‘Panorama 60’s: Pioneers of Nepali Modernism’ is a panoramic showcase of post-1960s Nepali art, featuring work from eight artists who pioneered modern art in Nepal. Through examining the work of the pioneers of the movement – Manoj Babu Mishra, Shashi Bikram Shah, Batsha Gopal Baidhya, Krishna Manandhar, Ramananda Joshi, Indra Pradhan, Gehendra Man Amatya, & Shashi Kala Tiwari –, this exhibition aims to educate the public on the emergence and development of modernism in Nepali art. Modern Nepali art is an understudied area of artistic and cultural history and the objective of this exhibition is to help fill this gap (1).
Modern art started in Europe as a response to the new lives and ideas made possible by the technological innovations of the industrial age. These changes caused contemporary society to change rapidly, forging a new way of life, vastly different from life in the recent past. In response to this change, artists represented the newness of modern life in suitably innovative ways (2). The term modern art covers a significant amount of artistic genres – including Surrealism, Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, etc. – spanning more than a century. Aesthetically speaking, modern art is characterised by the artist’s intent to portray a subject as it exists in the world – according to their unique perspective – and is typically anti-establishment rejection of acceptable aesthetic and social norms (3). When modernism was introduced to Nepal in the 1960s, the creative landscape of Nepal was dramatically changed (4).
The collapse of the Rana Dynasty (1846 A.D. until 1951 A.D.), marks the moment when the political landscape of Nepal changed, and contemporary artists were allowed to experiment with modern aesthetics (5). During the reign of the Rana regime, grand portraits and historical scale monument paintings in the style of the European art academy were commissioned (6). In 1951, with the collapse of the Rana Dynasty, power shifted back to the monarchy of King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah with the promulgation of a new constitution (5). From this point onwards, the taste of King Tribhuvan dictated the style of art in Nepal. King Tribhuvan admired the aesthetic quality of modern trends coming out of European and imported these trends by making modern art the art establishment in Nepal. However, while the King admired the aesthetic quality of Modern art, evidently he did not understand the anti-established conceptual basis of modernism (7).
The 1960s was the turning point of modernism in Nepal, with modernist trends – embodying ideas of artistic experimentation and innovation – being introduced from Europe. However, while European modernism was an anti-establishment movement, modern art in Nepal was the art establishment. Due to this significant ideological difference, these two movements – despite having many aesthetic similarities – are conceptually opposed (7). This new interpretation of modernism, coupled with the influence of Nepal long tradition of traditional art, and the presence of Hindu and Buddhist spirituality and religious iconography are the three main elements that differentiate Nepali Modernism. It is these key differences that resulted in a form of modernism that was no longer anti-establishment and had a profound preoccupation with emotional expression.
Curated by Saroj Mahato & Bronte Isabella
- Saroj Bajracharya (2018), Narrative of Modern Art in Nepal.
- MoMA Learning, What is Modern Art?, www.moma.org, https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/what-is-modern-art
- Tate, Art Term: Modernism, www.tate.org.uk, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/modernism
- Dr Dina Bangdel, Modern and Contemporary Arts of Nepal: Brief Overview, Nepal Art Council, http://www.nepalartcouncil.org.np/modern-and-contemporary-arts-of-nepal-brief-overview/
- Dor Bahadur Bista (1991), Fatalism and Development: Nepal’s Struggle for Modernization. Orient Blackswan.
- Saphalya Amatya (1997), Words of Greeting, except from Changing faces of Nepal: The Glory of Asia’s Past, Exhibtiion catalogue, UNESCO.
- Professor Abhi Subedi (May 2018), Lecture on Modern & Contemporary Art, Bikalpa Art Center Lecture on modern and contemporary art
Manuj Babu Mishra was born in August 1936 A.D. Mishra holds a B.F.A. degree from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and an M.A. in Ancient History and Culture from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. In his professional career, Mishra has been associated with various national and international organizations, worked as a senior graphic designer and as a Fine Arts lecturer at Tribhuvan University.
