Art Immersion

May 28, 2015 |

Sanjeev Maharjan, Asha Dangol, Hit Man Gurung, and Bidhata KC were among the first batch of Nepali artists awarded travel grants by the Nepal Art Council to attend an art fair, the India Art Fair (IAF) in Delhi, this year. The Art Council plans on continuing awarding such grants to more artists in the future.

The Nepal Art Council awarded travel grants to four Nepali artists for the purpose of attending the seventh edition of the India Art Fair (IAF), a four-day event held in Delhi this year from January 29 to February 1. Artists Sanjeev Maharjan, Asha Dangol, Hit Man Gurung, and Bidhata KC were selected on the basis of their proposals and portfolios after an open call. This marks the first time that the Nepal Art Council awarded any kind of travel grant for Nepali artists to attend an art event. “For artists to get this kind of opportunity is rare in Nepal,” says KC as she speaks of its significance. “I would not have attended the fair without this grant.”

The IAF was started in 2008 by three visionaries–Neha Kirpal, Will Ramsay and Sandy Angus, and in the years since it has grown to become a leading art fair in South Asia. The fair focuses on modern and contemporary art, and showcases art from all around the world. Many kinds of mediums and forms of expression find a platform at the fair.

“When we were learning art, there were only three types of visual art: Painting, sculpture, and graphic print,” says Dangol. Today, painters can express on many different kinds of mediums.

Visual art can be created from anything that can be seen, including interdisciplinary art like videos, new media art, performance art, and installation art. At the fair, the artists got the opportunity to view these different forms at one venue, which proved an invaluable experience.

Power of proximity

Today, with the reach of the Internet, it is possible to view art from all over the world on your computer. But it is not the same as seeing art with your own eyes, which is a much more impactful experience. KC gives the example of seeing an installation artwork by Vibha Galhotra and Anish Kapoor “I had seen pictures of Vibha’s art, but I had no idea that she had used ghungroo in one of her works. I only realised this when I saw it for myself.”

Seeing these experimentations gave new inspirations and ideas to the artists, which they believe will enhance and enrich their art, and inspire them to experiment with new forms in the future.

For Maharjan, what made the largest impact was the retrospective exhibition of artwork by Rameshwor Broota at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Modern Art. “First of all, I was interested in Broota’s technique,” says Maharjan. Normally, artists use the additive technique, where you gradually add colours to the canvas. But Broota’s technique was subtractive, which means he first painted the canvas with colours, and then scratched it to gradually bring out different colours and make a picture. Apart from his paintings, the museum also displayed information about the evolution of his artwork, and his interviews. “Seeing his art was already stunning, but I also got to see the process of his artistry, which was quite phenomenal,” says Maharjan.

“Besides, the artwork was displayed in a private museum which was inside a mall. “It was interesting to see how art was promoted,” says Maharjan. When the art was inside a mall, even people who are normally not concerned with art, say ordinary shoppers, could walk in, wander around, and take a look at art.

A Festival of Arts

While the fair was ongoing at the NSIC Exhibition Ground in Okhla, collateral art projects were being organised by galleries, museums and art organisations around the city. “I was very touched by how they got into the spirit and had their own exhibitions to coincide with the fair,” says Dangol. In essence, the entire city was in a festive mood; a festival of art, which turned the city into a cultural hub for those few days. One large-scale event had spurred a flurry of activity, and the spirit of cooperation was impressive. Compared to other international art fairs like the Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong Art Fairs, which routinely have more than 150 galleries each, the IAF was smaller, with less than a hundred booths. But the momentum and impact of the fair went far beyond the numbers.

At the fair, it was good to see art being promoted so enthusiastically by galleries,” says KC. For her, the organisation and management of the fair made the biggest impression, rather than any individual art piece. Every minute detail was looked at, and every little artwork displayed with prominence. Ultimately, the benefits of the well thought-out fair went to the artists.

And the artists were not just Indian, but from countries around the world. One American gallery represented an artist from Dhaka, while an Indian gallery represented a senior Nepali artist, Uma Shankar Shah.

Promoting the Artists and their Art

Galleries and art organisations reserved booths and displayed the artwork of artists they deemed worthy of promoting at IAF. The artists, who did not have to pay to participate, benefited by having their works displayed at the event; their art reached out to the masses. In this way, fairs are also instrumental to the sale of artwork, which have a hard time finding buyers otherwise.

The fair was an eye-opener in terms

of how well contemporary art pieces can sell if they find the right platform.

