Inaugural Kathmandu Triennale explores the theme of “city”.
The inaugural Kathmandu Triennale is curated by Philippe Van Cauteren and opens with the exhibition “My City, My Studio / My City, My Life”, which hosts more than 50 artists from around 25 countries in contemporary and historic venues across the cities of Kathmandu and Patan.
The Kathmandu Triennale is an event developed on the back of past success of the Kathmandu International Art Festival, held in 2009 and 2012. The inaugural edition of Kathmandu Triennale (KT 2017) takes ‘The City’ as a thematic starting point – a catalyst to explore the many socio-cultural and political issues embedded in urban settings. Francis Alÿs acts as the patron artist of the event. The Triennale is anticipated as a historic milestone for Nepali arts and culture as well as the city of Kathmandu. The 2015 earthquakes, which devastated much of Nepal, are at the centre of the exhibition, which is dedicated to the lives of the victims lost in the disaster.
In a curatorial statement, Van Cauteren stated:
The city is much like a container in which, through random ways, direct and indirect, history, habits and traditions are preserved. The socio-cultural texture of the place; colors and odors; the past, the present and the future; stories’ facts and fiction—all of it activated in the same. The artist thus will aim to be an urban archaeologist who digs from the city these elements, which can serve as core threads in their artistic practice.
With the Triennale set to close on 9 April 2017, Art Radar picks a few highlights.
1. “Built/Unbuilt”: exhibition focusing on migration and identity
Artists from Doha and Kathmandu cooperated under the curation of Dina Bangdel on a project to explore issues of migration and identity: “Built/Unbuilt: Home/City” was inaugurated by the ambassador of Qatar and Qatari artist Yousuf Ahmad, who was honoured as “KT2017 Distinguished Artist”. The project explores such issues as the more than 500,000 migrant workers living and working in Qatar with redced citizen rights. Three Nepali artists – Sheelasha Rajbhandari, Hitmaan Gurung and Mekh Limbu – were invited to Doha for a period of two weeks to research the issue and met many workers, visited Nepali organisations and interacted in art projects with the workers. At the same time three artists from Doha – Abdulla Al-Kuwari, Carolina Aranibar-Fernandez and Emelina Soares – were invited to Kathmandu to make work for the Triennale’s theme of “My city/My studio”.
2. Iraqi artist Salam Atta Sabri in dialogue with Nepalese artist SC Suman
The Baghdad-based artist Salam Atta Sabri was selected to show his series of drawings Letters from Baghdad (2005- 2015). Sabri’s drawings were displayed in dialogue with the work of SC Suman, a Nepalese artist and textile designer, in the historic grounds of the Taragaon Museum, Kathmandu. Letters from Baghdad (2005- 2015) is a visual diary of over 150 drawings that was first exhibited at “Invisible Beauty”, the Iraq Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. The artist produced these drawings privately upon his return to Baghdad with his family in 2005. The series weaved together elements of Iraq’s modern art and ancient history, with the artist’s own personal journey and travels. Van Cauteren, who curated “Invisible Beauty” in 2015, described the drawings as
introspective annotations where the tragic circumstances of a country collide with the personal drama of an artist who tries to satisfy the need to make art.
3. Ang Tsherin Sherpa
Tsherin Sherpa is a Tibetan-Nepalese artist who works in painting, sculpture and installation. Trained in traditional Tibetan thangka painting from a young age, Sherpa borrows from Tibetan iconography to abstract, fragment and reconstruct the traditional image to investigate and explore the diasporic experience as well as the dichotomy found where sacred and secular cultures collide. In reference to the Triennale work, the artist stated:
Through the lens of the Himalayan Diaspora, my work simultaneously deals with the preservation and transformation of a scattered culture, by bridging the sacred and secular, the past history and contemporary. As a nomadic people, over centuries, we’ve learned to harness the ability to adapt into many different environments. By observing this migration, my own experiences of identity are explored through my works.
Another work by Sherpa entitled Victory to the Spirit (Kyi Kyi so so Lha Gyal lo) (2015) was sold to raise money for the Triennale. The print was inspired by the Victoria & Albert Museum’s extensive Himalayan collection and has been on permanent display in the V&A.
4. Kiran Maharjan
Another local artist to participate in the triennial is street artist Kiran Maharjan, who is also one of the organisers of the Prasad Project, a social art project aiming to make a positive impact on Nepalese youth. For his contribution to the Triennale, the artist has made the interventions entitled Pride and Wrath – two street murals that depict images painted realistically with spray paint, which have elements of calligraphy. In a statement the artist describes his work thus:
Streets become my experimentation ground, my space of clarification, my performance space and my gallery. But the love-hate relationship with the streets and city is always omnipresent. And it also becomes my way of tackling my existentialism.
