Lost in Transition
Though the medium is oil on canvas, Mann Gurung employs only sepia tones in his paintings, evoking the era of old photographs. Indeed, his artwork harks back to an older, more innocent time in Nepal. The women still wear the fariya choli, and the men are in patuki and dhaka topi.
Gurung’s second solo exhibition, Lost in Transition, is on at Siddhartha Art Gallery in Baber Mahal Revisited from 9 May - 9 June. Though most of the works are oil paintings, there are also graphite and ink drawings. They differ from his previous solo exhibition Power, Politics and War, which was predictably focused on politics. This time around, the emphasis is on a visual depiction of social change.
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Gurung has captured women who collected milk in wooden theki, and have now turned to plastic Coke bottles. Though they cling to traditional dresses, they cannot help wearing Crocs on their feet. He has captured the dhyangro hand drum, an important instrument in his community that seems torn and neglected, and an old record player that looks like it hasn’t been used in a while.
These portraits are from Khorla, a mountain village in Gurung’s home district of Gorkha. Collectively, the impression is of a bygone era: of a place caught in transition as traditional values are fast being replaced by modern ideas. Gurung’s paintings capture the reality of most of Nepal today. With the youth migrating out, the elderly and women are left to fend for themselves. It is an uphill battle to cling to their traditional lifestyles.
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Gurung believes he has captured the last of a generation that carries our identity, as younger Nepalis are ‘already fitted out in denims and pride themselves for embracing western culture’.
“They have already made a transition from madal to box speakers, rodhi to mp3 players, hand sewn bags to polythene ones, handmade garments to imported polyester, bamboo baskets to zebra bags, and from sanduk to flatscreen TVs. We will soon lose the older generation, erasing hundreds of years of our identity, tradition and culture,” laments Gurung.
His paintings force us to ponder identity, how we can hold on it, and whether it is even possible. The paintings are a testament to a lost time, and present Gurung’s concern for his own heritage, which he seems powerless to conserve. But at least he has preserved and documented a part of his culture in his art.
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Lost in Transition
Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited
Until 9 June