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Artree Nepal And The Contemporary Art Scene With Sheelasha Rajbhandari

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Art has been deep rooted into our culture in several different forms, often reflected in the embedded forms of craftsmanship in our paintings, religion, architectures, shrines, and pottery and so much more. With time, the expression of Nepalese art has evolved and slowly incorporated itself into the world of contemporary art: the art of today that relates to the society and issues relevant to individuals and those around us.

Like it so often does, art has a way of amassing an impact that surpasses that of any other medium, a virtue that was exemplified through the performance titled “Culture of Silence”. A powerful protest performance took place in the wake of Dr. Govinda KC’s eighth fast-unto- death remonstrating against corruption in the medical sector. Five male members of ArTree Nepal shaved their heads and asked volunteers to write messages on their bodies. They then joined the mass of protesters assembled in front of the parliament houseto support Dr. Govinda KC. It was a surreal demonstration of support towards a gripping social issue presented through a potent medium by ArTree Nepal.

The sixth, and one of the founding, members of ArTree Nepal is Sheelasha Rajbhadari. She, along with five other members form the group that represents the efforts to create artwork that strives to create artworks with social significance and utility. Here are the excerpts of our conversation with Sheelasha regarding contemporary art and ArTree Nepal.

ABOUT ARTREE NEPAL

Nepal and its culture has always believed in individual expression and collective and communal growth. Our culture propagates sharing and responsibility bearing and that is what we adhere to at ArTree Nepal.

The traditions we follow are not egocentric but rather focuses
on collective growth and helping each other move up. When me and Hit Man Gurung began ArTree this was what backed our work. Our work, therefore, sometimes are a result of individual work as well as a result of our collaborative efforts. All of us have different skills and we bring that together to help each other in different ways.

We’re not into decorative art at all. We’re more about socially motivated and sociopolitical issues. We are part of the
society we live it, we were born into this society and there are many political changes, beliefs, superstitions and stigmas directly affect us. We cannot ignore that and go on living our lives, and as responsible human beings we felt it necessary to voice ours and several other unheard voices through a medium we knew best: art.

AS RESPONSIBLE HUMAN BEINGS WE FELT IT NECESSARY TO VOICE OURS
AND SEVERAL OTHER UNHEARD VOICES THROUGH A MEDIUM WE KNEW BEST: ART.

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Credits: Ananda K. Maharjan

THE PROCESS

We don’t work like an NGO or other organizations. We try to remain as organic as possible and work on subjects that have really touched us and compelled us to think which has proved to be the best ways to bring out the best work.

It was the same case with the efforts of Dr. Govinda KC. The sacrifices he made for a collective cause was admirable and would benefit each and every person in the country at sometime or the other. Even in his personal life, he is unmarried doesn’t have much to his name and has devoted much of his life works to the less fortunate.

We’re not the ones to work
for a cause just for the sake
of it, but things like these
coerce us to express ourselves through. We had to work fast to setup the “Culture of Silence” demonstration to support Dr. Govinda KC but it ultimately made a significant impact.

Our working process is diverse and resourceful; we use photos, videos, sounds our bodies, basically any medium that is required to strongly represent our concept.

Artree is driven to do research and process based artwork. More than the final product we believe there is a lot more to learn from the process through interaction and meeting new people. We get to meet people from different walks of life like anthropologists, engineers, and architects and there is an environment of give and take.

THE NEW ART SCENE IN NEPAL


There was a time when art was Europe centric. I was
also encouraged to go there
to further my studies. But it didn’t make the right sense
to do that because I felt that there was so much to learn from my own country, despite the difficulties and struggles. Also, if you’re going abroad
to learn art you are losing the sense of belongingness, which is a significant part of what you produce as an artist. `

Now, Asia is growing in terms
of art activity. And the art trend is such that it encourages you
to hark back to your roots and what is around you, inspiring you to immerse yourself in learning more and more.

Nepal is situated between India and China, two countries that are taking major strides in terms of contemporary art since 2000. And Nepal is also up and coming in the international art scene. There is a growing curiosity and more and more curators, art historians and enthusiasts come to visit. Also, the Kathmandu Triennale is about to happen, which is the biggest exhibition in Nepal where many artists from different countries will be participating.

At the same time there are struggles. There is no support, government or corporate and artists are often persevering as one-man armies.

But we have been through more difficult times, and with things looking better than ever before there is no reason to not be optimistic about where Nepal is going in terms of art.

MY WORKS

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Most of my recent works are focused on the role of women in the Nepalese society. It is commonly said, personal is political, which was much the same in this case. The situation I personally suffered has manifested in some way or the other to so many people in our society. And my recent work has been focused towards such taboos of the society.

I lost my father when I was very young and I barely remember
my Grandfather at all. My mother filled in the shoes for both parents and she had to sacrifice so much to make me the person that I am today. Still my father, who passed away and my grandfather who I don’t even know, play a more important role than my mother for society. That is the type of world we are living and growing up in. And that angers me and leaves me helpless at the same time.

Official work requires the name of the father and grandfather while my mother has been playing the biggest role in my life.

And there are countless other aspects that hinder the advance of women in our society. Take for instance the traditions we follow in terms of marriage. The woman is expected to take on a different surname and fit into a new home as if it were as natural as the sun coming up in the morning. No one takes a second to consider the tribulations of the woman who now has to call a completely new home and family hers. People don’t want to talk about that at all.

FOR ME, MORE THAN INSPIRATION, I WORK INSTINCTUALLY

INSPIRATION

For me, more than inspiration, I work instinctually. I analyze the differences and similarities in things. I also do a lot of traveling and I pick up things from so many things that I see.

And through all my travels through different country, it is interesting to see how similar things are when we expect it to be different, only veiled by slightly different facades.

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Credits: Ananda K. Maharjan

WHAT NEXT FOR ARTREE?


Like I said before, Artree has always been organic in its approach. After the earthquake we conducted a six-month
long project called Camp Hub where we stayed in Thulo
Byasi in Bhaktapur, living in
the community. We focused
on two things: the healing process from the earthquake and how the cultural heritage of Bhaktapur is slowly being forgotten.

We learnt about Western Art History in school but it seemed that we were losing touch with our own roots. So this was a wakeup call for us too.

With this project we shared the findings with the community through sight specific installations, murals and so much more. It was an intense project that was highly appreciated and acknowledged. In fact, Korea’s Seoul City Centre invited us there where
a sharing program was conducted and we interacted with other artists as well invited us.

They appreciated the fact that we completed a project with barely any budget and such little resources after the earthquake, with the community alone.

We have taken considerable strides and things are definitely looking up.

The next step for us will be the Kathmandu Trinnale which is happening on the 23rd of March.

Words: Shreya Sangroula

Photo: Pritam Chhetri

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