Tamang history, memory and identity

Masinya Matwali

Printmaking artist Subas Tamang’s exhibition ‘History, Memory, Identity’, is a tribute to the struggle and resistance against oppression of Nepal’s Tamang community.

Tamang was recently awarded the Himalayan Light Art Scholarship, a grant created by Chinese artist Zhao Jianqui to encourage and promote young Nepali artists and their work. He was one of 141 contemporary Nepali artists whose work was featured in Italian businessman Luciano Benetton’s 2017 Imago Mundi collection as well as the book Nepal: Legends.

Tamang was born in Morang and in school he recalls that there was a complete absence of any subject regarding the Tamang community in the curriculum, and this prevented him from learning more about his people.


Now, his knowledge and exploration into the struggle and socio-political oppression historically experienced by his community are etched into his artwork.

One of his pieces, an quaint etching titled Masinya Matwali, illustrates the story and history of the Tamang community — the work stretching across the paper an account of generations of hardships faced by his people. The piece’s title comes from when Tamang people were classified as Masinya Matwali, which means ‘enslavable alcohol drinker’, under Jang Bahadur Rana’s 1854 Muluki Ain.

“Subas’ visual narrative is a powerful artistic expression of the Tamang people’s social, economic and political grievances,” says Sangeeta Thapa of the Siddhartha Art Gallery, “His works provide us a visual chronicle of the plight of his community and the scars that still linger in their collective memory.”

Among the striking artwork within the collection depicting Tamangs in battle, at work, and in song and dance with their traditional damphu — is a recreation of Volkmar Wentzel’s 1950 photograph of a team of Tamang porters carrying an old German-made Mercedes to be used to drive the Rana nobility around Kathmandu. 

Pipa I

Another one of his pieces at Siddhartha is a Woodcut print titled Pipa I, named after the non-combatant position that Tamangs were reduced to in the Nepali military. The piece depicts men donning doko, and is a representation of the unpaid labour that Tamangs were subjected to under the rakam system imposed by the Ranas to toil in state-owned land, especially in royal mango orchards. 

The art has been printed on Nepali paper, which Tamangs were forced to produce from the stripped bark of the lokta plant. Nepali paper and mangoes are among the recurring motifs in his artwork.

His other woodcut prints titled Gole Kaila honours Tularam Tamang who fell in battle while fighting for liberation from Rana rule.

Subas Tamang’s काइतेन History, Memory, Identity will be on exhibit at Siddhartha Art Gallery from 10-28 September.