Art is essential to civilization, particularly ones that are skidding on the slippery slope of democratization and urbanization.  Regardless of its reflection to life or vice versa, there are potent moments when life oozes out of the breadth and width of the edges of the canvas, when the idea, the message, becomes corporal from the space, volume and time occupied by statues and installations, and especially when effects impact beyond mediums and perceptions. Kathmandu’s art scene, at its truest, reflects its tryst with life, its rendezvous with culture and identity through the endlessly dovetailing seams of heritage and external influence; a place of many forms and the formless too, a consequent sediment of Hinduism, Buddhism, Animism, Maoism and many other -isms fusing, mixing and fragmenting with each other.

The value of art lies in its plasticity of meaning and here exists each artist with their own unsung perspiration, drawing inspiration in the tapari-esque capital. Cultural, national and religious influence flow through the saddles of Shivapuri and Nagarjuna from outside the valley – ancient Mithila art, Lumbini woodcraft, Lhasa thangka and Patna architecture. Some artists capture the delicate balance of ethnic cultural heritage and industrialization and the questions of identity and belonging they create; some forge motifs for, even educate on, a communal or social purpose, and many tenaciously craft  for their daily roti.

Migration by KOSMICMigration by KOSMIC

But art, and by extension artists and their ideas, is not part of the dominant narrative in the capital. It holds a secondary, even subdued importance in ordinary life. Despite the glaring evidence of the valley’s immersion in art, and the position that art has held in shaping the capital and the country’s identity itself over the past two millennia – from temples, ornate statues and meticulous ethnic heritage passed down through generations – knowledge about Nepali art, artisans, and works of art among the populace remains wanting. The value that used to be ascribed to artisanal work, for example, had been declining since the last half century. Only when the countrywide ‘najik ko tirtha hela‘ realization happened after April and May 2015, did we realize the loss of the jewels of our culture. This has been an immense tragedy but also a potential for blessing: it has created the space to imagine a new country.

Art has been burgeoning from the private sphere to the public. The walls of – and around – embassies, of major corporate banks and restaurants have been witnesses to this trend that has now influenced – through the same saddles of Shivapuri and Nagarjuna – communities and artists across the nation. Walls once stickered with political slogans are now artworks that make statements on more than just a political level. The influence of art and artists has extended to villages and towns beyond the traditional hubs of civilization. It has seeped into education and learning, into youth motivation, and into cultural revolutions, masterfully blurring the lines between art and activism. It has become an enabler of creating community improvement, establishing a narrative of art as a powerful tool for empowerment, for expression and for exchange. It has become a global movement from the favelas of Brazil to urbanizing towns in Nepal.

DIB PRASAD Street Art FestivalDIB PRASAD Street Art Festival

Balancing such art and impact,The Kathmandu Triennale 2017, a non-profit event, is a much needed showcase and celebration of such artists. Following from the success of its two preceding events in the past years, the art exhibition is a hub for conversation, ideas and story-telling. A two week exhibition lasting from March 24 to April 9 with the theme of ‘The City, My Studio, My Life’ , it is a bold endeavor to put Nepal’s artistic voice on the global stage. Over 50 artists, selected by the curator Philippe van Cauteren, will be arriving from 25 countries in order to engage and capacitate Nepal’s art milieu. Among other things that make the event unique is its inclusion of three child-friendly spaces, immersive workshops for schools and communities across Nepal. Just like how in the best of works, art oozes out of the medium, so must impactful activism and capacity building seep into every crevice of the country. Hopefully, KT2017 is one of many more such empowering events to come in the future because Nepal certainly needs many, many more. If you want to support them, their fundraiser can be found at Indiegogo.

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Pratik Kunwar
Executive Director at Eclectic Foundation
Pratik Kunwar is the Founder and Executive Director of The Eclectic Foundation. He is usually traveling, drafting policies, consulting cooperatives or engaging in other social endeavors. When he is free, he disappears to write poetry and music.
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