Nepali Art Goes Global

Happening Issue 205 Dec, 2018
Text by Evangeline Neve

Over the last few years I’ve attended a lot of art exhibits, openings, and the like, for both work and Pleasure. It’s been a privilege, and both enlightening and humbling to realize just how many people are making amazing art in Nepal. Of course, when I write about it, it’s necessarily after the fact, and while Sometimes an exhibit may run over into the beginning of a new month, they are often over by the time You read about them. (In fact, in the pages following you’ll read about some great ones I saw in November.)

But not so in this case.“Nepal Art Now” is a unique, one-of-a-kind art exhibition that will be held in Vienna, Austria, from April 10 to November 5, 2019 (these curators have to plan way ahead, I’ve Learned!), and before it goes there, the majority of the exhibit will be shown here, at Nepal Art Council In Baber Mahal, from December 14 to 22,2018. I say majority, because the art that is being showcased Is by a total of 25 Nepali artists, some of whom are now living abroad and are sending pieces directly To Vienna. It’s being curated by Dr. Christian Schicklgruber, Director and Chief Curator of the Weltmuseum Wien, an ethnography museum in Vienna, Austria, along with SwostiRajbhandariKayastha and Sagar S.J.B. Rana from the Nepal Art Council. I took some time to Talk with them and get a bird’s eye-view of all that has gone into conceptualizing, planning, and Organizing this amazing feat.

The total line-up is quite impressive, with a total of 85 paintings, 16 sculptures, two installations, and One video work, all produced by 37 Nepali artists. How long has it taken them, I wonder, to get Something of this magnitude together?

 “It started as something completely different from what it is now,” Christian explains. “After the Earthquake, the Chauni Museum was closed, so I got an idea to borrow objects from Chauni, Patan Museum, and various collections to do an exhibition on art of Nepal. The usual way—start in the tenth Century and stop in the eighteenth. The whole idea, or project, started with Dina Bangdel [the late art Historian] who was supposed to co-curate; we’d have done it together. Then, I thought, development of Art doesn’t stop in the eighteenth century, so why not include a few contemporary works, and Dina Started to introduce me to the studios of young artists. I started in late 2015 and early 2016, and it took Maybe two weeks to completely change the exhibition. So there are no old pieces, the oldest one is From the 1960s, and the newest one is still not painted, I’m afraid.” Dr. Christian laughs, as he recalls The path that brought them here.  “Altogether, I think I visited 90 studios, and some private collections, Mainly PrithbiPande’s (he has a great collection), and of course,Boddihisatva Gallery and Siddhartha Gallery, and out of these 90 artists, I really would have loved to show at least 80, and it was real hard to Reduce it.”

Considering that he chose to completely change the exhibit from ancient to contemporary, it seemed to Me that Dr. Christian Schicklgruber looks quite positively on the current state of Nepal’s art scene, and I ask him what his impression of it has been.

“I really was surprised. My background is in social anthropology, dealing with mountain deities and Syncretism, a completely different topic, and then I started this work and was surprised and impressed By the quality of the work, because in the West, a few artists are known, and that’s it, and nobody knows SanjeevMaharjan, and hardly anybody knows Hitman Gurung, or...”

I’m struck, both now and throughout the entire interview, by Dr. Christian’s enthusiasm for Nepali art, As well as his incredible memory and recall of each and every artist he’s interacted with, their names And works and what they do. It’s pretty amazing. 

He continued “...and I think it’s high time to present them in an international muse

Despite his research and passion for the subject, he told me that he had a moment when he sort of lost Trust in his choices—he was following his own personal tastes, after all—and so decided to show his Selection to an internationally known British art critic and contemporary art curator for an outside Opinion, who also shared the opinion that the art was of incredibly high standard and confirmed Dr. Christian’s own view of the art he was selecting. “From this meeting onwards, I was really convinced That it would be a great show.”