Mishra has had 12 solo shows, with his first exhibition opening in 1967A.D. in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has since exhibited internationally in Germany, India, and Denmark and prolifically in Nepal. In addition to work as a visual artist, Mishra has published numerous books on art, politics, and history.
Mishra’s oeuvre is cluttered with depictions of gods and goddesses; however, Mishra is an ardent atheist. Most of the male characters in his works are modelled from his likeness; vividly reflecting his inner emotional turmoil. Mishra’s works offer the viewer a glimpse into the sinister, godless world of his imagination.
Shashi Bikram Shah was born in 1940 A.D. in Bhotebahal, Kathmandu. He was awarded a scholarship from the Indian government of the Sir J.J. School of Fine Arts in 1963 A.D., completing his Diploma of Arts in 1968 A.D. His first solo exhibition took place at Nepal Association of Fine Arts (NAFA) Gallery in 1969 A.D. He is a prominent member of the SKIB – a landmark artists’ group, which played a pivotal role in shaping modern art in Nepal. He has had numerous solo and group shows, both nationally and internationally.
Shah was a key figure in Nepali Modernism, known for using modern ideas and techniques to transfiguring religious icon. With Surrealism heavily influencing his early work, elongating and giving a weightless quality to representations of the human form. Initially, Shah’s work focused on painting the ten incarnations of Vishnu, one of the significant gods in Hinduism. Later he focused his attention on Kalki – the tenth and final incarnation of Vishnu. According to methodology, Kaki will appear to destroy the wicked and usher in a new age when the unjust rule the world and virtue has disappeared.
Batsa Gopal Vaidya was born in Patan, Nepal in 1946 A.D. He received a scholarship from the Indian government to pursue art studies at Sir J.J. School of Art, Bombay, India in 1968 A.D., completing his diploma in 1970 A.D. Upon returning to Nepal, Vaidya had his first one-man show at NAFA gallery, Kathmandu, Nepal in the same year. He is a member of SKIB artist group and is an acclaimed traditional dancer.
Batsa Gopal Vaidya, upon returning from his studies in Bombay, India, set about purposely finding a unique style that would make him stand out from the rest of his peers. Focusing his work on religious paraphernalia, temples, and tantric motifs; Vaidya is best known for his portraits of Ganesh, one of the primary deities of Hinduism. His stand-out-style intertwines religious imagery and modernist aesthetics – specifically abstraction and surrealism.
Krishna Manandhar was born in Bhotahity, Kathmandu, Nepal in 1947 A.D. Initially he studied art in Juddhakala Pathsala, Nepal, before receiving scholarship from the Indian Government to study at the Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay, India in 1965 A.D. He graduated with a Diploma of Art in 1970 A.D. Upon returning to Nepal, he had his first exhibition SKIB 71, which was a group work exhibition with his fellow SKIB members – Shashi Bikram Shah, Indra Pradhan, and Batsa Gopal Vaidya.
Krishna Manandhar’s abstract landscapes paint a euphoric picture of the world around him; representing both the physical landscape and his spiritual consciousness. Earlier in his career, Manandahar’s works were more impressionistic in style. However, he soon developed an interest in abstraction, developing his own signature style. Connecting the harmony of nature and the human psyche in his works. Manandhar believes that paintings are a passage to the unknowns of the mind, awakening the viewers subconscious. He has been painting aerial view landscapes in his signature abstract style for nearly two decades.
The late Ramananda Joshi was born in 1938 A.D. in Kwalkhu, Lalitpur, and passed away in 1988 A.D. He received a scholarship to attend Sir J.J. School of Fine Arts, Mumbai, India in 1959 A.D., completing his Diploma of Arts in 1964 A.D. His first solo exhibition took place at ICC, New Road, Kathmandu in 1964 A.D. His artworks are permanently displayed at the RN Joshi Museum at Park Gallery, Lalitpur. In addition to being a prolific artist and an arts educator, Joshi was a passionate culture and heritage preservationist. He was deeply concerned about the old heritage sites of Kathmandu valley.
