Kathmandu Art Biennale begins

The once in two years pageant builds on Nepal’s artistic heritage with contemporary works

With over 80 participating artists and 100 paintings, sculptures and installations, the Kathmandu Art Biennale has kicked off and will be showcasing contemporary works till 18 April.

The Museum of Nepali Art (MoNA) housed at Kathmandu Guest House in Thamel has grown into a hub for artists and the public through landmark exhibitions and workshops. Now, the museum and gallery has launched its inaugural Biennale.

“Nepali visual arts breathe life into the country's culture, traditions, and way of life,” says MoNA’s founder Rajan Sakya. “Despite the recent impact of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence, these exhibitions remain crucial for recognising and expanding the artistic capabilities of individuals.”

Despite state neglect of the arts and artists, private galleries have been building on Nepal’s artistic heritage to promote contemporary works. This has contributed to stepping the outflow of professionals from the country, potentially resulting in a shortage of creative talent.

“We need a concerted effort to safeguard art and support artists, which is why the Biennale has an important function,” Sakya adds. 

Here we feature three artists Udaya Charan Shrestha, Meena Kayastha, Manish Dhwoju, and their noteworthy creations.

Read also: Nepal’s pavilion afloat in Venice, Ashish Dhakal

Patan in pencil

Manish Dhwoju, 23, depicts the iconic golden window of the Patan Darbar Square in ‘Hyperrealistic Drawing’ meticulously crafted using pencils. He has an intricate fusion of wood and gold on the window to represent Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddesses.

The golden window is one of the first things that visitors to the old palace square notice, and at the Biennale too, the artwork gets special prominence on the second floor.

For up-and-coming artists like Dhwoju, who spend months or even years creating a piece of art, an opportunity to showcase their work at a grand exhibition is a dream come true.

Says Dhwoju: “New artists need a platform more than those who are already established. Exhibitions are not held that frequently, and even when they are, established artists dominate, making it difficult for new artists to find space.”

Read also: Seeing the forest and the trees, Alisha Sijapati

Giving faces to a deity

Kathmandu Art Biennale NT

Titled Gayatri, this masterpiece in devotional art by Udaya Charan Shrestha took over 20 years to complete and is the first time an artist has given a face to the goddess of the revered Gayatri Mantra.

The goddess, crowned with a crescent moon, gracefully holds various objects in her ten hands, including a conch, discus, mace, skull, and lotus flower. She is portrayed in a state of deep meditation and has a serene disposition.

“I started working on this during my studies at Lalitkala College, and I was initially inspired by a postcard of Gayatri,” says Shreshta. “I am rather pleased with the outcome, if I may say so myself.” The artist diligently researched sacred texts, tantric literature, periodicals, the Swasthani, Purana, and other references to authentically represent the goddess.

Read also: Giving faces to a deity, Shaguni Singh Sakya

A wedding for the ages

Kathmandu Art Biennale NT

Meena Kayastha invested nine months in crafting this distinctive sculpture titled Gham Pani Gham Pani Syal Ko Bihe that takes off from a Nepali ditty about the sun shining through the rain. The sculpture portrays a one-of-a-kind marriage ceremony, with a Brahmin cat officiating the matrimonial joy of a fox couple. In this whimsical celebration, a dog, donkey, lion, frog, monkey, among others, are seen frolicking.

Kayastha is working from childhood memories in Bhaktapur when she used to go home from school drenched in the rain and get scolded by her grandparents who were worried about her catching a cold. “In retrospect, those days feel like a spiritual journey and meditation,” she explains.

Kayastha created numerous prototypes until she drew a cat in a palanquin and a donkey carrying a bride. Two additional donkeys were crafted for the musical and dance elements of the wedding, and a Bhairab and a cat were added to further showcase the celebration.

“Seeing everything come together was a good feeling, and the joy in the sculpting process was profound,” says Kayastha.  “If it sells, that will be an encouragement to create another.”

Read also: Unnamed masters of Nepal’s art identified, Shaguni Singh Sakya