September - October 2009  |  VOLUME 5 ISSUE 6

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The Post-Modern Tendency in Nepali Contemporary Art Translation : Saroj Brajacharya

Ashmina Ranjit's methods to bring out gender issues are particularly bold.It has not been long since post-modern tendency began in contemporary art, and in Nepal, this tendency evolved with the effort by Sutra, an art organization that was established in 2003 A.D. Nonetheless, in order to comprehend the affects of post modernism, it is necessary to identify and briefly understand the evolution of modern art in Nepal.

The Turning Point

Post 1960s saw the advent and transformation of modern art in Nepal. During this time, the exhibitions by legendary artists such as Uttam Nepali, Lainsingh Bangdel, Urmila Upadhya, Vijay Thapa and others helped to flourish modern art in the country. However western art tendency had already entered the country earlier than that,
although it had not evolved comprehensibly. In 1928 Chandra Mansingh Maskey and Tej Bahadur Chitrakar returned to Nepal after receiving formal art education from the Government Art School, Calcutta. This phase is considered as the turning point in the Nepali art scene. The artists were sent to Calcutta by the then Prime Minister,
Chandra Shamsher Rana, and upon their return, they introduced natural realism and romanticism. However, the authentic styles that mark modernity in art such as expressionism, hyper realism, abstraction etc., took off in Nepal only from 1962.

The artists who are prominent now, but were new back then, were introducing and experimenting with these new styles. Most of the artists who returned after the completion of their art education were in a rush to exhibit their solo exhibitions. Therefore, from 1962 and onwards, numerous solo exhibitions were held that advocated on the modern concept and technique in art and hence is an essential reason for considering 1962 as a turning point of modern art in Nepal. Some important artists of this time are Laxman Shrestha, Ramananda Joshi, Thakur Prasad Mainali, Shashi Bikram Shah, Durga Baral, Manuj Babu Mishra, Madan Chitrakar and Pramila Giri. Then after, the modern tendency in Nepali art expanded in such massive proportion that it is still influencing the upcoming artists regarding their concept and technique.

Going Beyond

In 2003, Sutra initiated a residential art workshop called ‘Coaxing the Nature’ where 28 artists were invited to the forest of Osho Tapoban. This workshop was completely different from rest of the art workshops that were previously held. Since its primary objective was to introduce a new dimension to the art of Nepal, the workshop was designed in such a way that the process of creating could also be experienced by everybody. The participating artists had to remain within the harmony of the Osho forest for eight days. For the first two days, the participants were made to simply observe the surroundings and get attuned with nature; only after that were they encouraged to create their artworks. In order to direct art towards an ultra modern course, the organizers not only called this event a site specific workshop, but also described it as a process of emerging out of the canvas or going beyond it. Considering the canvas as a symbol, the artists were asked to surpass the limited boundary of conventional methods of creating art. Therefore as part of the strategy, the artists were requested to explore and observe the area of the forest and only on the third day, the artists decided on the materials they needed to create the art works. Some asked for ropes, fabrics and wires; others wanted iron rod, clay and clay pots or balloons and even plastic bags - conventionally, artists do not use such supplies to create art. The entire area of the Osho Tapoban amazingly started getting enveloped in unprecedented art forms. The artists enthusiastically incorporated small hills, waterfalls, rivers, trees, the cement steps - everything that was present in the surroundings - as a backdrop and even the primary element of their art works - something which they had never done before. The entire Osho Tapoban became a gigantic art piece. At the end of the event, an open day was declared for public viewing of this creative ambiance, where the viewers were astonished to experience this newly revived Osho ban. The artworks created during this event mostly dealt with violence, murder, and hostility that were going on in Nepal at that point of time. Art of such ultra modern tendency had never been seen before with such efficient clarity. Although an art workshop named Monsoon Harmony was carried out the preceding year in the same location; this event can be witnessed as the background or the prephase of the post modern beginning in Nepali art.

Travelling a little further back, an event in 1995 called Bangladesh Nepal Art Workshop took place in various parts of Lumle in Pokhara and Sundarijal in Kathmandu, where Gopal Kalapremi Shrestha created an installation art and also did a performance. This creative act by the artist can be pointed out as the initial post modern artwork in Nepal. This workshop affected some of the young artists in such a way that it acted as a catalyst for them to initiate a whole new tendency of post-modern art in Nepal in the later years. These artists individually, or even from a collective effort, commenced various art activities that would feature the post modern elements. Due to
all this vibrant activity in art, few innovative artists became aware on the art continuity and thus in 2003 they systematically introduced post modern art in Nepal. The artists responsible for this beginning are Gopal Kalapremi Shrestha, Ashmina Ranjit, Sujan Chitrakar, Manish Lal Shrestha and Sarita Dangol.

Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' in 1907, is considered as the first ever work in ubism which helped to establish the concept of mordernism.ormedLainsingh Bangdel was amongst the very first abstract painters in the modern art scenario  ho blurred and transformed natural forms into simple colours and lines

The ‘Fountain’

In the 1960s, after abstract art heightened the understanding in art, movements such as pop art, dada movement and minimal art found access into the art configuration. These art movements, practiced through installation, performance, video art, body art, conceptual art, happening art, etc., are considered to be the fuel for post modern art by many art critics. However, dada revolution is considered to be its seed - a movement that occurred in Europe in 1916.

Marcel Duchamp’s ‘readymade approach’ is taken as the point of origination of the post modern phenomenon in art. In 1917 he presented a urinal tank as his work of art and titled it ‘Fountain’, and later in the year 1919, he painted a moustache and beard on a print of Mona Lisa and titled it ‘L.H.O.O.Q’. The artist considered these prints as his art work and these works were greatly debated upon. However during the 1960s, the same works became inspirational for the post modern pioneers. When viewers were through with experiencing art from every possible way and method in limited space; when it got defined, redefined and got interpreted from all the conventional theories, art needed a new beginning, an unbranded purpose. This is when art heightened towards unlimited space, integrating any material as its medium - from natural resources to readymade objects, or even human beings as its exquisite element; the era of post modern art awakened. In this genre, art was in many cases the nucleus of it all. No one till date has come up with a clear definition of post modern phenomenon. However, its impact is felt not only in art, music and literature; it has consistently affected fashion, architecture, social development issues to everything that has vague or sharp appearance and demands analytical explanation.

Since post modernism is affecting a wide range of areas, its definition also varies accordingly. In some areas where new and futuristic experimentations are carried out all the time, even this ultra modern concept of post modernism has begun to fade. But in some, post modernity has just entered. In visual art, new approaches are being experimented with almost every day. Therefore, art analysts are in a constant effort to find a suitable category or title for such approaches.

The age of globalization has encompassed Nepal also. Consequently the impact of post modernism is also rapidly affecting the Nepali art scene. Since the essential feature of post-modern art is that it incorporates contemporary incidents by involving the general public; viewers also witnessed the portrayal of peoples’ revolution of 62/63 in several artworks. Ashmina’s happening art, an installation based earth work entitled ‘Question Mark’; Sujan’s ‘Masticated Faces’ and Gopal Kalapremi’s ‘The Feast’, are some of the fine examples of art that commented on contemporary issues.

Defining Post Modernism

Gopal Kalapremi's wheat seedlings was an experiment called 'Life Art'The phenomenon called post modernism can not be distinctly defined. However art scholars, artists and critics have attempted to clarify it by relating it with the present condition of time. According to the expansive concept of post modernism a description of artwork can be altered or re-described. If this liberty is to be taken away, then we once again land in the conservative periphery of analyzing or interpreting a work of art. Since our viewpoint is continuously being affected by every passing moment, no one can pass an ultimate definition of an artwork. This particular opinion is the core concept of post modern approach. It says that if we try to postulate a static definition, we become inclined towards conventionalism. Neither an artist nor critics or even art theorists can pass an absolute definition in art. It changes according to the pace of time. Therefore, post modernism affects differently in different fields or subjects. For instance- it is a popular culture in some area, but in academic sectors it has become an issue of argument. Somewhere, it attempts to redefine consumerism, and still elsewhere it emphasizes on the process and the activity rather than the final outcome. To some it is a zooming in from macro to micro and yet to others it is a catalyst for social and cultural transformation. It can also be a condition of a reality that exists in society. At the same time it can also be a heap of thoughts that attempts in describing certain situation of an occurrence, or it can be an enhancement of an artistic tendency that helps in constructing something. In the context of enhancement, some even describe it as additional angles to the perspectives towards social realities. Others affirm that it is neither a topic nor an object, rather it is an attitude. Since attitude is the primary factor that broadens the thought process of an artist, the art that features post modern approach is also looked upon with broader perception. Conventionally, things are mostly viewed and perceived from the exterior; however, by adding a strong concept, the same thing acquires a different form.