Ramananda Joshi was an artistic pioneer who undeniably shaped modern art in Nepal, by creating innovative works and establishing an art pedagogy. Joshi was an advocate for plein air painting – which is the act of painting outdoors, popularisation by the impressionists – introducing the impressionist style to Nepal. Joshi was also inspired by Neo-Tantric art, which was seen as an alternative to Western abstraction, taking a highly philosophised, spiritual approach to modern art. By experimenting with both Western and Asian forms of modernism, he forged a unique aesthetic hybrid.
The late Indra Pradhan was born in 1944 A.D. in Ilaam, Mechi, Nepal and passed away in 1995 A.D. Pradhan attended Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay in 1964 A.D. and completing his Diploma of Arts in 1970 A.D. After the completion of his diploma, he completed a short Mural painting course. He first solo exhibition was in his hometown of Ilaam, Nepal in 1969 A.D. He was one of the prominent members of SKIB, along with Shashi Bikram Shah, Krishna Manandhar, and Batsa Gopal Vaidya, which was an aritst group established in 1971 A.D.
Early in Indra Pradhan’s career, he experimented with a variety of different styles, including: plein air landscapes, realism, and abstraction; with his main stylistic focus being on abstract expressionism. Pradhan creates harsh allegorical juxtapositions, by depicting both figurative and non-figurative styles on the one canvas; giving his work a powerful emotive quality. The theme of his work deals with the complexity of ritual and cultural values, and explore the ineffable concepts of love, mystery and divinity.
Gehendra Man Amatya was born in 1936 A.D. Amatya holds a Bachelor of Communications and has undertaken several short-training courses: drawing and colour course by the late Chandra Man Singh Maskey, Modern Art training by the French artist Nicolai Michalouskin, and Design training at the Ford foundation Training Center. Amatya has 28 solo exhibitions to his credit, in Nepal, India, and the USA. Additionally, he has participated in numerous group exhibitions and various workshops and has published several books on the cultural heritage of Nepal and nearly 500 articles on art and literature.
Gehendra Man Amatya was one of the first Nepal artists to paint in an abstract style and has remained loyal to this style throughout his career. Modernist trends, like abstraction, embody the ideas of artistic experimentation and innovation. However, Nepali modernism differs from its European predecessor, by embracing a profoundly personal expression of the artist’s inner self. Amatya brought a sense of originality to this style by using abstract forms to express his emotions.
Shashi Kala Tiwari was born in 1950 A.D. in Kathmandu. Tiwari has a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in painting, from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India and Bachelor of Arts and a diploma in the French Langauge from Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu. Her work has been wildly exhibitied in Nepal and abroad. Participating in group shows in India, Japan, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, and Brazil. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards, including: the selected are Best Artist of the year NAFA (Nepal Association of Fine Arts) Nepal 1981 and 1984 A.D., Best Prize-Rastriya Sirjanatmak Pariwar1984 A.D., Best Artist (Countrywide) International Art Exhibition 1997 A.D.
Shashi Kala Tiwari is known for her whimsical expressionist paintings. Tiwari’s gestural brush-strokes express profound personal connection to nature. With vibrant mountains and colourful flowers – often accompanied by birds or human figures – she reveals a vision of nature uncontaminated by industrialisation. Her artworks showcase a world without out any social construction, geographical conditions, and free from the parameters of time.
Modern Nepali Art: Bangdel and after as mirrored in my reviews
Dr. Abhi Subedi
I browsed through my diary of art reviews made over the past several decades to see how I or we have perceived the modernist Nepali paintings. The reviews open up narratives about Nepali paintings that have changed over difficult, experimental and interesting times. I have revisited my early reviews and alluded to them to capture the glimpse of modernist Nepali paintings as I have seen them. As this is only limited to my catalogue and other published articles, this essay is not an outline of history.
