Modernisation, identity and turmoil yields fertile soil for female artists in Nepal.
The Himalayan country of Nepal has long been a collision of cultures, dialects and religions. Thrust into the international spotlight due to a Marxist insurgency and violent end to the Monarchy, Nepal’s contemporary art scene is flourishing with talented female artists who boldly challenge socio-economic and political themes.
Sangeeta Thapa, Nepal’s most established curator and Founder-Director of the Siddhartha Gallery, Siddhartha Art Foundation, Kathmandu Contemporary Art Centre and Kathmandu International Art Festival, told Art Radar more about the recent history of contemporary art in Nepal:
My first introduction to contemporary art in Nepal was through artist Shashikala Tiwari and her exhibition “Foot Marks of Peace” (1984). Inspired by her work, I opened the Siddhartha Art Gallery in collaboration with the artist. The idea was to create a platform for contemporary Nepali art. What I found interesting was that none of these artists wanted to be classified into that neat group of “women artists” as they attributed their hierarchical place in the pyramid of Nepali contemporary to the merit of their works. I found this interesting and extraordinary as the contemporary art scene was driven and dominated by men.
Art Radar profiles ten of these artists, hand-picked by visual artist and art writer Kurchi Dasgupta, who measure their credibility through their skills rather than their gender. The following ten female artists represent the best and brightest working and living in Nepal.
Saurganga Darshandhari (b. 1980) is a visual artist and printmaker who holds a BFA in Fine Arts from Tribuban University in Kathmandu, and an MFA in Printmaking from the University of Development Alternative in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She is also a founding member of Bindu, an artist’s space.
Darshandhari’s work has been shown widely in Nepal and exhibited in India. The artist has participated in residencies in Bangladesh, South Korea and Sri Lanka. She is currently exploring the connection between cultural traditions, the Hindu religion and erotic figures.
Kurchi Dasgupta (b. 1974, Kolkata, India) is an Indian national based in Nepal for the past nine years. Dasgupta earned an advanced degree in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. In addition to being a visual artist, Dasgupta also writes about contemporary art for several print magazines and e-journals, including Frieze Magazine and the Asian Art Journal.
Dasgupta’s artwork is a response to modern-day life. Often, topics are referenced and located on the internet and address “whatever issue was bothering me most at that moment”. The artist’s work has been shown in India, London, Qatar and Nepal.
Ragini Upadhyay Grela
Ragini Upadhyay Grela (b. 1961) is a painter and printmaker, with a degree in Painting from the Lucknow Arts and Crafts College, India. Grela is perhaps one of the most well-known and prolific Nepali artists of her generation, with over sixty solo shows and numerous national and international exhibitions to her credit.
Her artwork bravely takes on gender, identity and sexuality, while referencing mythological narratives and utilising a sly sense of satire. Her work is found in various public and private collections worldwide, including the Bradford Museum (United Kingdom), the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (Japan) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Nepal).
Bidhata K.C. (b. 1978) is one of the newer generation of Nepali artists. Holding a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, the artist burst into the contemporary art scene in 2005 and has participated in an impressive number of solo and group exhibitions, including in Bangladesh, Italy, Nepal, South Korea and the United States. In addition, Bidhata K.C. was an Asian Artist Fellowship Program recipient in 2006-07 in South Korea.
Bidhata K.C.’s work intimately looks at the human condition, with all its joys, challenges and frailties. Often, a leaf is present in the composition as her “primary element” with colours and space providing the exploration of emotion.
Sheelasha Rajbhandari (b. 1988) earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Kathmandu University Center for Art and Design and is currently working on her MFA at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. Her work has been shown in Bangladesh, India and Nepal and was included in the 14th Asian Art Biennale in Bangladesh. Rajbhandari also won first prize for Sculpture in the 2011 National Art Competition at the National Art Academy.
Rajbhandari examines the role that an individual idea has in relation to society in her artwork, and how traditional religious figures and concepts meld or are juxtaposed with the “rapid modernisation” that Nepal is currently facing.
Ashmina Ranjit (b. 1966) holds a BFA from both Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu (1992) and the University of Tasmania, Australia (1999). Ranjit completed her MFA from Columbia University Graduate School of Art in New York in 2006. Among her awards are two Fulbright Scholarships.
Ranjit is one of the most internationally recognised and written-about female artists in Nepal. She constantly breaks the boundaries surrounding traditional Nepali society and has “redefined contemporary art practices and society’s perceptions” through her paintings, performance art and video installations. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout the world, including in Australia, China, Europe, Japan, Mexico, Qatar and the United States.
Seema Sharma Shah
Seema Sharma Shah (b. 1966, Varanasi, India) is the Head of the Central Department of Fine Arts at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu. She earned her BFA in Painting and has both an MFA and a PhD in Printmaking.
Shah has participated in over seventy group and solo exhibitions worldwide. Her artwork depicts a sense of tranquillity and religious harmony, drawing on “assemblages” of Hindu and Buddhist mythologies.
Sushma Shakya (b. 1975) received her BFA in Painting from Kathmandu University in 2007. Shakya’s paintings, book illustrations, video art and installations have been shown extensively throughout Nepal. In 2013, the artist received an award from the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in Sculpture and the Nepal Academy of Fine Arts in Woodcut.
Her most recent work highlights the collision between humans and animal life and the plight of the ecosystem in contemporary times.
Erina Tamrakar (b. 1970) earned her MFA from the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. She is the co-founder of Kasthamandap Art Studio and founding member of E-Arts Nepal. Her work has been shown widely both nationally and internationally and is found in private and public collections, including the Hotel de l’Annapura and Nepal Investment Bank.
Tamrakar’s work often quietly observes the relationship between society and women. The artist’s newest project examines the social discrimination of women and religious boundaries.
Shashikala Tiwari (b. 1950, Nepal) is thought by many to be the mother of contemporary art in Nepal and represents “the defining role model” for local female artists. After earning her BFA in 1973 from M.S. University in Baroda, India, Tiwari developed her signature style and is now considered a forerunner of Nepal’s Modernist Movement. She is also a respected poetess.
Her paintings are reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe, with brilliant splashes of colour and sexual energy, laden with flowers and women in flowing clothes. Nature also figures prominently in Tiwari’s work, often bold and full of vibrant movement. The artist’s work has been exhibited throughout the world and is found in both private and public collections, including the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (Japan), Narayanhiti Royal Palace (Kathmandu) and the Russian Cultural Centre (Kathmandu).
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