Portraying portraiture at Taragaon

The visitor to the Taragaon Museum is surrounded by faces: from large, realistic examinations of elderly men and women to symbolic portraits in abstract styles. An exhibition titled A Portrait Story studies the genre of portraiture from all angles.

The oldest exhibit is a framed photograph of Chandra Shumsher, his wife Balkumari, and two of his sons. Back in the 19th century, such portraits were a way of putting your best face forward. The means to own a camera or hire a photographer were only available to the fabulously wealthy, and portraiture was status.

Read also: The first photographs of us, Kanak Mani Dixit

Fast forward to the 21st century, where almost everyone has a mobile phone with which to take a selfie and disseminate it to the world at the press of a key. The exhibition comes full circle in showcasing two social media ‘influencers’ who constantly post selfies.

It may seem that flattering depiction is the only purpose of portraiture. However, the genre also exists outside this narcissistic box, and this is where artists come in. A Portrait Story features many artistic explorations of the portrait genre.

Read also: Old art meets new, Sikuma Rai

“Artists make a lot of portraits on commission, so these are commercial,” says co-curator of the exhibition Shivangi Bansal, “But we know of artists who make portraits just for the sake of making portraits. We wanted to see how artists are exploring this genre beyond commercial art.”

Indeed, many of the portraits on display are not necessarily flattering. On the one end of the spectrum is hyper realism, where every tiny detail on a face, from a wrinkle to a missing tooth, is highlighted.

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At the other end is experimentation, where the details of the face become irrelevant as artists play with outside objects, light and shadows. Manish Lal Shrestha paints only a fraction of his forehead on top of a pillow in ‘Sirani’. Pramila Bajracharya paints a two-dimensional figure of a Nepali woman that seems to portray her personality. Kapil Mani Dixit has an abstract piece which does not look like a portrait at all, while Saurganga Darshandhari experiments with a portrait without a face.

Contemporary artists have also experimented with digital manipulations. The picture of a Kumari with an entire temple on her head is an example, and Ishan Pariyar depicts angst with a face that is bursting out of its rope bindings.

A Portrait Story

Taragaon Museum, Boudha

9-23 Jan

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