Modernism as a concept was already the dominant feature of a section of Nepali poetry, if not all, towards the sixties. These poets of the young generation made unique experiments in their poetic craft. They indeed emulated the style of modern paintings in their poetry. How they got this exposure to the modern style of painting triggers debate. But from my own experience, I can say that they had drawn little from any Nepali modernist paintings, which were far and few between until the sixties and early seventies. Though a first historical exhibition of modern paintings of artist Lain Sing Bangdel (1924-2002) was organised at Saraswati Sadan of Tri-Chandra College, inaugurated by king Mahendra, in 1962, it did not make any direct impact on poets, but it certainly did open up new avenues for the artists. These words that I wrote for the obituary of Bangdel, speak about the moment of transition when modernism was being experimented in the difficult moments of history. I wrote, Bangdel’s “the highest-priced painting was sold for Rs 5,000, and most of the buyers ‘came from the Rana families’. The King had just dissolved the parliament and put the elected prime minister B.P. Koirala, his close confidantes as we can see from B.P.’s autobiography, to jail. He had banned parties and political discourses. Bangdel’s paintings did not offer the King any challenge. These paintings were very friendly if you did understand them, or just lovely even if you only recognised the sensa in them”. In the same obituary I wrote about his kind of training. It would be relevant to cite again to begin this discourse about modern paintings. I add, “Thoroughly trained in Western schools of modern arts, Bangdel came with different techniques of paintings. He had been influenced by Picasso’s paintings, especially of his works of the ‘blue period’, in which Bangdel found a great model to depict the les miserables, the hapless and sad figures. But he had executed paintings that were abstract. In abstract paintings Bangdel captured the ethos of the people by depicting the calm and livid Himalayan mountains. The misty, lyrical and charming Kathmandu valley bathing in the mellow autumn sun with the haunting beauty of the Himalayas became the subject of his very well known lyrical paintings.
Bangdel fully used the form of modern abstract paintings to express his sense of space and time. Space was fluid but recognisable. He thoroughly revised his apprenticeship of the western orientation of expressionism in the combination and use of colours and figures. His abstract art depicted the condition of modern mankind but that was very charming and expressive. In some paintings, one needs only to look at the sensa and not a recognisable theme (Space Time TODAY, 3 November 2002). Bangdel continued to work. One other interesting incident must be mentioned. A total of 250 paintings of Bangdel were exhibited at the Arts Council in April 1991. Looking at these paintings was like looking at the history of modernist Nepali art. These paintings showed his creative 50 years in art.
To continue the painting poetry nexus as mentioned at the beginning, I would like to allude to the painting exhibition of Uttam Nepali, who is also a modern poet. His exhibition of paintings under “poet, poetry and paintings” was made at the Fine Arts gallery in 1975. I wrote, “He used the contemporary modernist poets’ lines on his paintings and centred the canvas around the sense conveyed by the poem or created an interpretation of the tension between the language and the paintings.” Uttam Nepali executed his paintings in oil and acrylic medium. Mention must be made of a retrospective exhibition of Uttam dai‘s entire paintings acquired up to that time, i.e. up to April 2004. Art curator Sangeeta Thapa organised that historical albeit complex exhibition at the same Arts Council’s gallery where she had organised a similar painting exhibition of Lain Bangdel 13 years earlier in April 1991. These exhibitions of paintings by Bangdel and Nepali give the character of the challenges and crises experienced by painters in the formative years of modernism.