Post modernism is best active through pluralistic approach, decentralization, site specific or genre oriented works etc. In all this the concept of globalization is an essential factor. Because of the affect of post modernism, theatre artists have also introduced installation, video art and performing arts in their plays. Theatre artists such as Ashesh Malla, Anup Baral, Sunil Pokharel, Krishna Sahayatri, Ghimire Yuvraj are experimenting with such kinds of art. Similarly some of the artists have included poetry in their paintings. Gopal Kalapremi Shrestha and Sujan Chitrakar are amongst few to do that. Jupiter Pradhan incorporated a dance sequence as a primary component in his art.

Momentary Art and Nepal

Manish believes in positive thinking and sound has become his perfect theme for the past  eight years.Marcel Duchamp converted a readymade object that we frequently use in our daily lives into a momentary work of art by fusing it with his concept. It was called momentary art because after the art show concluded, the artist would send it back to the market again and it would no longer remain a work of art. He affirmed that the art and the subject matter entirely depend on the artist. This attitude by Duchamp generated a post modern attitude in art. As for Picasso, he presented a life of prostitutes through cubic forms where he skilfully obtained a three dimensional effect in a two dimensional canvas. The Les Demoiselles d’Avignon which he painted in 1907 is considered as the first ever work on cubism and it is believed that this art work helped to establish the concept of modernism.

Coming back to Nepal, Lainsingh Bangdel was amongst the very first abstract painters in the modern art scenario who blurred and transformed natural forms into simple colours and lines. At the other flip of time, amongst many, we have with us a conceptual artist, Sujan Chitrakar, who fuses readymade objects with his creative thoughts and reconstructs them as exquisite forms of art. This activity by the artists has in our present time introduced the phenomenon of post modernism in the Nepali art. Gopal Kalapremi, Ashmina Ranjit, Sujan Chitrakar and Manish Lal Shrestha are few of the active artists to appear as post modernists from 2000 onward. Then we have Sunil Sigdel, Jupiter Pradhan, Jasmine Rajbhandari, Sangi Shrestha and others continuing with this creative practice.

Today, Ashmina expertly comments on gender issues through contemporary political point of view. She brings out these issues through installation art, video art and performance. She not only wants to access the gender issues in the daily lives of people, but also wants to implement the rights of women through her art works. Recently, Gopal Kalapremi’s experimentation called ‘Life Art’, where he planted jamara (wheat seedling) on cucumber, apple, pumpkin etc., aroused a feeling of life as it grew and changed form continuously throughout the display of the exhibition.

Manish, who is acclaimed as a ‘situational artist’, believes that one should always have positive thinking. Sound, according to the artist, is his life; therefore, sound has become his perfect theme for the past eight years. He is also interested in ‘interactive art’. However, at present, through his creative art work he is in a process to reveal that privacy can only be understood inside a restroom.

As for Sujan, he has a deep contemplation towards ultramodern tendency. ‘Utopian Introspection’ was his first solo exhibition where he delved deep into the abyss of frustration, becoming an introvert in order to find purity within, which would eventually make him realize self blissfulness. According to the artist, this blissfulness will free the world from the ocean of agony. He transformed this pensive concept into art by adjusting big mirrors on the walls of the gallery. The viewers would find themselves staring at their own deep reflection. In his second solo exhibition, he appeared with portraits of masticated faces which he arranged on the floor of the gallery. The visitors were allowed to walk freely on his portrait, making them realize that his face is being masticated. On the inaugural day of this exhibition, he arrived at the gallery bandaged in white cotton to symbolically convey his suffering along with the deaths and hostile situation the nation was going through. Sujan is now entering into a new aspect of postmodernism with his concept ‘Artivity’, where he says that there might not be any art forms this time. Rather it could be probable that the artist might commence simple activities that occur in our daily lives. Here the artist wants to focus on the creative process and the activity. These two elements also happen to be the
nucleus of conceptual art. In the context of high and low art, a non artist can also relate to the beauty of an art work. Neither is art only for the privileged nor artists are some kind of special people. Rather, art persists in all the activity that humans perform. Sujan wants to bring across such ideas with his coming creative venture. ‘Artivity’
by Sujan could be a milestone on the post modern phenomenon.

The Sutra Team (from left): Gopal Kalapremi Shrestha, Ashmina Ranjit, Sujan Chitrakar, Manish Lal Shrestha and Sarita Dangol.

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