For the Love of Printmaking

3 10 2010
Sirjana/Srijana Art College

The sign says it all.

Today was the third day in our week-long experimental printmaking workshop at Sirjana/Srijana Art College (transliteration from Devanagari script sometimes differs but I’ll use their “Sirjana” spelling from here on out). The workshop was organized by Lasanaa Alternative Art Space and includes current and former students from Nepal’s 3 art colleges: Tribhuvan University’s Lalit Kala campuses (grad and undergrad), Kathmandu University and Sirjana Art College. There’s a little sibling rivalry amongst all these schools, so bringing students together is an attempt to minimize it for future collaboration and happiness. Naturally during our afternoon mealtime, the students break into their respective cliques, but at least they’re working very well together in the studio.

As I think I mentioned before, only 2 of the 3 schools have printmaking programs focused on traditional etching processes, so we’re throwing experimental techniques at students as a way of leveling the playing field and broadening creative thinking. The energy on the first day was amazing! Much more energy, I’m sorry to say, than I’ve seen from past American printmaking classes (Future MMU printmaking students, take note!) I demonstrated some monotype techniques and asked the students to be crazy and inventive, and they were! Within 1 hour, nearly everyone made at least 2 prints. All this with too many people in too small a space. On top of that, the power went out (a common occurrence in Nepal) and only returned in the last hour of our workshop, so everyone was working in dimly-lit conditions.

Nepal art student

Printmaking workshop student with her monotype plate.

At the beginning of the second day, we had a group show-and-tell. Everyone said a few words about their imagery and I encouraged them to ask other students how they’d made their images in case a technique was unfamiliar. This was great because they learned from each other about new processes to try. In Nepal, there is still a very strong educational system where teachers are believed to hold all knowledge, which is then passed to the student – usually in the form of lectures that enforce memorization instead of critical thinking. It’s easy to understand the continuation of this tradition in a country where the word “guru” has real meaning (guru being the Sanskrit term for teacher or religious leader). So, another objective of the workshop is to force adoption of new learning methods, which painfully came to a head in today’s class.

For last night’s homework, students were supposed to think of a concept or idea but not what visual form that concept would take. Some of my readers, those who believe that art should merely depict beauty, will begin to feel sorry for my Nepali students. Many of these students have only created art to please and never questioned who they were pleasing and why. To answer these questions, and others, for the first time in your life is really hard. It’s a process that involves thinking about your influences, beliefs and choices. We talked about their concepts for 2 hours straight, asking them follow-up questions leading to (hopefully) deeper revelations about their art. Nearly everyone left today’s class feeling confused, but I think that’s a good sign because it means they’re questioning everything. We’ll see what they come up with tomorrow!

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15 responses

6 10 2010
Lindsey

Kathryn,

What was your first thought when you found out that many of the schools only have printmaking progams that are limited? Did the students find it interesting, hard to handle, or difficult to learn these new ways? Also, you mentioned that Nepal has a sort of “teachers hold all knowledge” way of thinking. Do you find this harder or more different than when teaching in the U.S.?

6 10 2010
Michelle Fiester

Hi Kathryn,

When you leave to come back to Iowa, what will you miss the most about Nepal? The art works? The people? The different styles?

Thanks and be safe.
Michelle

6 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Michelle,

Ask me again in late November or December. It’s too hard for me to answer that just yet.

6 10 2010
Anna

Hi Kathryn,

My name is Anna and I’m an art student at MMU. I’m wondering if you were inspired by any of the works done by the students? Were there any good thoughts behind their work?

I asked you some questions before (when you talked about Sundarijal) which I think you might have missed:
Do you only take pictures or do you paint too? In class we have spoken much about the components of a work of art, and I am wondering what you think about while making art. Do you focus extra on balance, rhythm, scale, color, light or line for example?

6 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Anna,

I went back and answered your previous comment. Sorry I missed it before.

I think it’s always inspiring when I see students getting excited, working hard, and being passionate about their learning. We’re putting together a website with examples of their prints. Each student will write something about their work (in English) and will provide some feedback on the workshop. As soon as that’s up, I’ll add the link to this blog.