Keeping a certain temporal order in mind I want to mention the art of the great modern Nepali painter Laxman Shrestha briefly. Laxman Shrestha first exhibited his paintings in what was then NAFA in 1967. The brochure for that exhibition was written by no other than Balakrishna Sama (1902-1981), the maestro of Nepali drama. As a young university student and regular visitor, Sama was the source of my artistic epistemology, crafts, and criticism. I heard about Laxman Shrestha from him. Uniquely enough, Sama mentioned to me the works of Picasso, and the post-impressionists. In the brochure itself he has mentioned about the relation between abstract non-figurative art and modernist art of the West. I quote from my previous article here–“I was very happy to read his brochure in which he had introduced a problematic. That was a good piece of art criticism. Sama calls Laxman Shrestha the painter who understands and uses that complex aesthetic-religious perception. He makes another very important observation in that short text. He juxtaposes the Sanskrit poet dramatist Kalidasa’s Rati Vilapa and Jackson Pollock’s Suvaas, which means good smell. I do not know exactly which painting of Pollock was Sama referring to. But both paintings, he says, have the same purpose—to express human feelings. He concludes—“Laxman Shrestha by putting upon these old walls the pictures of human mind in the abstract paintings, creations of his brilliant mind, has enhanced the prestige of Nepali art in the world. Such is my conviction and my perception” (The Kathmandu Post, 9 June 2013). Sama’s review reveals that we have not sufficiently understood the root of Nepali modernist paintings. It is a very important issue.
One of my earliest reviews is that of SKIB–the acronym of Sashi, Krish, Indra, Batsa–in 1971 in the form of a letter that I published in “The Rising Nepal” in which I have mentioned about their meeting with the Nepali writers. I had organised that, in fact, at NAFA gallery where we all sat on the floor and for the first time, as it were, we were ruminating about how painters and writers could work together. That is another narrative; I do not want to go into that. SKIB’s exhibition that was going on there. They had all returned after completing apprenticeship in India, mainly from JJ School of Art. The time was transitional. I wrote the following in a catalogue about them:
“Their personal involvement in art activities coupled with their experimentation created a unique atmosphere in Nepali paintings characterised by such features as the gatherings of artists, interactions, exhibitions and, above all the pedagogy of art.
Shashi Shah studies the unique dramatic modes of culture in a somewhat surrealistic style. There is vision of the apocalypse in his paintings; Krishna Manandhar has created a changing pattern of experiences in different modes of experimentation over the decades; the late Indra Pradhan’s paintings combine charm with the fragmentation of experience and the disintegration of values with the creation of new hopes in the pleasant combinations of forms and media; Batsa Gopal Vaidya views the occult and the sacramental subjects with the openness and readiness for experiments of a modern artist. Indra Pradhan’s death left the three to continue their works, but without the group spirit any longer.
I was closely associated with another remarkable artist Manuj Babu Mishra. This artist who could work in his seclusion, in a place called hermitage in Bouddha, carries a universe of his own imaginaire, the vision of the apocalypse, which dominates his works. The forms that are visibly distorted, contorted and stylised show his modus operandi that clearly foregrounds the picture of the modern era, or of modernism, which is haunted. But the scary figurality, human heads pierced by jets including his own, pythons rising to the sky and the domination of blue and green, as well as dark, ironically represent a calm acquired after a catharsis. Mishra is also a portraitist. He has drawn one of mine, which is included in his book of paintings. I feel immensely delighted by that, especially by the fact that he has kept my figurality outside the surreal modus opernadi.
Shashikala Tiwari is another modern artist whose works have always attracted me. She is the first modern woman artist of Nepal whose canvases present through the delineation of the colour structure a very effective atmosphere of expression in painting. I wrote earlier about her, “The predominance of blue and green in her paintings marks an important feature about her style. In most of her well-known canvases blue is used to mark a positive experience. The concepts associated with the blue such as the blue mood, the dejected mind, and the world of misery sometimes stand at odds with her use of colour. She, however, finds blue as the effective symbol of nature and even of an optimistic mood”.