5. Amrit Karki
Nepali artist Amrit Karki transformed the historic citadel of Kirtipur itself into a giant artwork. The work Rectangle (2017) can be viewed from the historic citadel of Kirtipur: it is a giant mural consisting of a single red line painted across a total of 21 houses in Kirtipur’s Nayabazaar. The line meets in a rectangle shape, which is what is visible from a hill in front of the settlements. The work took nearly two months to create in collaboration with two architects and a group of dedicated volunteers. Karki is a recent graduate from Kathmandu University School of Arts. His last exhibit, entitled “Persistence”, revolved around motifs of self and the art of perception, and had a slightly surrealistic tinge to it. But the present work, the artist says, is not bound by any particular motif or theme.
6. Lee Kit
Internationally esteemed Hong Kong artist Lee Kit works against his education as a traditional painter, with every piece routed in the process of its creation rather than the product. Lee covers fabrics with acrylic stripes, plaids and song lyrics with obsessive care. Each piece appears abstract and minimal in its simple execution, but not without a real world purpose upon completion. The hand painted cloths become picnic blankets, towels, tablecloths and window curtains. The works are infused with Lee’s life and memories, collecting stains and spirit in its everyday use. Also responding to the modernist spaces of the Taragaon Museum, Lee Kit approached the space as a canvas and created an installation of painted windowpanes and two small acrylic panels inside of the museum’s building.
7. Oscar Murillo – The Europeans are Coming
Also on display at the Taragon Museum was Oscar Murillo’s The Europeans are Coming (2012). The Colombia-born London-based artist had a very steep rise to fame. Having recently graduated from studies at the Royal Collage of Art in London, during which he also worked as a cleaner to support his artistic career, his expressive, scratchy and scrawled paintings began to fetch six figure sums in 2013 opening the doors to exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and the 56th Venice Biennale. Oscar Murillo’s work from 2012 is a seven-metre-long painting, which he made in the private museum of Don and Mera Rubell. The work comments on the class and nationality divisions among the art public visiting the Triennial.
8. Manish Lal Shreshtha
Local artist Manish Lal Shrestha’s installation at the Nepal Art Council is a knitted work created by engaging the local community, a 1336 feet long knitted rope-like piece conceived to represent the height of Kathmandu Valley from sea level. In the ground floor hall of the Art Council, the entire laborious process involved in making this work, including stitching and sewing, is laid bare, visibilising the process of production of the artwork. It also has a participatory element as viewers are invited to play with the work.
9. Song Dong
Chinese artist Song Dong constructed a monumental mandala of Kathmandu City from an array of biscuits at the Nepal Art Council. Entitled Eating the City (2017), the work invited the audience to eat the biscuits and as biscuits were consumed the mandala disappeared bit by bit, leaving in its wake the fleeting taste of biscuits and the story of human consumption and greed. Dong’s contribution is an imaginary city to the Kathmandu Triennale that he took five days to make. Beijing-based Song Dong emerged from a strong Chinese avant-garde performing arts community and has developed into a significant contemporary art figure in the progression of Chinese conceptual art in the last two decades.
10. Leonardiansyah Allenda
Artists from across the region, too, have produced engaging works, such as Indonesian artist Leonardiansyah Allenda with an installation of slow-turning mirrors balanced precariously upon scales. Leonardiansyah Allenda was born in Banyuwangi in 1984 and creates multimedia works including installation, objects, video and performance. Leo’s research spectrum focuses on the identification of material’s value in relation to the space. He is interested in fabricating layers of perception derived from the transforming idea of matter-material to materialism. His recent project examined the physicality and the history of porcelain, and its relation to the cultured body.
- Internal landscape, external world: Nepal’s Govinda Sah – artist profile – June 2016 – London-based artist explores “celestial realms” and man’s interconnectedness with the universe
- “Active Blur”: Tibetan-Nepalese artists Tsherin Sherpa and Tulku Jamyang at Rossi & Rossi in London – January 2016 – works by two brothers depict melding of Buddhism imagery and contemporary life while utilising different media and techniques
- 8 highlights from the 8th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art – November 2015 – “influential” event held in Australia includes artists from Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyz Republic Mongolia and Nepal for the first time in Triennial’s history
- 10 female artists in Nepal to know now – August 2014 – the best and brightest women contemporary artists who challenge the country’s socio-economic and political climate
- Buddhas, dragons and horse, oh my! Contemporary art in Bhutan – Terton Gallery interview – November 2013 – Bhutan’s premier contemporary art gallery shares secrets of gallery’s success