps  shows another glimpse of art and architectural heritage. It is a city that can be thought of as a huge museum and its people a treasure of talented artists. History speaks for itself: Nepal has developed significant artists such as Arniko who was invited to China to design the famous pagoda architecture there. The legacy lives on; contemporary Nepali artists have great talent and enthusiasm. Nepal has opened itself to the outside world relatively recently, not long enough to make a big impression on the international art world. But with the limited facilities and small market available here, Nepali artists have achieved a lot. Although more exposure is needed, there is a growing circle of contemporary Nepali art lovers and supporters.  Fortunately, Kathmandu has a wealth of local galleries that play a crucial role in connecting artists and art lovers and bringing art to a wider audience. What follows is a significant sample (but not a complete listing) of the galleries of Kathmandu, in order of their founding.

National Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA)
Since 1955, the National Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) has been exhibiting work by contemporary Nepali artists. Probably the pioneer art gallery of Kathmandu, over the past 48 years thousands of artists in diverse media have reflected Nepal’s changing society on NAFA’s walls. Nepali and foreign artists have exhibited all kinds of paintings, sculptures, collages, lithographs, installations, photographs, graphic designs, posters, and cartoons, using both traditional and modern forms and designs and supplying social commentary on the political, economic and cultural transformations of Nepal in the global village.

NAFA was formed at the personal initiation of His Majesty Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, who initially served as the president and chief promoter. In 1977 he handed responsibilities for NAFA to the Royal Nepal Academy, which has served as its caretaker ever since. NAFA played and continues to play an active role in the promotion of art and artists at all levels of development, and its intention is to promote new artists, preserve historical art and architecture, and to be a bridge to help promote Nepali artists to reach the international art arena.  

Mr. Suman Adhikari, Administrative officer of National Academy  of Fine Arts (NAFA) shared, “We have gotten a positive response and all Nepalese and foreign artists and art lovers are satisfied to see the paintings and sculptures exhibited in our gallery.”  He also commented, “We need a peaceful environment in Nepal. Then we should advertise in various media about art and art exhibitions. We should provide quality arts and price them reasonably in order to encourage local clients.”

In its long history NAFA has exhibited solo paintings by some of the big names of the Nepali art scene. Some of them are Vijay Thapa, Shashi Kala Tiwari, Kiran Manandhar,   Araniko Pragya Pratishthan, and  Zero Century Nepal.

Location: Naxal    Contact: 4411729

Park Gallery
The late painter R.N. Joshi established Park Gallery as  the first privately owned gallery in Nepal in 1970.  Park Gallery organized many art exhibitions of local and foreign artists who helped develop the contemporary art scene in Nepal. It also functioned as a learning institution for many of today’s well-known Nepali artists, including Surendra Pradhan, Kiran Manandhar, Jeevan, Sangeeta Thapa, and Chanda Shrestha, who were students of R.N. Joshi and Park Gallery.

Today, Park Gallery is a living historic gallery; Joshi’s three daughters continue their father’s work promoting Nepali contemporary art through the gallery. The gallery exhibits innovative, unique contemporary painting, sculpture and photography shows for art lovers of all nationalities.

Some of the highlighted exhibitions of the gallery have been: woodblock prints by P.J. Grover in 1970; the first cartoon show in Nepal; ceramics and Australian art by Jolanta Janavicks; and R.N. Joshi’s series ‘My Land and My People’. The first botanical art show by Neera Joshi Pradhan, eldest daughter of R.N. Joshi, was opened by Princess Shruti R. D. Rana in 1999. Expats love to visit the old main Park Gallery at Patan, Pulchowk which remains as it was with very few changes. The other branch is located in Lazimpat. Neera Joshi Pradhan says, “Art activity in Kathmandu has definitely increased in the past few years and Kathmanduites are more receptive towards art, but then price is always a factor for them.” (See ‘Park Gallery Opens in Lazimpat’, ECS July 2003 for more background.)

Locations: Pulchowk, Patan and Lazimpat (behind the Royal Palace) Contact: 5522307

Gallery 9
Started on the 9th of April 2003, with the main intention to be a meeting place of artists, writers, musicians and people with creative minds, Gallery 9 began with an art, music, film or poetry event each night for a week. It is a place made for art, whether paintings, photographs, or jewelry. Mani Lama, who had the original idea for the gallery and is one of the owner partners, shared that the gallery received a good response from both Nepalis and expats right from the beginning. Lama noted, “Our gallery is new so there have been only a few exhibitions, and not so many people seem to come during the monsoon season.” Some of the initial exhibitions were the inaugural photo exhibit by Mani Lama, then artists from the Maldives and Bhutan. Maithili paintings, silver jewelry and watercolor paintings by 14 Nepali artists also have been exhibited so far. Lama expressed, “The people of Kathmandu have started appreciating the arts. I think there will be more people interested as they see and learn about art. We started the gallery with that intention and we hope we will contribute to expanding the art scene in Nepal.” (See ‘A Tale of Two Galleries’ in ECS June 2003 for more background on Gallery 9.)