My files show, I have written about Kiran Manandhar more than about any other artists. But here I want to quote from my latest text written for a catalogue of his exhibition with his son, a talented painter of young generation Sagar Manandhar, in 2014. What I have written in this catalogue is worth quoting at some length because this catalogue article covers a little history of my study of Kiran’s art. I write, ” In the early years Kiran Manandhar’s mandalic motif attracted me with his delineation of the circular, triangular and square shapes. He looked philosophically guided then. His paintings of that period subtly represent both the iconicity and philosophy of mandalic art. I have written about those paintings in his glossy catalogues and newspapers. Various other phases came in his art including his experiments with the Chinese and Japanese paintings. But through all these changes Kiran Manandhar maintained a certain deeply meditated and exercised formalism in his paintings. Just to mention a few features of his central style—he uses anthropomorphic forms nearly in each of his paintings. Figures, especially of women with a certain degree of mytho-poetic meaning, appear in them. He creates ripples of sounds in some paintings featuring flute imagery, reminiscent of the Krishna musical myth. But it is not quite as transparent as it may sound in these lines.
Looking back at the span of time that Kiran Manandhar’s paintings cover, I interestingly encounter the same issues of art criticism discussed here and South Asia as we see in the general discourse of art criticism in the West. It may be appropriate to say that Nepali modern paintings too when they emerged carried with them a degree of vitality of an alien order in the eyes of the Nepali audience who were even shocked by some of the first modern paintings, as stories go.
…… Kiran Manandhar’s paintings, in most of the major ones, some of which were remarkably huge like the one he executed on stage where we were staging my play “Kathmandu Odyssey” in 1996, and several others in others times, fills out the field of action to the very edge. But in this series of vertical paintings, mountains occupy that field. It may appear somewhat out of place with the modernist techniques, but the painter, as I said earlier, goes beyond the Western aesthetic perception and follows the styles of the South Asian modern painters, where forms of culture and beauty are incorporated in the work.” It would be contextual to cite a few lines that I wrote in the same catalogue about Sagar Manandhar too because he was exhibiting alongside Kiran Manandhar though he belongs to the young generation of painters. I have written the following:
“Sagar’s paintings through their detailed and very minute delineations of forms lines and geometric shapes do not present a copy of reality but articulate narratives of Newar art that are retold not in linear order but through lines and forms creating textures of seasons, moods and theatrical participation. The artist repeatedly told me how he had projected his persona, his self to earn this experience. The artist has become an active participant by putting his selfhood as a voyeur from inside both as a native to the culture and artist with confident artistic accomplishments”.
In the paintings Ragini Upadhyay Grela has captured the archetypal pattern of the political game by combining ancient with the modern, perpetual impulses with the local and temporal. She has also combined literature with art especially by using children’s literature to dramatise the comic yet sinister aspects of politics and politicians. She is a very prolific artist who has made many experiments with her intaglio works. Her theme continues to be woman in most of her major works. Another artist, the Australia-trained Ashmina Ranjit’s experiments in her works bring her style closer to the postmodernist forms. She is very well known for her installation works. So her works are given prominence by media. She depicts the raw pain, violence and bloodshed in the land. But the ephemeral works of this talented artist have an effect of a theatrical performance without a reusable text.
I want to conclude this short diary browsing here by mentioning a few words about other artists about whom I have written here and there. In that context, Sharad Ranjit is another artist well known for his landscape works and portraits of characters on representational or realist plane. His love for the transparency, charming and articulate structuralism of colour, balance and space, especially in his Himalayan landscapes, has gone into the making of these abstract illusions.
Ramesh Khanal’s paintings are experimental, especially in the use of colours. I like the artist’s sense of time that hides in the immediately conceived formless forms. I would say the arupan gaami painting, though the basis of its compositions is not a system of imagery, becomes an image itself. When you view the combination of white and blue, flow of colours left with brush strokes, you find that the colours enter into dialogue with each other, and very importantly with the viewer herself. That is the function of imagery. Each painting therefore is an image in totality if not in isolated forms inside the art.
