Art for art's sake


Siddhartha Art Gallery is once again alive with a vibrant colour palette, meticulously textured on canvas, depicting stunning expressions of devotion and dedication to art, inspiration and shakti.

Renowned artist Kiran Manandhar’s latest show ‘Samarpan’ – his first in four years – adds a delectable frenzy of red, orange, blue, black and white to the space. The gap in between the canvases sit like columns or bars, as though the frames were each a window and the viewers were staring directly into the eyes of providence.


It is immediately difficult to group these artworks in a single genre. The softer lines and sharper angles are balanced by almost distinct faces. The curves of eyes, lips and limbs are bracketed by amorphous flames and shadows. There is a certain vagueness about the paintings – like the waves and ripples one sees in rivers or the sea – and the deities, Kali, Brahmayani, Kumari, Vaishnavi,  Ganesh, Seto and Rato Machhindranath, look abstract enough, but Manandhar will not relent so easily.

“I am like a bird,” he says sitting under a parasol outside the gallery, as a sparrow skips across the courtyard paved with bricks on to a nearby bush. “I don’t make art saying one style or another, I like to hop from one branch to another, from one tree to another."

Manandhar jokes that birds do not need visas to fly around. This desire for no restriction, to dissolve borders (at least in art) is strikingly conspicuous in ‘Samarpan’. Stylistically diverse, the paintings and a couple charcoal drawings even transcend philosophies and the various global schools of art. Influences of the European masters, for instance, blend in with the traditional Nepali figures, iconography and style.

Nature and light also create an overall dream-like impression. Perhaps this ever-moving effect produced may be explained by Manandhar’s own drive to understand what art is. He is not being coy when he candidly admits, “Even after all these years, I still don’t know what a painting is.” This admission sums up his oeuvre.

In fact, it is also an expression of the phenomenological conundrum: can one ever truly understand a concept or craft absolutely? Perhaps when one knows what painting is entirely, one does not need to paint anymore, but Manandhar has no intention of stopping. He describes the itch to make art, even at odd hours and places: working to figure out, to develop one’s skills and understanding:

“I cannot stop,” he says, “My wish is to paint, to take Nepal’s name everywhere.”

An evidence of this is ‘Samarpan’ which may appear at the outset to be very different from what the general public has come to take Manandhar’s modern and abstract works in the past. Abstract art, after all, has roots in indigenous and folk art.

There is much variety here and the paintings do not want to be tied down to a particular adjective or movement. They are themselves in motion instead, to show the world and other artists, especially young ones, just how much there is to do.

‘Samarpan’ is the fruit of labour of four year and a couple paintings go far back as 2016. Much of the work was made during the Covid-19 pandemic and the title refers to  the dedication, the offering made to art, to inspiration, to the many artists who were compelled to give up by the pandemic and the constraints it invited, and to Nepal which Manandhar so lovingly calls ‘devbhumi’ – land of gods.

To call them patriotic or nationalistic would be missing the point, for this presupposes borders which Manandhar wishes to bring down. While the gods depicted are Nepali in essence, the art is an homage, a look towards the past and the traditions. It is also a representation of a spiritual landscape and the power of divine inspiration. After all, who can traverse boundaries and partitions as easily as the gods?

Artists have to be sensitive,” he adds, “We have to be observant and thoughtful.” But he admits it is not easy being one. Many artists, he says, especially young, are compelled to give up because there is no immediate ‘sound and effect’ result in art.

He recalls speaking to other artists who are now abroad and no longer painting, who lament the lack of support and opportunities in Nepal. “One works for as long as one can,” he says. “Which is why a good support system is necessary that brings together artists, educators and patrons.”


By Kiran Manandhar

Siddhartha Art Gallery.

Baber Mahal Revisited

Open 11:00AM – 5:00PM

Till 24 August 2022.

Ashish Dhakal