Love it or hate it, it’s abominable

The Visit Nepal 2020 yeti mascot has been met with bewilderment and some outrage

Earlier this month, at the start of the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, colourful and larger than life fiberglass sculptures of squatting yetis appeared overnight at Kathmandu landmarks.

Those who didn’t know about the tourism campaign were bewildered by the 2-metre tall figures that were installed imposingly in Boudha, Kathmandu Darbar Square, Thamel and various malls.

“At first glance, I thought it was a statue of Hanuman or Mahabir. When I looked closely, it seemed like a laughing Buddha. But it was only later that I found out that it was a yeti mascot,” recalls Deepak Prasad Shrestha of the Indra Jatra Organising Committee.

Many others voiced similar sentiments – they either had no idea what the figures were or wondered why these yetis were suddenly all over town. The yeti mascots, as other multiple painted fiberglass sculptures like the Buddy Bears in Berlin and the cows of the New York Cow Parade, are attempts to bring diverse artistic expression into the public sphere.

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The yeti – selected by the Visit Nepal Year organisers and conceptualised as a mascot by US-based Nepali artist Ang Tsherin Sherpa – is a mythical creature of Himalayan folklore. The Visit Nepal 2020 secretariat felt it was a fitting symbol of Nepal’s unique mystique.

Out of the 108 statues that have been planned for completion by the end of the year, only 20 have been painted over by various artists, sold and displayed. The artists have the freedom to paint their yetis as they please. The figures are valued at Rs500,000 each and are sold by the artists independently.

The VNY2020 organisers bought four statues to display in rotation in public spaces in Kathmandu. Private companies and organisations like Labim Mall, The World Bank and Jyoti Group have bought the mascots and displayed them on their premises in support of the tourism campaign.

But there has been criticism regarding the funding of the yeti statues and speculation about where the revenue from sales is going.

Niki Shrestha at the VNY 2020 secretariat says, “We want to make it clear that this isn’t a government- or Tourism Board-funded project. The revenue from the sales of the statues goes to the artists who dedicated their time and effort to supporting the tourism campaign.”

Read also: Make sure you visit Nepal in 2020, Anil Chitrakar

The use of religious and cultural motifs on the statues of the mythical creatures has also seen criticism. Two of the yetis that were stationed in Kathmandu Durbar Square this week had Kumari themes to them. In one, by noted artist Erina Tamrakar, the living goddess’s third eye was painted on the yeti’s forehead. In another, there was an image of the Kumari on the yeti’s back. Locals of the area, calling these depictions “insensitive”, spray-painted over them and over other religious iconography that the artists had used.

Deepak Prasad Shrestha of the Indra Jatra Committee says, “The Kumari is a living goddess, who is only brought out once a year. We were so surprised to see it being painting on a creature that does not even exist.” Those statues have since been removed from the area.

Curator Sangeeta Thapa of the Siddhartha Art Gallery says, “I think the yetis are a beautiful concept and I feel sad that an artist’s work was vandalised like that. There should have been better dialogue between the public and the organisers on what to do with the statues instead of ruining a piece of art.”

In the coming year, the yeti mascots are to be displayed at airports and locations around the world, bringing the once elusive yeti to places near and far.

Read also:

The Nepal Brand, Editorial

Artavaganza, Smriti Basnet

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