Art in Kathmandu

Well, well… here I am in beau Paris!  It has been a lovely few days, even though I’ve found myself experiencing a bit of culture shock after my time in the “developing world” (“third world,” “impolite societies” – whatever you want to call it, pick your own offensive term).  But WOW – stoplights, lanes, sidewalks, fresh veggies, cheese, clean water!  It really is quite nice to come back to these luxuries (which I used to simply take for granted), but it’s also strange in a way.  It feels almost sterile here – just a bit too clean and orderly after being in Nepal.  Funny how quickly I got used to having a bit more ‘grit’ in my life (well, a lot more ‘grit,’ actually). 

I’m excited to share my pictures and observations from Paris with you….BUT FIRST, I have so many things left to share about my time in Nepal!  (I know, I know… worst blogger ever!)  And in an effort to keep it all organized – at least in my own head – I’ll stick with the method of writing about things as they occurred in (approximate) chronological order. Thank you for tolerating my ‘Type A’ ways!

So for today I’ll give you a small glimpse into the Kathmandu art scene and fill you in on the last few weeks of my artist residency at the Kasthamandap Art Studio.

The artists at KAS were absolutely wonderful hosts, and were very generous with their time. They took me to several important places/events within the Kathmandu art scene, and introduced me to many interesting people.

First stop, the Nepal Association of Fine Arts (NAFA). Asha and I went there for an exhibition of traditional Nepali ‘folk arts,’ organized by region: the Terai (the plains), the mountainous regions near the Himalayan ranges, and, of course, the Kathmandu Valley. Not having much knowledge of these regions’ artistic traditions, this show was very informative for me, and helped me understand some of the work I see contemporary Nepali artists making today…

The following shots are of artwork from the Terai region:

Folk Arts Exhibition

 

I adore these paintings – drawn in a flat, graphic style with people often depicted in profile.  They remind me of paintings from ancient Egypt a bit.  I love the colors and the depiction of daily life…

Terai paintings

Detail shot

Terai paintings

I also loved these incredibly detailed ink drawings of mandalas…

mandala

Detail shot

mandala

Detail shot

These images are of artwork from the Kathmandu valley…

masks

Imagine wearing this huge elephant mask…

elephant mask

I really love these pieces – made with thin sheets of bamboo.  (And yes, there’s that Kumari again!)…

bamboo kumari

bamboo art

More amazing bamboo art… Given my love of dollhouses and everything miniature, it’s not hard to see why I loved these…

bamboo dollhouse

bamboo dollhouse

mini-bouhda

mini-bouhda

And a traditional mandala created entirely out of colored sand right there in the gallery- the roots of contemporary installation art run deep!

sand mandala

NAFA is housed in an beautiful building not far from the former Royal Palace. The architecture is lovely, and I was particularly fond of the large inner courtyards and the rooftop terrace…

NAFA building

The interior of a main hall during the speeches and ceremony preceeding the reception – clearly some European influences in the architecture and decor here…

Interior

Innter courtyard

The courtyard of the orphanage that operates on the ground floor of this building…

orphanage courtyard

And the lovely roof…

rooftop

rooftop

I was also able to attend the opening reception of a large group exhibition of contemporary Nepali artists at Siddhartha Art Gallery, one of the most prestigious galleries in Kathmandu. The works were almost entirely paintings (the most popular medium in the contemporary Kathmandu scene, I’ve noticed) – here are a few of my favorites from the show…

A few from “The Winner Series” by Kailash Shrestha (small, 6×8 inch mixed media works)… the floating hats you see are traditional caps worn by many men here in Nepal, particularly older men…

The Winner Series

The Winner Series

I was struck at how formal the proceedings surrounding this reception were. Speeches were made, each artist received a ceremonial scarf, and their were several members of the press present to take pictures and report on the event – what a far cry from the crackers-and-mediocre-bottle-of-wine routine we have for opening receptions in the States! I understood the similar ceremonial proceedings at the NAFA event, as it is a formal art institution affiliated with the Nepali government, but it was a bit surprising for me to see a similar set of circumstances at a commercial gallery…

Speeches

The presentation of scarves, photographed by the art-scene ‘paparazzi’…

scarves

From my perspective, this pomp and circumstance has its pros and cons, but I do appreciate that the artists are recognized in a more formalized way for their hard work. And the fact that they routinely receive press coverage is really great.

