In the realm of the gods

Deities of Nepal is an ambitious exhibition giving visitors a tour d’horizon of living faith and divine art

Photo: PINKI SRIS RANA

The ongoing Deities of Nepal II exhibition at Nepal Art Council coincided this week with the Conference on the Restitution of Heritage where questions were raised about whether it is appropriate to charge a fee to look at gods in glass cases in museums and galleries.

The answer from some experts was that a statue of a deity is a work of art until it is consecrated in a temple, after which it attains a divine status worthy of worship. Only 149 of the tens of thousands of sacred objects stolen from Nepal have been returned. 

Early guidebooks on Nepal used to say that there were more gods than people and more temples than houses in Kathmandu Valley. That probably has not been true for a long time, but the Deities of Nepal II exhibition tries to do justice to the sheer diversity in the Hindu-Buddhist faith that has enriched Nepal’s art and culture.

Much like there are gods and goddesses in every alley corner in Kathmandu Valley, the exhibition’s maze of grey-white corridors lead us to various depictions of deities in sculpture, paubha, painting and carvings.

Read also: The godhead of Pharping, Alisha Sijapati

Deities of Nepal NT
Deities of Nepal NT

In the middle of the exhibit is an intricately crafted wooden temple with a bronze Ganesh at the centre. On both sides are wooden pillars with bells, and there is space to circumambulate as if it were a real shrine.

Nepal Art Council’s Sagar SJB Rana explains that the exhibition’s design was a deliberate attempt to recreate Kathmandu’s sacred urbanscape in a gallery setting.

He adds, “We are trying to look at art galleries beyond the maths of the selling and buying of arts, to have an exhibition that is new, innovative as well as having an educational element.”

Read also: The house of Chitrakars, Anita Bhetwal

Deities of Nepal NT
Deities of Nepal NT
Photos: SAILESH RC

This is the second Deities of Nepal show, after the success of the first one in 2022. It features over 200 creations by 163 artists. Except for Nelson Ferreira’s Nocturnal Paintings of Kathmandu Valley which gleam only after turning on the phone’s flashlight towards the painting, all the other artworks are by Nepal-born artists. 

“Deities are popular among both artists and audiences,” says curator Swosti Rajbhandari Kayastha. “The first exhibition gave us the confidence to be more ambitious and have a bigger show.”

Deities of Nepal II took a year of preparation, and the featured artworks were selected from a pool of over 500 items from more than 400 artists.

“Exhibitions are a way of introducing Nepal’s heritage to the younger generation which may be more interested in going to an exhibition than paying a visit to a temple, and that is why we decided to give this exhibition continuity,” adds Kayastha.

Read also: Kathmandu’s gravity-defying chariot festival, Alok Siddhi Tuladhar

Deities of Nepal NT
Deities of Nepal NT

The audience one afternoon this week was made up of different age groups and from different walks of life. There were art connoisseurs, college students, the middle-aged, senior citizens and even parents with children.

In addition to paintings, thangka, paubha and charcoal drawings, the exhibition features stone and bronze sculptures, and immersive media using the motion graphics of a lotus painting. Says Rana: “Divine art fuses deities and handicrafts, and we have tried to recreate that here.”

While the first gallery room is a replica of Kathmandu, an adjacent one is devoted to the stolen deities of Nepal. The second floor has more Hindu gods, and Mithila paintings from the Ramayana and the third floor is mostly made up of sculptures. 

The exhibition reaches beyond Kathmandu Valley to Tibetan and Mithila art, with some artists having added their own improvisations to reimagine our gods. All this makes Deities of Nepal II a fine showcase of Nepali faith and craftsmanship. 

Deities of Nepal II

10AM- 5PM (Sundays to Thursdasy)

10AM- 4PM (Fridays)

Till 10 June

Nepal Art Council, Baber Mahal

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