The house of Kalapremi
In the centre of the room of the ground floor at Siddhartha Art Gallery, tattooed ceramic female figures stretch languidly astride grazing horses.
The 12 blue and white raku ware pieces are part of a collection of ceramic artwork by noted sculptors Gopal Kalapremi Shrestha, Yamuna Shrestha, and Shushank Shrestha. The exhibition features four-year-long work of a family of artists — Gopal and Yamuna are husband and wife, and Shushank is their son.
Gopal founded the Kalapremi Studio to teach and promote clay art forms in Nepal in 2006. Yamuna and Shushank’s artworks also feature prominently in the studio.
Much of Kalapremi’s artwork included in the exhibition is an attempt to explore gender dynamics in post-modern Nepali society.
One of his more notable collections titled gaali features a series of anthropomorphised female figures with their arms outstretched in a peace sign. The animals (monkey, dog, sheep, donkey) are a physical manifestation of some derogatory terms women are addressed by like bandarni, kukurni, and gadhaini.
In another collection of intricate blue and white raku sculptures titled Basti basti bata uthne haru, Kalapremi has reimagined the sacrificial pawns in a chess piece as women with purpose. Anthropomorphised mares dressed in bukhu, lehenga and other traditional dresses represent various professions including a doctor, performers, and sportswomen.
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Some of his other collections include a series of 15 ceramic paintings titled Silent Scream II, which feature fragmented human forms meant to depict the angst and pain of recent crises in the country.
“The element of fantasy, playfulness, the very tongue-in-cheek way of expressing things is what is most striking about Gopal’s work,” says Sangeeta Thapa of the Siddhartha Gallery about Kalapremi’s artwork.
Meanwhile, Yamuna Shrestha, having watched Gopal and Shushank build their careers as artists, had found her own medium in origami work. But eventually, she too forayed into ceramic artwork, where she began infusing Mithila motifs in her clay earthenware.
Colourful flowers, birds, and other nature motifs adorn her ceramic plates, bowls, and cups on display at the gallery. Some of her blue and white raku fired vases, however, while incorporating Mithila animal motifs, also serve as a thematic companion to Kalapremi’s work.
Upstairs, Shushank Shrestha’s artworks are showcased through a variety of mediums from watercolour to acrylics to ceramic work. His pieces offer a marked tonal shift from deliberate, commentary-infused artwork displayed on the floor below, and are as vividly imaginative as they are nostalgic.
His 39-piece Jutta series of ceramic shoes traces his imagined evolution of his grandfather’s old footwear, which he took inspiration from. The shoes hung in the wall begin from muted, masked, three-eyed beings — emblematic of the times we are living in.
Shushank, who is currently pursuing a Masters in Fine Arts degree overseas, has stacked two styles of ceramic artwork, showcasing the depth of knowledge in his craft. While the shoes themselves are glazed, the masks and bandannas have cloth textures.
The shoes move on to become richly patterned, grinning faces and creatures with their lips peeled back in grotesque laughter, a homage to the fictional monoliths of popular culture.
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They also take a living, breathing form on canvas and in sculptures, as the grinning, three-eyed shoe gods sit cross-legged, adorned with the golden headgear of our culture’s mythic heroes and gods, melding tradition with the absurd.
Shushank’s next collection is a series of shimmering, lustrous glazed cups done in rich blue and soft pearl. This glaze technique has been used by an artist for the first time in Nepal.
Another one of his collections pays homage to his family’s dog, reimagining it as a three-eyed, lion-dog creature. Shushank has captured the animal’s playfulness and love in the tilted heads and the wide grins of the creature, imbuing the works with enough personality that one would almost expect the creatures to come to life and wag their tails if they were to reach out and touch them.
Alien creatures, a concept he has been working with since the beginning of his artwork, also feature on canvas as one-eyed ceramic creatures standing solemnly alongside the cheerful lion-dogs, and as pastel coloured vases covered in eyes, bearing sharp teeth.
Although Gopal and Yamuna have shown at the gallery previously, Thapa suggested the three artists show as a family after she saw Shushank’s work in 2016 and eventually convinced Yamuna, who had previously not ventured into painting and ceramics, to try her hand at the new medium.
“This is a very painstaking process,” Thapa says of ceramic artwork, “It’s simultaneously cost-intensive and work-intensive”
Indeed, it would take one LPG cylinder on average to cast one of the artwork on display at the exhibition. Each piece needs to go through four processes, getting cast in fire, painted, then cast in fire again before the glaze is finally applied.
But the time and effort that the family has poured into their craft shine in each of the artwork, Thapa notes about the three artists’ four-year process, saying: “They have managed to create such a diverse body of work.”
‘Where the wild things are’ will run until 3 September at Siddhartha Art Gallery
Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.