Even until a few years ago, art by Indian artists sold for a few thousand dollars, including art by internationally renowned artists like MF Hussain or VS Gaitonde. But since the IAF began, the organisers initiated collaborations with renowned auction houses in the UK like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The representatives of the auction houses made it a point to attend these fairs. After Christie’s auctioned

his art, Gaitonde’s work sold for $ 3.8 million, setting a record. Today, works by top-tier Indian artist have the potential to sell at millions of dollars.

Sanjeev Maharjan

Maharjan is a visual artist, a painter who experiments with murals, photography, installation, and other mediums, who draws inspiration from his surroundings. He got his BFA from Kathmandu University in 2009, and is studying for an MFA at Tribhuvan University.

Asha Dangol

Dangol, formerly an artist-painter, has seen the transition of the Nepali art scene from when it was limited to just 3-4 mediums to the explosion of new forms and mediums that characterise it today. With a BFA from Lalit Kala Campus (1996) and an MFA from Tribhuvan University (2010) Dangol believes he is still learning new forms of art.

Hit Man Gurung

With an MFA from Tribhuvan University, Gurung explores his artistic potential in many ways. He was a one of the set designers for the movies Dhandha, Maun, and Fitkiree. His subjects are chosen from sociopolitical issues, migration being one of the recurring themes in his works.

Bidhata KC

KC is a visual artist who experiments with many mediums. She has an MFA in printmaking from Tribhwan University, and also teaches teaches at Recently, most of her ideas have come from her travels, where she touches on issues like society, gender, tourism and the environment.

Besides, such fairs and exhibitions are also opportunities for networking, says Dangol. The IAF was well-attended by artists, critics, collectors, curators, art historians, and other individuals involved in art, and enlivened by events like curated walks, speakers’ forums, and book launches. A gathering of such personalities and events presented opportunities for growth for all concerned.

Where we stand Though fairs of this type have not been held in Nepal, the Siddhartha Art Foundation has organised the Kathmandu International Art Festival–KIAF (which focused more on exhibiting than on selling art) in the past, first in 2009 and then in 2012. These festivals have received attendance similar in scale to IAF. “After KIAF 2012, there was increased interest from art collectors, enthusiasts and curators from many parts of the world,” says Maharjan, which definitely helped up the visibility quotient of Nepali contemporary art. This will hopefully help Nepal carve its own niche in the international scene, where it is sorely missing today.

Artists attest to the fact that there is a thriving contemporary art scene in Nepal where an artist can survive by doing either art or art-related works. But Nepali art still has a long way to go when it comes to establishing itself in the international arena. The problem is not because of the quality of Nepali art, and the problem is not Nepal’s alone.

The word ‘international art’ does not really encompass art from around the world,” says Gurung. “If you look at famous art museums, they mostly have art from European and American artists, with maybe a few Latin American pieces.

“ Art from Asia and the rest of the world is missing.” Today the art markets of China or India are at par with European or American markets, but Western art still dominates the world’s art history and narrative. For ‘international art’ to be truly global, it needs to include art from lesser known places, where high-quality art is quietly being produced, away from the spotlight. Fairs and exhibitions like these can help balance this out. They bring attention to regional art and help elevate it to global platforms. Gurung wanted to see how IAF might elevate Indian art galleries to a level similar to that of internationally renowned ones, and found the fair to be quite successful.

The global art scene is gradually changing and beginning to incorporate voices from other parts of the world as well. For example, New York’s renowned Guggenheim Museum has hosted many shows by Asian artists. It is also opening a branch in Abu Dhabi, which will be its largest premises yet, and will focus on Middle Eastern art. Louvre, the famous French museum, is also opening a branch in Abu Dhabi. Things look hopeful for quiet nooks and crannies like Nepal, especially with the help of promotional events like fairs and exhibitions.

The four artists who attended IAF meanwhile say they are more than grateful to have had the opportunity to see some world-class art. They came back rejuvenated from their trip. Though they were surrounded by an overwhelming amount of art over the course of a few days, they say they have come back with deep-etched impressions.

The Nepal Art Council plans to continue awarding travel grants, and possibly to increase the number of grantees in the coming years, a step that the artists support wholeheartedly. “The grant has been an honour,” says KC. “We hope more artists have the opportunity to expand their horizons as we did.”

“The more you travel, the more you can see and learn. And the more resources there are, the more artists have the opportunity to work,” fi nished Gurung on behalf of the artists.


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