I also had the privilege of spending some more time at LASANAA, the arts organization I mentioned on my blog once before (see July 20th’s post, “Studio and New Work”). I attended a book launch there in late July, where I bought one of their publications “Redefining Kathmandu Valley,” a collection of contemporary artworks by the Nepali resident artists at LASANAA and corresponding poems by Nepali poets. The event included speeches by Ashmina Ranjid, the incredible artist and founder of LASANAA, and the Ambassador from the Danish Embassy, who sponsors many of LASANAA’s activities…

LASANAA launch

LASANAA launch

I also saw some awesome ‘kid art’ on display at the launch – examples from the art classes they hold at LASANAA. I can’t get enough of the way children draw – I just love it!

kid art

kid art

kid art

I spent some more time at LASANAA the following week when I gave a short talk about my work – but more on that a bit further into the post.

There are some other ‘bideshi’ artists (foreigners) working here as well, and I had the pleasure of meeting a few. I went to see the exhibition of Isan Brant, an American Fulbright scholar who is just finishing up a year-long stay in Nepal (check out her blog here). Turns out she has been studying with Lok Chitrakar, the pauva painter whose studio I visited within the first few days of my residency (again, see the “Studio and New Work” post) – the Kathmandu art scene is a small world, indeed. Here is one of my favorite pieces from her show…

Isan Brant

 Isan Brant

I’m happy to have befriended another wonderful artist, Robert Cervera Amblar – a Spanish sculptor who is based out of London, where he lives with his lovely wife, Charlotte (an NGO worker currently on assignment here in Kathmandu). He recently finished a three-month residency at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre, and I attended his fantastic concluding solo exhibition, “A Few Words in Material Nepali”…

Robert Cervera Amblar

 Robert Cervera Amblar

Robert Cervera Amblar

Robert Cervera Amblar

Robert Cervera Amblar

Robert Cervera Amblar

Robert Cervera Amblar

Robert Cervera Amblar

Robert Cervera Amblar

In the statement for his exhibition it says: “Every place has its own material language. How things are made, how they are used, how people relate to them. Robert Cervera Amblar came here to learn the material language of Nepal. In its vocabulary he found terraced fields and pagodas, flat metal sheets turned into three-dimensional objects, gods covered in dozens of layers of color. Its syntax is one of stacking and layering, of repetition and accumulation, of building up and up, mirroring the mountains… This exhibition, the final stage in his KCAC residency, is a collection of material phrases assembled in this language.”

I love Robert’s concept of “material language,” and can connect to it within my own work. I’ve never thought about it in these terms before, but it seems to me that I explore the “material language” of Home in my art. And I find this interesting because the concept of Home (or the ideal of Home) can be very much an abstract thing – especially when you talk about Home as an emotional/psychological construct, not just as a physical dwelling in which to sleep, eat, and store one’s possessions. So how do we translate such abstract (intangible) ideas to the material/physical world? In which materials are abstract concepts and ideas housed? Does the material world influence the origin of such abstract concepts? Or do the concepts influence how we shape and manipulate the material world (the old ‘chicken or egg’ conundrum)? Or is it a bit of both? Drew and I had a great conversation about all of this in a taxi the other night which left me with lots of food for thought and an ‘assignment’ to read about signs (Saussure’s ‘signifiers and signifieds’).

Speaking of my work…. I have more to show you! After completing my first few pieces within the first few weeks (“Response” and the braid piece – see the “Studio and New Work” post), I started working with some gorgeous doilies that I brought from the States and have had my eye on for some time. Although my attention was pulled elsewhere after a day or two of working on these, I’d like to show you the works in progress…..

Loosely spun hair ‘yarn’ stitched into a doily…

Doily

Doily detail

Another doily piece I’m working on – to make it, I laid the doily on top of the paper and used a needle to trace the shapes of the empty spaces between the threads.  Thinking about the spaces inbetween – absence, traces, imprints….