Location: Lazimpat (Nayaran Gopal Sadak, across from Mahaguthi Crafts Shop) Contact: 4436944.

Indigo Gallery
Indigo Gallery helped to conserve  traditional architecture by re-locating to a charming old dwelling in Naxal in 1994. Public appreciation then and now is overwhelmingly positive as the gallery, above the famous garden haven, Mike’s Restaurant, is an oasis of peace and tranquility within the city of Kathmandu.

Indigo enthusiastically supports the continued creation of traditional arts,  from paintings to metal work, in a contemporary context. For 28 years the gallery has supported artists reviving the artistry of the medieval period of Newar art. The Nepali painting tradition is considered a descendant of the earliest painting styles of India, such as the 6th century murals of the Ajanta Caves. The gallery encourages the artists by collaborating in artistic directions, supplying the scarce and valuable mineral and vegetable pigments that produce finer and more durable works of art and, of course, by buying and selling their work.

The gallery has also hosted exhibitions of modern painting, sculpture, photos and textiles. The outstanding roster of exhibitions that have been held at the gallery has included: ‘Synthesis of Terai Art’ by S.C. Suman; ‘Forms of the Tibetan Mind: Tibetan Calligraphy’ by Dhumkhang; Carole Irwin’s ceramics and Dan Hogan’s fine woodworking; ‘Angkor’, photographs by Jaro Poncar; ‘Illuminated Reflections: Art in the Chinese Buddhist Tradition’, by Laura Friedensohn; ‘Tibetan Wangden Carpets: Textiles of Kinnaur, Spiti, Manali and Kulu’; ‘Themes in Jewelry’, by Angela Dodson Soulier; and ‘Yatra’, photographs by Thomas Kelly.  This input added to the gallery’s collection of traditional art has resulted in a rich and diverse display. On any given day, along with sacred and enchanting forms of Manjushri, Bhairav, Ganesha, Tara, Buddha, and more, one can find modern themes in painting, photographs, ceramics and jewelry, cushioned by textiles and carpets that span the centuries. For several years the gallery has also hosted a series of evening slide shows and lectures on diverse subjects pertaining to the art and culture of the Himalayan region.

James A. Giambrone, Director of Indigo Gallery, who also has 28 years of experience working with the traditional bronze casters of Patan, says that the small size of the art market in Kathmandu makes it very difficult to maintain a gallery. The Nepali and western people who attend exhibitions in Kathmandu are an appreciative group and attend exhibition openings in increasing numbers - not only at Indigo, but also at the other good galleries. James says, “To maintain a gallery means to rely purely on the sales from the gallery to cover the necessities of daily life, without outside subsidy. Wherever an art market really flourishes, it is on this basis.  Art galleries often fail due to the combination of stiff competition and high running costs. The ones that survive do so only because they show great art and have a large buying clientele.”

James opines, “Galleries must be discriminating in the selection of art or artists that they show. Because we must rely on sales to stay open we must gauge whether a show has enough saleability to make it profitable. We have to make selections that follow our own taste, as this establishes the gallery reputation, while also keeping in mind the taste of the clientele. Using our best discrimination in this regard and still being encouraging when we have to decline an artist is a tough task and a fine art in itself. We all try to do our best in that, because discouraging artists is the last thing a gallery would want to do. Galleries are about promoting art and encouraging artists, while being discerning about what we show.”

 Location: Naxal (above Mike’s Breakfast)
Contact: 4413580.

J Art Gallery
Owner Hirendra B. Rajbhandari  opened this selective gallery in 1984, acting on his passion for promoting Nepali contemporary artists, inspired and assisted by German artist John Filgen. J Art Gallery has been featured in international fine art magazines such as Asian Art News, a Hong Kong Publication.

Subha R. Bajracharya, current manager of the gallery, explains that J Art Gallery wanted to be a forum for Nepali artists to get exposure and improve the level of contemporary art in Nepal. “Tourists who visit our gallery get surprised to see the paintings, and they have a soft corner for Nepalese artists,” remarks Bajracharya. The gallery now holds an average of two exhibitions each month and has featured about 65 Nepali and a few foreign artists.

