Redefining art at Kathmandu Triennale 2077

After being put off by the pandemic, Nepal’s largest art festival is finally being held from 11 February - 31 March in venues across Kathmandu Valley.

The Kathmandu Triennale 2077 will be held in three historically significant clusters of Patan, Kathmandu and Boudha with over 300 artworks by national and international artists, collectives and groups from over 40 other nations, including the Philippines, Haiti, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Myanmar and France. 

Initially slated for 2020, this will be the fourth edition of the Kathmandu International Art Festival, as it was known previously, and second in the Triennale format. 

The curatorial team is led by Artistic Director Cosmin Costinas and co-curators Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Hit Man Gurung, and the Triennale by its founder Sangeeta Thapa and director Sharareh Bajracharya. 

The artists will display a diverse range of media from photography, paintings to installations, and explore the issues and themes of displacement, migration, the People’s War, tantrik practices, identity and more.

The curatorial concept of the Triennale is rooted in acknowledging the local and indigenous multiplicity of Nepal, moving away from an Eurocentric canon of art history and appreciation. The name of the event, Kathmandu Triennale 2077 is itself a significant shift in locality and perspective. 

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“Originally we had planned to call it Kathmandu Triennale 2020, but then the pandemic hit,” explains Sheelasha Rajbhandari. “That called for a reorientation of sorts and rebranding. We risked confusing people outside the country, but it was a step towards reclaiming our place in the art world.”

The Gregorian year 2020 is 2077 in the Bikram Sambat calendar officially used in Nepal. It is also a little playful, since 2077 is still half a century off in the future in the Gregorian calendar.

“That was intentional,” Rajbhandari says. “It adds a futuristic element to the show, we wanted to consider time not just as a linear concept.”

Hit Man Gurung adds that the Triennale is not just an exhibition, but includes research projects, conversation programs, with long and detailed behind-the-scenes preparation, which began in 2019. So, even though the Triennale is taking place in 2022, the number 2077 more closely symbolises the confluence of past, present and future that has shaped it. 

“It was a strategic decision,” Gurung adds. “Referring also to the real beginning of the preparation has helped create a unique identity of the Kathmandu Triennale.”

Founder Sangeeta Thapa who also established Siddartha Art Gallery describes the two years of pandemic that re-routed the Triennale as "a wrinkle in time”.

“Time stood still, and the Triennale stood still. It was important also to acknowledge the stillness, the global suffering,” she says.

So the title stayed. In addition to looking back, the curators also continued the practice of inclusive and diverse practices that have shaped the Triennale since its beginnings in 2009.

“Artists will cover a diverse range of topics, such as reclaiming identity, decolonisation, voices of the LGBTQ community and activism,” she says. “It is also a reflection of the diversity around us.”

Nepal and Nepali artists, especially those who hail from Indigenous communities, are often left out of the global discourse of art, and sometimes even in the native South Asia. The Triennale aims to celebrate the diverse backgrounds, explore deep-rooted interconnectivity between communities, while rejecting the colonial-inspired exoticisation of the Himalaya as a mythical utopia.

The Triennale does not have a theme as such. Gurung thinks they can be distracting.  “They may give a semblance of specificity, but the artists, their works and the collective behind the Triennale are part of a process, and the discourse initiated or informed should continue beyond the event itself,” he adds. 

The Triennale will also feature bilingual curatorial cards, says Sharareh Bajracharya, who brings her experience in art education. “We are bringing communities together and making conscious efforts to reach out to schools and people from different disciplines,” she says.

Workshops, discussions, talks and tours are integral components of the Triennale, and it will blend virtual and physical events. Online program will take place from 11-28 February before the physical venues open on 1 March 2022.

“The online programs will be very discursive and will focus on contextualising the exhibitions, sharing narratives, presenting publications and thoughts by contributors who have worked on the Triennale,” says Bajracharya.

The first three days of March will feature programs at the venues, which have been chosen for their historical and cultural significance. Exhibitions will take place at the Patan Museum, the Bahadur Shah Baithak, Nepal Art Council, Taragaon Museum and Siddhartha Art Gallery.

“We will try to go live on social media so that more people can join,” she adds, “but we do want to maintain the physical exhibition. There will nonetheless also be a 3D documentation of the exhibitions.”

Kathmandu Triennale 2077 promises to foster a healthy art ecology based on the exchange of knowledge through an expansive exhibition combined with a strong educational outreach program. It is a non-commercial, non-profit exhibition which is free of charge and open to all.

The Triennale is presented by Siddhartha Arts Foundation and Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation, and supported by its partner institution Para Site in Hong Kong, where the precursory exhibition Garden of Six Seasons was presented in 2020.

The Kathmandu Triennale 2077 is also taking place at a time when Nepal is preparing to inaugurate its pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia in April. Co-incidentally, after the Triennale is over, a selection of works will travel to Savvy Contemporary in Berlin in June. 

“We had planned to make a travel exhibition before the pandemic, partnering with institutions all over the world,” Gurung recalls. “It is very lucky and encouraging that Berlin is happening now.”

Kathmandu Triennale 2077 

11 February-31 March


Ashish Dhakal