Doily imprints

Look closely and you can see the imprinted shapes…

Doily imprints

Doily imprints

I’ve begun tracing these shapes a second time, but now with single strands of hair and adhesive…

Doily imprints

As much as I enjoy this work and plan to continue it in the future, I had to stop because a much more Kathmandu-centric idea came to me, and that was obviously more important to pursue at the time! Without going into too much explanation at this point, I’ll show you the last piece I completed during my residency at Kasthamandap Art Studio (and the first piece in what I hope will be an 11 – 12 piece series, working title “Maps”)…

My map of Kathmandu and Patan (ink, white thread, and hair on Nepali lokta paper)…

Map - Kathmandu and Patan

Detail Map

A close-up shot of the piece while it was still in progress…

Super close detail

Here’s a short video of me explaining my inspiration for this piece during my art talk at LASANAA (I’ve had some trouble embedding it directly into the blog, so just click on the link)

VIDEO – “MAPS”

And speaking of the art talk at LASANAA… What a wonderful experience! I was honored and privileged to share an hour-long slide lecture about my work with various community members – artists, art students, and even a few members of the press. Here are a few pictures that my studio mates took during the lecture…

 

LASANAA talk

LASANAA talk

LASANAA talk

And here’s the whole Kasthamandap crew, finally all together in one place (a rarity!) after the talk…

KAS crew

As I mentioned, there were a few members of the press there, and my talk was written up in the Kathmandu Post (one of the English-language newspapers here). Not too shabby for my first month in Nepal! You can read the short article here…

 The Kathmandu Post – “Hair we go”

And then, my final few days at the studio arrived – it all flew by so fast! One month is really not enough time for a residency. The moment you are truly settled, it’s time to go (sigh).

Here are a few miscellaneous pictures of my friends at Kasthamandap, and some shots from a little ‘photo shoot’ Erina did with me in my studio…

Beautiful Erina…

Erina

Me and my buddy, Bhairaj, hanging out in the lounging/meeting area of the office…

Bhairaj

Binod and Asha working at their computers in the office – a common sight…

Binod and Asha

Pramila and her beautiful children at the crew’s most frequented lunch place, “Purna’s”…

Pramila

And me in working in the studio…

Studio photo shoot

Studio photo shoot

I made a small gift for these dear friends to thank them for being such wonderful hosts – a silhouetted potted rubber plant (which is indigenous to Nepal), made using my handmade hair paper and mounted on Nepali handmade paper. A little of me, a little of Nepal…

Gift

Gift detail

And, of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without a little wrapping…

gift wrapping

“…lokta paper packages wrapped up with hair, these are a few of my favorite things!”

Here we all are on my last morning when I presented my gift to them and we sat talking for a few lovely hours…

group shot

hanging out

At the end of the day, I packed up my studio and put my suitcase of materials in a taxi. I said my goodbyes, gave the dogs, Happy and Kushi, one last pat on the head, and that was it…. residency over. So sad!

But lucky for me, the following week we had one last farewell lunch. Unfortunately, Asha and Bhairaj were not able to attend because they were busy preparing a big trip to exhibit their work in Europe, but Binod, Erina, Pramila and her daughter, Pratika, were there! Drew was able to come too, and a good time was had by all…

lunch group

Pramila’s daughter, Pratika, let me try on her AWESOME glasses.  They did match my dress and earrings perfectly, after all…

putting on glasses

glasses

I am so happy to have met these wonderful people, and am so honored to have gained their friendship. I consider my first ‘official’ studio and artist residency to be a resounding success, and can’t wait until I find my way back to Nepal someday so that I can see them again!

Oh – and just before wrapping up, I’d like to share some art-related news with you. I am very pleased to report that I am the recipient of the Center for Emerging Visual Artists Alumni Travel Grant!  As an alumni of CFEVA’s Career Development Program (2009 – 2011), I was eligible to apply for this award earlier this summer, and am so honored to have received it this year. This grant will cover the majority of expenses for my 3-month residency in Paris during the Spring of 2013 – and what a HUGE help it will be! I am so incredibly grateful to CFEVA and their selection committee for choosing my proposal – many, many thanks to them!

Also, I recently received word that I have been accepted for a one-month residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute – wonderful news, indeed! This program has been highly recommended by several of my friends and colleagues, and I am so happy for the chance to work there. Unfortunately, we’re currently having some scheduling issues, BUT we’re in the process of trying to work something out – keep your fingers crossed that I’ll be able to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity! Of course, I’ll keep you posted…

Many more stories and photos from Nepal to come (and yes of course, eventually Paris too). Until then, Namaste and Au Revoir!

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