 In 1986, J Art Gallery was threatened with closure, but Dr. Jacky Brown of the United Nations and Ruth Jakobson of the Norwegian School helped them sustain by giving them moral support and introducing the gallery to new clients. “When these people visited our gallery they were surprised to even see contemporary paintings in Nepal and they really encouraged our effort.”

 As for the sustainability of contemporary art and artists in Nepal, Mr. Bajracharya says, “The market does exist but it is limited. It is encouraging to see Nepalese who now have become potential clients. Some Nepalese artists because of their dedication and hard work have been able to make their mark in this field.”

Location:  Thamel (Sanchaya Kosh Building, in the basement of Himalayan Bank). Contact: 4248877

Siddhartha Art Gallery
Dedicated art promoter and collector Sangeeta Thapa and internationally recognized artist Shashikala Tiwari established Siddhartha Art Gallery in 1987 as an exhibition space, a meeting place for artists from Nepal and abroad, and a platform for quality contemporary art. Siddhartha Art Gallery is now situated in the magnificent Baber Mahal Revisited complex; the gallery was initially located in Kantipath. The first exhibition in Siddhartha was a combined show of more than 100 works of 30 different artists. In the last 17 years, the Gallery has organized over 141 exhibitions, including shows from India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan, China, Australia, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Finland and the United States. The Gallery has been able to promote contemporary Nepali art and introduce international perspectives in art to the Kathmandu community, offering collectors an opportunity to discover a range of original and innovative forms.

The Gallery has also organized workshops in ceramics and printmaking, art installations, slideshows, and lectures by visiting artists. With a stress on quality, Siddhartha Art Gallery offers its services in evaluation and restoration to serious buyers and collectors of contemporary Nepali art. The Gallery also provides online art exhibitions. Investing in creativity is the Gallery’s ultimate aim.

When asked about the growth of art lovers in Nepal Sangeeta said, “Our clients in the genesis of this gallery were Nepalis and now we have quite a good number of foreigners. But the trouble we face in Nepal is that there is only a certain group of people dedicated to art. The market is so small and how many Nepalese can afford to buy? I have made all these people fill their walls with paintings and now they say they don’t have space to hang anything more!” Painter Manish Lal Shrestha, who recently held an exhibition at the Gallery and has worked with Sangeeta for some time, says, “Siddhartha Gallery is not just walls; it is a mode of inspiration.”

The gallery also organizes fund raising exhibitions to support various organizations such as Lalitpur Heritage Society for the conservation and restoration of Krishna Mandir in Patan. In 1989 the Gallery organized a special art show to raise funds for earthquake relief. “Art has no boundaries,” says Sangeeta. She is planning to make Siddhartha Art Gallery a jamboree of artists, for everyone to see, learn, and interact using the universal language of art.

 Location: Babar Mahal Revisited  Contact: 4218048.

Lazimpat Gallery café
Started in late 2002, Lazimpat Gallery is a multi purpose place - almost like a mini arts center. The concept of showing fine artwork on a main street café surprises many. “We get many encouraging comments. People either come to see the exhibitions, or to enjoy the environment that is created,” shared Alan Rudderham, the proprietor of the gallery cafe.

The gallery tends to alternate between working Nepali and expatriate artists. Two Kasthamandap Group shows have been very popular, as were exhibitions by the LEAF group of student artists, by established Nepali artist Buddhi Thapa, and Puskar Shah’s photo essay ‘Cycling Round the World’. High points of the expat work include ‘Street Vendors’ an exhibition of paintings by Mark Jordans;  ‘A Fresh Pair of Eyes’ – a VSO volunteer art and photography show; and ‘A Day in Lazimpat’, photos by Damian Murphy.

The customers are also a mix - most of the Nepalis who come are young and in tune with art and the coffee shop culture - and of course lots of expats and tourists. Alan says, “The prices in the cafe are cheap; it is one of our aims to bring art to ordinary people.” He believes that art as a business is difficult anywhere, but Kathmandu has a great potential. He said, “Foreign visitors, for example, are prepared to pay for good art that can be kept as a souvenir of a visit. I think in general Kathmanduites are very receptive to new ideas and enjoy seeing things of beauty - but they are quite careful with their money!”

(See ‘A Tale of Two Galleries’ in ECS June 2003 for more background on Lazimpat Gallery Café.)

Location: Lazimpat (on the main road, Nayaran Gopal Sadak, next to Mahaghuti Crafts) Contact: 4429590.