By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Feb. 6: Yeti, also known as the abominable snowman, is a mythical creature supposed to prowl the Himalayan heights. But last month, it appeared at landmarks all across Kathmandu Valley – or at least, its sculptures did.
Strange, large and multi-coloured figurines of crouching Yetis placed at heritage sites, malls and offices to welcome the Visit Nepal Year (VNY) 2020 have drawn amusement, bewilderment and annoyance in equal amounts.
“It looks really nice, something unique and artistic,” said Abhishek Pratap, an Indian tourist, about the painted Yeti statue at LABIM Mall, Pulchowk, Lalitpur.
Nepalis, however, are not as impressed. “It doesn’t even look like a Yeti,” said Bhusan Basnet, a visitor at LABIM. “The Yeti statue in front of the NAC building looks much better than this,” he added.
“The colour scheme does not match with the creature,” exclaimed Kamal Barahi, “I saw a statue in Kathmandu where the Yeti was yellow; there was also a red statue and here [LABIM] it’s painted like a pirate.” He advised the government and the sculpture-makers to paint the statues appropriately.
“Something as sensitive as our tourism mascot should not be taken so lightly,” he said.
Vastu Nyachhyon, a resident of Sanepa and an artist himself, agreed. “There are times you have streak of creativity, but not when designing national symbols,” he said adding, “This Yeti is supposed to be the face of the ongoing tourism year but there is no consistent branding.” He clarified that he had no issue with the colouring of the Yetis but rather with the lack of consistency among them.
Following immense backlash, the statues have been removed from the heritage sites and the landmarks.
But even as the sculpture is proving to be an eyesore for Nepalis, tourists seem to like it. Greg Haas, an American tourist, said he had seen three Yeti statues on his trip around Kathmandu and liked all of them. “They are vibrant and eye-catching and look really good in photos.” But he admitted that he initially did not perceive it as a Yeti and thought it was an ancient warrior. His friend Orion Williams also did not take it as Yeti at first glance. Nevertheless, he likes the way they look. “The sculptures really left an impression on my mind,” he said.
Yet, among the domestic audience, the sculpture still evokes irritation. Many people criticise the statues for not being based on local stories and beliefs about what a Yeti looks like. Many others criticise the government for choosing a mythical creature as the mascot instead of a real animal. There were also complaints that the religious imagery painted on the Yeti statues placed at Basantapur was offensive and hurt the religious sentiments. But some defend the statues as an artistic expression and a unique visual design.
Kaushal Shrestha is one of the defenders. An architect and artist, Shrestha believes that art can take any shape or form and it is all about expressing oneself within the limits of social norms and morality. “The statue is not obscene or vulgar, nor does it promote hatred or discrimination,” he said adding, “It is just a creative conceptualisation of an animal no one has seen; it’s an art.” However, Shrestha said that the debate around the sculpture was positive and the public feedback should be taken into consideration for future campaigns.
The Yeti was designed by artist Ang Tsherin Sherpa and was selected as the mascot for VNY 2020 by Visit Nepal 2020 Secretariat. The mascot was unveiled on January 1 during the inauguration of VNY 2020.