London-based Nepali artist “seeks the sacred” with canvases of luminosity and “cosmic explosions”.

Govinda Sah’s third solo show in London deftly explores Eastern metaphysical traditions alongside humanity’s interconnectedness with the universe.

Govinda Sah 'Azad', 'Wondering Cloud', 2016, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Govinda Sah ‘Azad’, ‘Wondering Cloud’, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Mixed media artist Govinda Sah, also known as ‘Azad’, uses three-dimensional objects such as beads and hair and “carefully textured layers of paint” to bring the cosmos to life.

Govinda Sah (b. 1974) was born in the city of Rajbiraj in south-eastern Nepal. The artist was nicknamed Azad, which means ‘freedom’, after his independent nature. Despite his parents prompting him to study science or engineering, Sah left home as a teenager and spent four years in India as a sign painter. After returning to Nepal, Sah completed his BFA at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu (2003) and then went abroad to earn an MFA from the University of Development Alternative in Dhaka, Bangladesh (2006) and an MFA from London’s Wimbledon College of Arts (2008). After graduating with his second MFA, Sah decided to stay on in London, where he remains to this day.

Govinda Sah 'Azad'. Photo: Jonathan Greet. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Govinda Sah ‘Azad’. Photo: Jonathan Greet. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

The artist’s work is currently being shown in “Boundless Possibilities” at the October Gallery in London until 25 June 2016 and has previously been exhibited at Abu Dhabi Art, Art Dubai and the Royal Academy of Arts.

Sah’s mixed media creations, as written in the press release for the “Boundless Possibilities” solo show, take an intimate look at “celestial realms” which “possess their own unique luminosity”. In addition to a tension found between light and darkness in the artist’s work, is a sense of physicality as Sah stretches the limitations of the canvas with holes, smoke and fire.

Govinda Sah 'Azad', 'Above the Mountains', 2016, oil and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Govinda Sah ‘Azad’, ‘Above the Mountains’, 2016, oil and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Growing up in the Himalayan country of Nepal, Sah was influenced by a combination of what Robert Beer, a British scholar of Tibetan Buddhist art, calls a “unique fusion of Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions”. According to the artist’s website, these spiritual traditions appeared in his earlier work and led to a research project while he was at university:

His MA thesis was entitled “Can clouds re-establish the symbolic interpretation of spirituality and sublime contemporary art?” The paper examined how artists from JMW Turner to contemporary artist Anish Kapoor have used clouds to represent spirituality or the sublime. His choice of subject matter began with landscape and temples from his country, Nepal and even included a three month solo cycle tour of Nepal.

Govinda Sah 'Azad', 'Mind or Matter' (detail), 2016, mixed media on canvas, 140 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Govinda Sah ‘Azad’, ‘Mind or Matter’ (detail), 2016, mixed media on canvas, 140 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Beyond the age-old traditions of the East, as the artist told Art Radar, a particular connection and interest in the environment and vast universe itself manifests throughout the artist’s oeuvre:

I am connected to both the internal and external world and I like to feel it and to sense it. Our bodies are part of nature and also part of the universe, the stars. So at one level, something can be very small and yet also connected to something infinite.

I have often used the familiar existence of clouds in the sky as a reversible lens to examine both the world of infinitesimally small things – droplets of water vapour uniting to form huge cloud formations – and, at the other extreme, to explore  imagined manifestations like vast clouds of intergalactic dust which are seedbeds for distant stars.

Govinda Sah 'Azad', 'MatterNothingMatter' (Detail 2), 2015, mixed media on canvas, 160 x 180 cm. Photo: Jonathan Greet. Image courtesy the artist and the October Gallery London.

Govinda Sah ‘Azad’, ‘MatterNothingMatter’ (Detail 2), 2015, mixed media on canvas, 160 x 180 cm. Photo: Jonathan Greet. Image courtesy the artist and the October Gallery London.

Sah’s interest in the interconnectedness of self and the environment manifested as a three-month long solo cycle trip in Nepal. As the artist relayed to Art Radar, “The 21st Century is the Century of Art and Peace” tour was a once in a lifetime experience that brought together people and art, with exhibitions and art lessons, all in the name of peace:

The cycle tour was related to people as well as myself. Nepal is great place for many reasons, two of which are that the people are very peaceful and the natural environment is very beautiful. However, since the 90s, it has been involved in the Maoist civil war and now there is still sectoral conflict as well as terrifying natural events like earthquakes and aftershocks.

I think my art and my actions hold a mirror to my country and the events happening there. When I look back, after burning the paintings which were created during the cycle tour in 2000, I reflected that the tour produced a very strong reaction in Nepal and the art world in Nepal. People are taking the role of art seriously. On one hand, many monuments, historical temples and palaces were destroyed by the earthquake and on the other hand, the artists who burnt their peace paintings were crying out for peace.

Govinda Sah 'Azad', 'Reflection', 2016. mixed media on canvas, 120 x 110 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Govinda Sah ‘Azad’, ‘Reflection’, 2016. mixed media on canvas, 120 x 110 cm. Image courtesy the artist and October Gallery London.

Now, almost two decades later, Sah continues on amidst societal and environmental upheaval. As the artist told Art Radar, his work will continue to uncover and illuminate, while seeking to reveal the truth:

Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha and the brave Ghurkha.  It is a kingdom of nature, although it is also experiencing social and political corruption. It is also affected by global warming and climate change. As an artist, I am trying my best to reflect my emotional reaction to these changes through the making of art. It is hard to say how many minds have changed, but I’m sure my work has touched many hearts.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: Nepali artists, environment, gallery shows, profiles, mixed media, events in London

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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