Giving prayer wheels an arty spin

Taragaon Next exhibition features Bidhata KC’s vision of healing in modern times


Taragaon Next’s ‘Object in Focus’ is a unique series that brings one object by one artist addressing one big idea.

Envisioned by curator Roshan Mishra to invite contemplation of contemporary art in Nepal, the series also featured the works of visual artists Koka Vashakidze from Georgia and Alicia Junissaliyeva from Kazakhstan about the origins of Boudhanath next door in a symbolic reprise.

Now, Kathmandu’s own Bidhata KC takes centre stage to depict the interconnectedness between daily life, consumerism, globalisation and spirituality.

A single installation connects heaven and earth through a metallic pole, like a bridge for elementary particles to commute. Two circular bars spread out, between which are the unmistakable mani prayer wheels.

Auspiciously and coincidentally 21 in number, something is different about these wheels – they in fact look like tin cans, with corrugated bands an abstraction for the mantra that traditionally decorate the wheels. For support, oblique rods slant out from the circumference to the base of the pole.

‘Object in Focus #6: Out of emptiness’ has a myriad of figures in addition to the mani wheels: a slightly open upside down umbrella, a downward arrow, or maybe a funnel. Such inversion may come naturally, especially with the overall and immediate image of things pointing towards the ground. Yet, the longer one looks, there is a sense of calm, an echo or reflection of shifting perspectives.

The viewer may even rotate the wheels and reproduce for themselves the feeling of walking through a sacred shrine, participating in the great cosmic churning of consciousness. One of the many theories behind the mani wheel, after all, is that rotating mantra relate to yogic or Tantric practices whereby practitioners visualise the mantra revolving around their nadi. It is doubly symbolic to consider that the rotations also indicate reading or chanting.

The exercise in abstraction does not end there. When we consider the material design of KC’s artwork, it opens several other cans of worms (as it were). The use of tinplate cans, steel coated with a thin layer of tin, is climate-conscious art since steel cans are the most recycled closed-loop packaging material. These increase the shelf-lives of products, protect them from damage by light, oxidation, extremes of temperature and contamination, safeguarding flavour, appearance and quality from factory to consumer.

Now, transform this thought on to KC’s artwork: this striking marriage of generations-long spiritual traditions and a corrosion-resistant symbol of consumerism with an ecological meaning gives one pause. What is KC trying to say here? One does not arrive at a conclusion, and that may be KC’s intention.

Instead, the viewer is asked to think outside the box – or cans. The tug-of-war between history and traditional values, practices, and modern politics, luxury, hunger, etc is often indispensable in Nepali contemporary art. Aptly so, considering the unique position of the country’s many living cultures.

KC’s work gives this a little spin: not so much of a tug-of-war here, but something more fluid. Rather than being at opposing ends, KC invites us to consider how culture and modern life may in fact be informing each other, especially among the Himalaya, and people are not so much rejecting one in favour of another, but building practices and lifestyles that incorporate both ideas.

“The artwork is inspired by my own experience as a traveller, through my observations and memories,” says KC, who also wanted to see what reaction would bringing a mani wheel to a gallery space evoke. “How does a wheel embossed with prayers compare to a simple tin can?”

KC believes that adding embellishment and confounding jargon would limit the art experience. Viewers also take a leap of faith when engaging with the piece, which itself necessitates the act of letting go, without which the boundlessness of a prayer wheel may never be reckoned with.

Object in Focus #6: Out of emptiness

by Bidhata KC

Curated by Roshan Mishra

With support from Aakar Kalaghar and Contemporary Art of Nepal Foundation

Taragaon Next, Boudha

Till 15 February 2023, 10:00am – 5:00pm 

Ashish Dhakal