Madan Chitrakar’s paintings combine graphic forms and expressive use of colours and lines. Shankarraj Suwal, Shyam Chitrakar, Gopal Kalapremi of Biratnagar, Karna Maskey of Dharan and other artists of this generation not mentioned here, for reason of space all use controlled methods of paintings with rich palettes of colours. Ratan Rai’s graphic style and drawings have received very good response from the viewers. Buddhi Thapa’s paintings deal with the theme of mandala and ecology.
Mukesh Malla was an art activist, a champion of the cause for an academy or an institute for art exclusively. I was associated with some of his activities. His paintings do not represent that anxiety directly. But his paintings done mainly in acrylic medium and sometimes in oil on large and mostly smaller canvases are more charming than frighteningly daunting. Abstractionism is their main stylistic feature, but Malla has not limited himself rigidly to any particular form.
“I want to quote from an article that I wrote for a French book of South Asian artists about another artist Sujan Chitrakar (1974). “He is among the youngest–of the later generation of modern artists–and a brilliant painters whose impact on modern art education is probably the most significant. He was educated in India. He did his Master of Fine Arts at MFA College of Art of Delhi University in 2001. He got his degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts, BFA from Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India in 1999. Sujan Chitrakar is the leading art pedagogue at Kathmandu University. He is very well known also as an art curator. He has lectured on art in all the South Asian countries and received his training in America as a Fulbright scholar. His art is experimental and innovative. He has trained a number of very good artists”.
Though this diary browsing is not about the younger generation of painters, I have the temptation to write a few lines about them too. The reason is, I have also written about their works at different times in different forms. Women artists of the younger generations have been showing greater maturity every day. Shova Wagle treats her paintings with great care and love. Sarita Dongol executes eco-paintings. In her paintings there is dominance of blue colour, and criss-cross lines are used to create an expressive rebellion against the depletion of forests which is synonymous with the exploitation of woman; Sunila Bajracharya creates woman’s expressive sombre image by making dark bands, woman’s lock as the central focus that make the brownish canvas expressive; Pramila Bajracharya creates textured canvas with their styles.
Asha Ratna Dongol’s small vertical canvases are paintings with a mood of exuberance suggested by the predominance of yellow and dark bands creating textured forms; Erina Tamrakar’s pensive women appear after a series of strokes she puts with yellow invisible lines; Binod Pradhan and Pradeep Bajracharya also work in similar styles. These Kasthamandap group have kept the art activities alive.
I have already mentioned at the beginning, the main focus of this diary browsing is to write about the trends of modernist Nepali art, and that I have attempted to write in this short critical recollection.
Essay by Dr. Abhi Subedi
All the copyrights © reserved to Bikalpa Art Center
Narratives of Modern Art in Nepal
One cannot understand the reason of anything coming into being without understanding its background. The tales of Nepali modern art also bears such important but unexcavated stories and backgrounds. The context here is the advent of Nepali modern art and its immediate past through which it came into existence. This exhibition Panorama attempts to bring to light, stories that narrate the early formational years of the modern art in Nepal.
The Nepali art is the combination of vibrant stories that originated and evolved in various times in forms of ancient and mystifying outlook towards life. These stories later in the early 20th century blended with the western influenced art methods that initiated the modern art in Nepal. In the west, modern art dawned in the mid 19th century with the advent of industrial revolution, civil wars and the world wars. Conceptually, these arts were more about logic and reasoning and purpose of humanity in the network of existence. However, here in Nepal art was not about revolution or wars or moving forward with science and logic; rather it was about taking a step backward to interpret the traditional continuity and ancient beliefs blending them with new philosophies and western techniques. From this perspective, the ancient is the state of mind that evolves in gradual pace and the new is the process that multiplies rapidly; when both merge, we get complex and sophisticated expression that relays stories in manifold layers. That is how modern art expanded in Nepal.
This particular exhibition entitled Panorama is a small but a genuine effort to understand the direction that the initial phase of modern art took in Nepal from the 1960s to 1980s AD. This exhibition is also an attempt to understand the conditions through which art in Nepal evolved in the modern times. We need to interpret and understand the background of Nepali modern art because art makes us aware of how we are similar to other cultures at the same time enables us to know how we are different than the rest.