The Nepal Art Council is also trying to reach out to the Nepali diaspora in Austria, and also trying to Work with the government to promote Nepal Tourism Year Visit Nepal 2020. “We went to the [tourism] ministry to tell the minister that this is a very good occasion to expose and promote Nepal. I’m using the word expose, because art exposes a lot of the society and contemporary happenings of Any country,” explains Swosti.

“What these young Nepali artists are doing, they don’t care at all for the West—of course, they use Globalized international art language somehow, but what they are doing in their art is so rooted in their Traditions, their history, their religion. They’re very self-confident and the work is just great, and in This way they force us to relocate ourselves in a globalized world, and especially in the art scene,” Explained Dr. Christian. “There are many centers nowadays, such as Paris, London, and New York, And now Kathmandu has joined this club. I would say it’s a globalized art center today, given the high Quality of the works.”

“Why should we be worried about what the trend is in the rest of the world? We have our own culture, Our own thinking,” interjected Mr. Rana.

“When we attended the Indian Art Fair in Delhi, I went around the whole exhibition, it’s huge, the fifth Largest in the world, with exhibits from all over the world, and all these years, truthfully, I felt that our Paintings were the best in terms of style, in terms of content, in terms of concept, I always felt that. But Then, being a Nepali and being a part of the curation team, I thought I was very biased,” confessed Swosti with a smile. “But, when I was working with Christian and we were writing the curatorial Statement for the presentation, I felt so happy, because Christian wrote that the works of Nepali Contemporary art are in no way any less than any contemporary art of the world. And I felt he was Speaking my heart.”

Dr. Christian feels that even without knowing what’s depicted, the aesthetics of the Nepali art pieces Are so strong that they will have an impact on viewers, who then might be interested to learn more About them, but “actually it’s not even necessary, it goes first through the eye into the heart, and the Second step involves the brain.”

This seems to have held true at the Indian Art Fair, which Nepal has attended for three years now—in Both 2016 and 2017 Nepal’s was the most visited booth, and this year, was in the top ten most-visited Booths, with multiple visitors returning again and again and commenting that it was where they spent The longest time. Nepal’s art really seems to touch people, even when they don’t completely Understand it, and it’s the team’s hope that this exhibit, the largest of its kind of Nepali art in any Foreign country, will attract more attention and interest towards the country’s superb artists.

Small groups of Nepali artists have had exhibits in various countries, of course, but the historical Significance of this one is explained by Mr. Rana: “The last time something like this happened was in 1966, when Nepal had a huge exhibition in Paris, during the time of King Mahendra, and that was Mainly antiquities, bronzes. After that, such a thing has not happened.” 

The team is aiming to do as much local as possible, from using Nepali photographers for the catalogue, To a local packing company; and they’ve asked each artist to write about their work. “It’s a direct Bridge somehow between these artists and the readers and museum visitors,” explained Dr. Christian, Who I learned actually did his anthropology PhD in Nepal’s ArunValley in the 1970s, which began his Long-standing attachment to Nepal.

Swosti explains that the exhibition will be in five huge rooms, the first for the older artists, the second Room will cover traditional art that has now been contemporized, including new works made in the old Art forms such as pau:bha paintings, statues, and metal, stone, and wood craft that Nepal is most Famous for. The third hall will feature established artists, the fourth will be about how religious Paintings are conceptualized in the present time, and the fifth room will display works by the young Generation of artists. All the works are made after the 1950s, and most are much more recent than that; Of course, art that is older than 100 years old cannot be taken out of Nepal, even for displaying. But What I’ve learned from this whole conversation is that the new Nepali art—what’s up and coming—is More than enough to represent Nepal to the world.

Dr. Christian sums things up: “What impresses me so much is, I meet LokChitrakar, a traditional Pau:bha painter, in the morning in his studio, and then I jump into a taxi and visit SanjeevMaharjan, And he’s painting in such an abstract but strong way, and both artists sit at the same time in front of Their works, doing something completely different. It’s great to visit the artists, so actually it gives me An excuse to come again and again and meet some of my old friends,” he said cheerfully, Conspiratorially.