Nepali art, ‘a language for expression’


Art, in Nepal, has historically been linked to Hindu, and in later centuries, Buddhist scriptures and beliefs. Along these years, expert craftsman from select families—Chitrakars who were believed to have been able to manifest the life-force of deities in paintings created with such finesse and masterful execution of technique and colours that their works were renowned throughout East Asia, and Tamrakar, Shakya and Swarnakar metal-smiths who were, at one time, believed to be the best in the world—fine-tuned their techniques, achieving aesthetically spectacular effects that perhaps reached their heights during the Malla Era.

In the past century, particularly in the past 50 years or so, techniques and forms that have travelled here from the West have become increasingly more influential, and there are perhaps more contemporary artists working to create expressive forms than there are those working on motifs and images that depict the moods and whims of the Gods. While religion is undoubtedly still a very strong cultural and social more, it has receded to the background as far as Nepali modern art is concerned.  This evolution in our art has however, been little explored and a huge gap is discernible in the information we currently have on the subject.

Emergence of Nepali Modern Art 1960-80, currently being showcased at the Park Gallery in Pulchowk, is an exhibition that hopes to find some way of manoeuvring this gap. How did Nepali art get from depicting the Buddha in his divine avatars, to depicting a Real Buddha—complete with a throwaway box of Real Juice (from Manish Harijan’s 2012 exhibition Rise of the Collateral)? These are the sorts of questions the recent talk programme (held at the gallery on January 13 at the gallery as part of the exhibition) gave some answers to. Facilitated by Saroj Bajracharya, a writer and artist, the discussion programme saw eminent art critic and teacher, as well as the author of eight books on Nepali art, Mukesh Malla and noted artist and art writer Madan Chitrakar— who has spent more than four decades in the pursuit of art—participate as speakers.

Held at the Park Gallery premises, amidst the very paintings that chart the evolution of Nepali modern art—mostly from the 1960s and 80s when many Nepali artists returned to the country after their studies abroad—the programme was mostly attended by art students and artists, all hoping to get better insight into the subject. Both Malla and Chitrakar talked about specific periods that chart a timeline for how art developed from the religious to the expressive—“a language for expression”, as Chitrakar referred to it, in Nepal.   

Both scholars cited the 1850s, when European art was first introduced to Nepal after Jung Bahadur’s travels to the occident, as having been responsible for the first, significant changes in the kind of art works that were being created in the country. “The palaces of the Ranas were replete with Western motifs, particularly in terms of the architecture, as well as the sculptures and portraits from the 1950s to the 30s,” said Malla. “The 1930s and 60s were a time when many artists began implementing the skills and techniques they’d learnt at art schools (mostly in India), creating a visible difference in the kinds of works being produced,” he added.

The speakers went on to talk about how trends such as romanticism, realism, expressionism, impressionism and the like found a footing in the country after the 1960s as more and more artists either went to art school or studied books on art by themselves in Kathmandu. It was also around this time that “solo-exhibitions established themselves as a practice for Nepali artists, bringing art to exhibition spaces open to the public,” says Malla. The paintings, hung on the walls of the gallery and surrounding those present at the talk programme, bespoke through form and colour what the two experts were saying through word.

While Emergence of Modern Nepali Art by itself will certainly not be able to fill the huge gap in research on the subject, what the exhibition and the talk programme will likely do, is expose our eyes and our minds to the issue, prodding us to ask questions about and find answers to this evolution.

Posted on: 2013-01-15 08:23