When art unites what divides us

Two exhibitions tune into the dialogue between nature and life through experiments in contemporary art

Right after entering Siddhartha Art Gallery, a large painting immediately catches the eyes of visitors. ‘Modern Rawan’ an acrylic on canvas by Roshan Pradhan shows a naked figure, orange and brown, crouching with one hand under its chin.

Its face is missing, replaced by a pink lotus. The figure wears a golden crown on its head with a swirl of clouds wrapped around its shoulders like an ethereal scarf. Disembodied faces of Albert Einstein, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, Da Vinci, Stephen Hawking, Karl Marx, even Adolf Hitler, hang on both sides.

Pradhan’s striking depictions of cultural motifs and traditions in conversation with modernity are at once a reflection and diversion. In a time when AI-generated digital art is in vogue, centuries-old practices hang uncertain.

An android is a central figure in ‘New World’, with metallic limbs and closed eyes. Honeycomb is another prominent motif which calls to mind the laborious bees, hive-mind, as well the notion of clockwork-like colonies.

Pradhan is concerned with the questions of free-will, human intelligence, culture and nature, and what we take into the future. Or, rather, is anything from the past worth saving and acknowledging, when modern ideas and technologies continuously inform our choices and lifestyle?

Pradhan is part of the five-member Pagoda Group, featuring artists Kishor Nakarmi, Pradhumna Shrestha, Mala Shrestha and Rudra Bahadur Pun, whose works are currently being exhibited at Siddhartha Art Gallery. Called Collective Expressions, the paintings cover a wide array of motifs and styles, but have among them a common theme of Nepali cultural heritage, from monuments to symbols.

The variance in style reaffirms Nepal’s unique position as a living culture with diverse traditions, faiths and backgrounds. Experimental in nature, from Pradhan’s futuristic metaphors, Pun’s calming chörten to Nakarmi’s gothic Buddhas, or Pradhumna Shrestha’s blazing Darbar Squares to Mala Shrestha’s expressionistic mudra, the paintings capture the dialogue between creative forces and a sense of spirituality and influence of one’s roots.

A striking example of this is Pradhumna Shrestha’s ‘Shangrila’ series, which focuses on architectural and material space. His paintings depict the Darbar squares of Kathmandu Valley, as seen through a fiery lens, with delicate accuracy.

But these are far from simply realistic. There is a discomforting hotness to the artworks, concerned with vanishing traditions and heritage, almost crying out to the viewer: What are you waiting for, how can you sit comfortably as fire rages around you?

Read also:

A tale of three cities, Ashish Dhakal

Painted walls and pieces of history, Ashish Dhakal

Elsewhere, Mala Shrestha takes the symbol of nature and life merging a step further. In her paintings, woodcarvings blend with trees, and by extension the earth, their origin. Mala’s works highlight the significance of emotions and thoughts that often bridge nature to the arts and crafts. In ‘Holy Water’ colours and shapes inspire the viewer to look beyond the present reality.

Woodcut prints

The gallery’s other space across the courtyard is currently showing a very different kind of artwork: woodcut prints. Monsoon Printmaking 2023 is the result of an online workshop organised by Bindu Space for Artists in 2022 and brings together the unique expressions of 35 multidisciplinary artists, including Anusha Thapa, Aman Maharjan, Bidhata KC, Bidhyaman Tamang, Jenney Ghale, Saurganga Darshandhari and Sujita Chaudhary.

Woodcut is a form of relief printing, and this artform highlights the balance between ink and no ink, which the artist cuts away into the surface of a block of wood with gouges, leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts.

One can find a variation of tones, from monochrome, duotone to multicoloured prints. Manisha Manandhar’s ‘Lukha Duwa’ pays homage to Newa traditions and architecture while Katyani Rai’s ‘Self Portrait’ depicts a surreal landscape with trees, faces and a crow. Bidhyaman Tamang’s ‘The Older I get, The More I Learn’ shows a letterbox surrounded by cats and rats and a urinating dog while Snellen charts are strewn on the ground: a metaphor, perhaps, of miscommunication and lack of vision.

Right next to it sits another very endearing feline, its round eyes like planets peering at coins in the sky. Called ‘Gravity’ by Sony Rai, these symbols for money present the staggering reality of capitalist attractions as a curious creature looks on. Inside, ‘Structures’ by Bidhata KC shows an ambiguous green landscape with no top or bottom – or are we looking at it from above? – as rectangles and squares make out buildings, drawing attention to the dialogue between the earth, the trees and the skies, and humans.

Rubi Maharjan’s ‘In the Blues’ appears like a raging sea, but looking deeper there is a profoundly beautiful sadness in between the spaces, which is, inexplicably, also hopeful.

Together, both exhibitions occupy a kind of a liminal space between the seasons, where it feels as though all meanings are possible. Experimentation of styles draws attention to many challenges and expressions that define our lives and experiences, but, here, there be no easy answers.

Collected Expressions

by Pagoda Group

Till 17 February 2023


Monsoon Printmaking 2023

By Various Artists


Till 18 February 2023

Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited

Sunday – Friday: 11:00am - 05:00pm

Saturday: 12:00 - 5:00pm

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