Wednesday, 29 May, 2024

Intangibility made tangible on canvas


By Aashish Mishra

Kathmandu, Feb. 8:

It is easy to tell stories. To gather a  few  people  and  explain  to  them  that  Gautam Buddha not only guided humans and animals to salvation but also preached sermons  to  gods  from  heaven  is  not  a  particularly difficult task.

Depending  on  our  mastery  of  the  language,  we  may  be  able  to  express  the  feeling  that  was  contained  in  the  Buddha’s  words  carried  for  miles  by  the  currents  of  air,  enlivening  everything  in  its  path.  But  how  do  you  visualise  this?  How  do  you  represent  qualities like selflessness, compassion and impermanence?  Tales  and  fables  are  innately  abstract and incorporeal. How do you translate them to concrete and tangible paintings?

The answers to these questions can be found in artist Samundra Man Singh Shrestha’s paintings currently on display at  the  Museum  of  Nepali  Art  (MoNA),  Kathmandu. Shrestha, through the use of colours, gestures, facial expressions and backgrounds, captures the feelings that our stories have been conveying through words for thousands of years.

To comprehend the boundless ethereal flows of divinity that are our deities and heave it out on canvas no larger than a house window  is  no  mean  feat.  Yet,  Shrestha  has  been consistently doing it for the better part of nearly 30 years as evidenced by his works presently on exhibition.

“It certainly takes a lot of effort and patience to achieve these kinds of results,” Shrestha said as he walked around the MoNA gallery.  “You  have  to  dive  deep  into  the  mythology,  understand  the  context  which  surrounds  these  characters  and be able to visualise the relationship  between  them  to be able to give life to your art,” he said.

But  it  is  not  only  Shrestha’s  best  pieces  that  visitors  will  see  at  the  exhibition.  Shrestha,  42, entered the art field at  the  age  of  14  with  sketches and drawings of comic book heroes, buildings  and  festivals  he  saw  around  him.  As  he was born and brought up in Basantapur area, he had  been  familiar  with  Nepali  cultures  and  arts  since his childhood.

His early works are on display too.

“Hopefully,  this  will  show  young  artists  that  you  do  not  achieve  perfection  overnight.  You  have  to  devote  yourself  to  art, spend years honing your skills and above all, have patience.” “Yes! patience,” the ‘neo-traditional’ Paubha artist said. “It is one of the three important Ps of art with persistence and practice being the other two.”

Rajan Shakya, founder of MoNA, also hoped that Shrestha’s works would inspire young artists to develop their craft and aspire for the greatest of heights. But more than that, he hopes that exhibitions like these in spaces like MoNA call attention to Nepal’s silently vibrant art scene.

“Ours is a country of art. We just do not realise it,” Shakya said. “From the  idol  of  Pashupatinath  to  the  statues  at  Swayambhu  to  the  pictures  of  gods  and  goddesses  we  have  in  our  homes,  our faith and culture revolve around art.”

Despite them being such an integral part of our Nepali-ness, neither the artworks nor the  artists  behind  them  have  received  much recognition from the people and the state. This is something Shakya wishes to change by hosting artists like Shrestha at MoNA.

Shrestha too feels the importance of platforms like the one created by Shakya cannot be understated. “Nepal is a nation of  art,  but they are scattered in shops and museums  and  collections.  These  [exhibitions]  help  showcase  them  in  one  place for people to see and acknowledge.”

As the title of the exhibition ‘The Journey of Artistic Mastery’ suggests, the works on display  are  meant  to  encourage  and  stimulate  young minds and give people a sense of who Samundra is beyond the paintbrush. That is why none of the 50 paintings here is for sale. They are, however, exquisite examples of traditional Newa  style  of  artistry  residing  as  the  core  of  conceptual  contemporaneity;  of  binaries  and  juxtapositions of past and present, old and new, sacred and secular.

Shrestha’s  solo  exhibition  will  continue till February 19 from 10 am to 7 pm at MoNA, Thamel, Kathmandu.