Finally, Some Art

6 09 2010

Life in Kathmandu is becoming more normal, despite the continuation of the student strike at one campus and postponement of classes at the other. In the meantime, I’m conducting “workshops” at another university that, for the time being shall remain nameless in order to prevent more political squabbles. It is nice to feel useful and to have the chance to interact with Nepali art students, who just want people to respond to their art. I’m working with a group of 4th-year painting/drawing students, giving them feedback on their works-in-progress and assigning special projects based on art videos I brought with me from the States. The students were very shy at first but I began talking with each one individually about their artwork and they opened up. So, we’re making progress on the teaching front. Baby steps.

Art Studio

Nepali art students break from viewing Sanjeev Maharjan's artwork at KCAC to photograph the sunset.

I’ve also attended several art functions and appeared at other events advertised in the English language newspapers. Since I don’t/can’t subscribe to any of these newspapers, I’ve taken to camping out in a hotel lounge every Thursday and devouring their stock of free newspapers and weeklies advertising weekend happenings.  The Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre (KCAC) is one space that hosts a variety of events including a panel discussion I heard the other day entitled, Should Contemporary Nepali Art be Imbued with or Reflect an Innate Nepaliness? Of course, the discussion was entirely in Nepali but I managed to get the overall idea and will need to interview attendees for their feedback as part of my research. The topic fits perfectly with my research into contemporary Nepalese art and how Nepalese artists situate themselves between cultural traditions and the impact of globalism. Between this lecture and the other one I attended last week on Hybridity & Negotiation in Contemporary Nepali Painting, it’s clear that Nepali artists are experiencing the growing pains of the wider culture as it struggles to define itself. As difficult as that sounds, it’s also an exciting time because of possibly profound results (think American or French Revolutions, or any number of other historical upheavals).

Much of the worry is over the adoption of Western Modernism (and to some extent, Postmodernism). These movements were a response to their contexts and they developed regional characteristics, even if the broader definition of these movements was or is similar. To some, the application of modernism to Nepali art is like a veneer that doesn’t enmesh with cultural artistic traditions (but hey, that would be postmodernism, right?). Therefore, these questions about “innate Nepaliness” and “hybridity and negotiation” are central to the debate. Nepal was never colonized by a Western power, but the questions are very postcolonial. It will be interesting to see what happens!

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