Between losing and loss

New art exhibition is a wistful take on what we have left when Himalayan identities are gone

The Himalayas can be seen as a heap of rocks covered in ice and snow, aloof and permanent. But what of the intangible, non-physical Himalayas — the heritage, culture, songs, languages, festivals, lives and livelihoods?

The mountains are in flux, and some of the changes to the climate and weather are global in nature while others are local — outmigration and influences of the outside world.

Wang Lama is deeply affected by the changes he sees around him, and using his art tries to peer into the future. Will the Himalayas as we know it survive in the coming decades? He shares these worries in his solo exhibition, In Search of Vanishing Identities at the Takpa Gallery.

Wang Lama

Will the yaks, the monasteries, monks and prayer flags be just a memory? Taking the reference of villages of three trans-Himalayan districts (Humla, Mustang and Manang) Lama mostly uses pen and ink with watercolour to bring us minutely detailed Himalayan landscapes.

Lama takes refuge in Himalayan architecture and art, his works primarily focusing on the remnants of the past and sites of the present.

Wang Lama
Artist Wang Lama

“We have always associated identity with people and our cultural dress. But what about the knowledge, architecture, and art of these places?” asks the 35-year-old artist rhetorically. “Villages are emptying out, and city dwellers are migrating abroad, there is no one left to recognise the knowledge, to witness the pace of change and associate our space with their vanishing identity.”

A traveller artist, Lama draws as he goes from place to place. Born in the Nyin Valley of remote Humla, Lama is nostalgic about the places of his childhood among the arid mountains of northwest Nepal. Those places are no longer what they were, he worries.

In some of his exhibits, he takes a broader temporal perspective taking us back in time when yak caravans carried rock salt through the mountain trails whose existence is slowly vanishing. Simultaneously, he yanks us back to the present with the works showcasing abandoned alleys, houses and monasteries.

Wang Lama

Lama has also captured Manang and its changing landscape in Golden Hour which is a mix media on canvas depicting traditional mud houses, each with a waving vertical prayer flag. There is a wisp of smoke rising from the houses, and in the middle is an incongruous concrete house. A dilapidated traditional stupa stands amidst the mud houses and a concrete stupa lies next to the concrete.

“I wanted to show how modernity can kill the essence of a place,” Lama explains. “Today, everyone is opting for concrete structures and the traditional stupa which was made from stones brought from each household in the locality is being replaced with cement. The idea of everyone coming together to build something is gone.”

Then there are prayer wheels embedded in walls, paintings and carvings on windows and doors, and alcoves embedded in the stone walls of traditional houses. The colours red, blue, white, green and yellow represent the five elements of nature in Buddhist philosophy — and serve as a motif in most of Lama’s art.

Wang Lama

There is a rustic tone in every piece, and Lama says, “In the past, our ancestors built houses that were a part of nature. The holes in the mud houses were deliberately made as nesting areas for birds, they were a refuge to birds as much as for humans.”

Birds help pollination and insect control in the shrinking arable land of the Himalayas.

In the piece Eternal Silence, a monk is meditating inside a sky cave facing the stupa.

Wang Lama

“The stone stupa, the sky caves of Mustang and even the monkhood are all on the verge of extinction, and this painting documents their memory,” says Lama.

Though the exhibition’s dominant theme is the changing Himalayan landscapes and its fragile ecosystem, each of Lama’s works also raises the global changes that are affecting us all as we grapple with figuring out the type of world we want to live in.

Is it the world centred solely on human ‘progress’ we want to be part of, or a tradition that believed in co-existing with nature?

In Search of Vanishing Identities

11AM- 6PM (Tuesday to Thursdays)

11AM- 7PM (Fridays to Sundays)

Till 9 June

Takpa Gallery, Lazimpat

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