Now exploring into the past, before the advent of modern art here, one should also take into consideration the pre-modern art phase in Nepal to understand the overall Nepali art synthesis. During the Rana regime (1846 – 1951 AD), Nepal was opening to the western ideas and etiquettes. This is when the idea of modern art also got introduced here. Before the introduction of modern art, traditional art that preached religion was very influential here. Such art used to depict spirituality, religion and usually spoke of the ‘soul’. In order to carry on with the traditional rituals, the art forms of that period used to follow strict rules and regulations. Therefore, the art forms were worshipped but the artists were largely left unknown.
The ancient painting called “Pauva” in Nepal and “Thanka” in Tibet also lies in the traditional art category. Such works were considered a part of a religious ritual; therefore, while creating them, artists had to follow strict rules. However in the later years, as art started to get modernized, few of the artists started introducing their own thoughts and concepts in such traditional artworks. At the other end there were artists who were influenced by the western art tendencies. Artworks created by following these tendencies were coined as Nepali modern art. Such works featured a materialistic approach in subject matters and were personal and individualistic. It drastically departed from religious art which is more of a collective phenomenon. In the early 20th century, artists here began to get into still life, landscapes and portraits that had nothing to do with deities and religion. This approach was gaining rapid popularity which hinted that Nepalese art was heading towards modernism. This is how on the verge of transition, this new art no longer was a tool to express religion or collective reality, rather it became a multiple medium genre to assert the individual emotions. With the rise of the materialistic approach in art, everything changed- from content to technique and even the attitude to perceive art. The western influence was so different that it introduced fresh techniques, mediums, and also different readymade colours were used.
During the Rana regime, the aristocrats used to commission artists to paint their portraitures and paintings on hunting series as they used to invite elite guests from Europe mostly to engage in hunting. Many times, artists from the west were also invited to paint. This is how the interaction between the local artists and western methods and techniques gained momentum. This was one of the significant reasons for art to drastically alter in Nepal- materialistically and intellectually. These changes are considered as the line between traditional and the contemporary arts here. It was in this period that two artists were sent to India for formal art training in the 1920s AD, Tej Bahadur Chitrakar and Chandraman Singh Maskey. But after the Ranas in the 1960s AD, many students flooded abroad for further education. They were directly exposed to western art styles, as India was colonized by the British and they had introduced western art techniques and concepts in colleges there.
The artists featured in this exhibition belong to the first generation of Nepali modern art and most of them were educated in India. Krishna Manandhar, Shashi Bikram Shah, Batsa Gopal Vaidya, Madan Chitrakar, late Ramananda Joshi and late Indra Pradhan studied India; whereas ManujBabu Mishra had his art education in Bangladesh. Gehendra Man Amatya is the only artist featured in this exhibition who is self-taught.
These are eight of the prominent artists who found fresh ways to observe their surroundings, due to their devotion to art and also because of the art education they acquired. Many of their works interpret traditional or cultural motifs rather than replicating them. In the west, the reason for modern art to take momentum were the civil wars, world wars and the industrial revolution. However, in Nepal, the study of ancient cultures via a new pair of eyes that evolved in modern time and age was what kicked off the initial phase of modern art.
The artists showcased in this exhibition are amongst those creative icons who responded to new kind of surroundings that were shaping up in the 1960s A.D. Even though some of their works are based on cultural multiplicities, they are not directly influenced by culture or religion anymore. They are rather individual emotional or intellectual reactions to what they were experiencing. Arts of the 1960s carried a conceptual opinion dissimilar to traditional art. Now artists were free, not bound by anything except their own unlimited imagination and free will. This exhibition, therefore, is a testimony that the advent of Nepali modern art is a time-tested evolution.
I hope this exhibition brings us closer to the narratives of the advent of Nepali modern art and help us excavate its stories and backgrounds.
Essay By Saroj Bajracharya
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