Rising from the rubble

A still from Amrit Karki’s community-based project.

A still from Amrit Karki’s community-based project.  


The inaugural edition of Kathmandu Triennale seeks to initiate discourse around contemporary art after several cultural sites were destructed in 2015 Nepal Earthquake

The first edition of Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF) in 2009 was big in size and strength. It featured 111 artists from 25 countries and was spread across six venues for 12 days, and the event, without any doubt, became one of the landmark art events in the landlocked country’s contemporary history. The second edition that followed after three years was equally eclectic in content and variety.

However, the definition of art in this festival wasn’t restricted only to visual arts as the gala affair welcomed all kinds of performing arts, including theatre and music. “It was kind of becoming confusing for people,” recollects Sangeeta Thapa, chair of Siddhartha Arts Foundation, organisers of KIAF, over the phone from Kathmandu.

“But we never seriously looked at changing the format. It was quite fun to be there,” she added. Even after some of her friends from the art world like Riyas Komu, one of the co-founders of Kochi Biennale, looking at the scale of the festival, had suggested her to rechristen it as triennale, the Foundation wasn’t sure if they were ready to take the plunge.

Loss of tangible heritage

But, the devastating April 25, 2015 earthquake in Nepal not only led to the loss of people and habitats, it also destroyed and damaged several sites of cultural importance. The incomprehensible loss of tangible heritage was what shook Sangeeta, and founding members deeply. “We even lost our contemporary art museum in the earthquake,” she laments.

“It is a cruel way of saying, but the Earthquake was a blessing in disguise for us,” she admits, saying, “only after witnessing the magnitude of cultural loss we decided to reorganise and reinvent.”

A result of this rethinking and restructuring is the inaugural edition of Kathmandu Triennale that has borrowed its basic framework from the predecessor but is more focused in its vision and approach. For instance, the underlying idea is to use Triennale as a platform to engage people with contemporary art by creating artistic works that involve the local community.

This is the reason why the organisers adopted a new framework and invited international artists to develop their work in Kathmandu within a limited time frame prior to the exhibition, which began this past Friday and continues till April 9.

The idea, she confesses, came from the curator of the Triennale, Philippe Van Cauteren, artistic director of Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele in Ghent, Belgium, who after understanding financial constraints of the Foundation coupled with the country’s crumbling economy, which accelerated after the earthquake, and lack of interest from the government had to devise a way to ensure money was spent wisely. “The basic idea was to save on the cost and taxes of flying in the artworks, but looking back, the way in which international artists engaged with locals has given this event an entirely different meaning,” she says.

Spread across four venues – Patan Museum, Siddhartha Arts Gallery, Taragaon Museum and Nepal Art Council, the Triennale, titled ‘My City, My Studio / My City, My Life’ reflects the strong and complex interaction between art and life in this city. Around 50 artists from more than 25 countries have created works that re-look at city’s relationship with art, heritage and its community.

For instance, Nepali artist Sujan Dangol has created a body of drawings and videos featuring refugees from different countries like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria and even Rohingyas, who have made Nepal their temporary homes. These recordings highlight the pain and restlessness these people face for not having a permanent residence and living a life of homelessness.

Similarly, prominent Bangladeshi artist Mahbubur Rahman has tried to understand the flux and fear LGBT community around the globe experiences in a video work where he has recreated a room into an intimate space where a transgender talks about the duality and paradox of progressive societies.

Amrit Karki’s work is a community-based project for which he worked with the people of Kirtipur, an ancient city, in Nepal. The idea was to examine how the earthquake had a crippling effect on their lives and livelihood.

“These are the issues that are very much relevant in today’s time. The migrants, women and third gender face the worst kind of discrimination. So it was pertinent that to have artistic responses to these global events,” she says.

Some of the international names are Alice Fox (UK), Bart Lodewijks (Netherlands), Belu Simion Fainaru (Israel), Carole Vanderlinden (Belgium), Heide Hinrichs (Germany), Javier Tellez (Venezuela), Mithu Sen and Shilpa Gupta (India) and Oscar Murillo (Colombia), among others.

While Sangeeta believes in the adage, ‘All’s well that ends well’, yet she can’t let go of the indifferent attitude organisers faced from the government of Nepal to support such an international event, which definitely is going to place Nepal somewhere on the art map.

“It is disheartening, but that doesn’t mean that we will lose hope. Help and support has flown in from unexpected quarters and we hope that in 2020 we will have greater and bigger patronage,” she concludes.

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Printable version | Nov 21, 2019 10:05:43 PM |

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