5 10 2010
Amanda Walker

Kathryn,
You have mentioned the numerous festivals and religious days of Nepal. I get the feeling like that is what their lives are all about. In America, we have celebrations, but certainly not to the extent of what you talk about, and you certainly wont find many people not so much as swallowing for days! We are going to be starting the chapter about art and religion next week, and we briefly disscussed some this week. We know that Buddism isnt really a religion, its more of a practice, although it may look like a religion to us. I feel that in the Nepali culture, religion and the ‘practices’ and the festivals would be the main topic for their artwork, and the main thing in their lives because that is their main focus. Whereas in America, our focus is definately on other things. Do you think that this is a fair conclusion? Do you think that it does relfect in their artwork?
Amanda

6 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Amanda,

I think that I need to talk about the difference between being culturally Hindu and religiously Hindu. The U.S. is predominantly a Judeo-Christian country and this influences many things you might overlook such as which days we consider “weekends” or rest days (i.e. sabbath days), official holidays, and the things we presume people should know in daily conversation. So, even an American atheist is probably culturally Judeo-Christian by the very fact that the legal system they must follow, or the days they consider rest days are religiously-based. In the same way, many Nepalis are culturally Hindu/Buddhist/Bon (depending on where they live in Nepal) even if they aren’t religious. Nepal’s caste system comes from Hinduism and is present in every aspect of Nepali culture even if the system itself was abolished long ago. It’s still practiced and upheld by many people whether they’re religious or not. And if you lived in a country where there were so many holidays, wouldn’t you look forward to a day off even if you weren’t of that faith?

Now that I’ve prefaced my answer, I can tell you that traditional arts are more religiously based but there is a whole world of contemporary Nepali artists (of many faiths and backgrounds), some of whom are making religious art in both older and contemporary styles, some who are using religious symbolism – not for religious reasons but because it’s part of their culture, and other artists who aren’t dealing with religion/festivals at all. This last group is doing all sorts of things like performance art and installation, sometimes using their art as a form of activism to criticize political or social problems, while others are making purely decorative art to please.

Just like anywhere, some people are very pious and others, not. You’ll find people here who worship everyday and who salute the gods every time they pass by a shrine. But there are just as many people for whom religion isn’t a daily experience. They observe the rituals on holidays to appease family or because it’s part of their cultural tradition. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that festivals and religious days are what the lives of Nepal’s citizens are all about. You might have missed an earlier post where I mentioned that fall is the holiday season in Nepal. Yes, there are holidays at other times of the year, but the big important ones are all lumped together at this time of the year.

4 10 2010
Mallory Singbeil

What kind of printmaking were being used in the class? I know we had talked about a few different one during Intro to Art including relief, intaglio, lithography, and serigraphy. I do think its interesting that your students there create to please someone but people in America often create art to express themselves.

5 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi Mallory,

Please see my reply to Ryan Kennebeck under post “Talk about Nothing (and Everything). I hadn’t meant to imply that Nepali students are only creating art for other people. The problem is that the idea of creating pleasing art (whether for other people OR yourself) still might lack a critical discourse. There are important conceptual and formal questions that artists should ask themselves (Nepali or American) when creating work.

4 10 2010
Ben Kromminga

Hey Kathryn!

I’m assuming that since this is an art college that all of the students are majoring in some sort of art discipline, right? Or are some of these students taking this class as an elective?

5 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Ben,

The university system is very different here and maybe more like Europe where students must decide their major before they even apply. Universities are broken down into colleges, which is why the Lalit Kala College (or campus) is part of the larger Tribhuvan University for example. Students attending this college (or any college whether business, chemistry, literature, etc) only take classes at that college. There is no “general education” system where students take a range of classes in electives and broad subjects to round out their education, such as the Intro to Art class you’re in right now. When I explained the American university system to my Nepali students and the concept of “general education” classes, they were jealous and thought it would serve them better to try out different courses before deciding upon a major.

8 10 2010
yer sister

OTOH, many Europeans I know work in fields completely different than what they studied in school.

One Brit told me that it’s more common there than here to study what piques your intellectual curiosity, then go on to do something else for your job–especially if what you studied isn’t something that will earn you a living.

3 10 2010
Michelle Fiester

I find it interesting that the Nepali students were never taught why they were creating Art. I think they have missed half of the learning process because I feel you can do a better job at anything if you have a deep understanding of why you are doing it. You are limited to what you can do when your learning is limited. Very interesting.

3 10 2010
willaim allen

Can they incorporate their religion into their prints, as some religions feel this a big taboo.

4 10 2010
Kathryn Hagy

Hi William,

Any image of a Hindu gods (3D or 2D) is felt to be the incarnation of that god so yes, the Hindu students are free to make any religious images they want. Buddhists don’t have a godhead but mandalas in the form of thangka and paubha paintings (and other images) are used in meditational practices.

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