Fulbright Project Description

Capturing Confluence

I traveled to Nepal for the first time in July/August 2006 to meet my Nepali in-laws and to briefly experience in Kathmandu what I had only heard about from Nepali friends and family. My three weeks of experiences as both tourist and sister/daughter-in-law would fill a book, but as a professional artist and teacher, I was particularly overcome. I teach both studio art and art history, including a class on non-Western art, so my knowledge of Hindu and Buddhist art history formed a basis for what I saw. However, I was unprepared for the importance of sacred place, as Christians tend to build spaces to surround their sacred places. Many of these Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites celebrate nature and phenomenal events, such as at Devghat, where the Trisuli and Kali Gandaki Rivers meet and flow into the Ganges, or Lake Gosaikunda, created, in Hindu belief, by Shiva’s violent attempt to draw water from the mountains to cool his poisoned throat.

My interest in teaching and art research in Nepal stems from these initial experiences and the questions I began to have about my own artwork, as well as my commitment to cross-cultural learning. Research into and travel to sacred water sites will allow me to observe the pilgrimage and ritual of devotees as a link to my own process, resulting in new work at those sites (if allowed) or honoring the concept of place, ritual and transience. In Nepal’s mix of Hinduism and Buddhism, transience, transition and impermanence play central roles in every aspect of life and death. Because my splashes and other subjects are ephemeral and suggest ritual narratives, my photographs are an attempt to capture the transitory. Investigating Nepal’s sacred sites such as Devghat may reveal more of the potential in my own work and other processes or rituals I might employ. Water plays an important religious and domestic role in Nepal, from securing drinking water and maintaining the “purity” of that water through the caste system and its use in blessings of Hindu and living gods (e.g. traditional morning husband worship). By respectfully capturing water phenomena at water sites in and around Kathmandu valley, my goal is to build a body of new source material. These sources would result in new work while in Nepal and would yield additional completed work upon my return.

Since much of the writing about Nepalese art privileges its historical traditions over its contemporary expressions, learning from the Nepali faculty, students and other professional artists would open new areas of understanding for my non-Western and contemporary art/theory classes as well as a possible future area of research and development. A persistent question is how Nepal’s arts flourish under political and social pressure as artists confront censorship or lack of financial/community support. One of the avenues to supporting Nepalese contemporary art and strengthening international relationships is to organize a contemporary Nepalese art exhibit at Mount Mercy University (my home institution) or in collaboration with another Iowa arts organization. Doing so would initiate an ongoing exchange that could include a short-term study trip of Mount Mercy students to Nepal, a reverse exchange of art faculty and students, as well as connections to Iowa’s growing population of Nepalis and Nepali-Bhutanese refugees.

While in Kathmandu, I’ll be teaching graduate painting at the Lalit Kala (Art College) of Tribhuvan University, printmaking at Srijana Art College, as well as working with Lasaana Alternative Art Space.

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