Sarita Dongol’s oil paintings have made a history both for the painter and the viewers of her works. Art history always works like that. It shows a unique combination of the artist’s experience and those of the viewers. The viewers have a greater panorama than that of the artist because the viewers interpret the work of art across time and space and they have a greater range. But the artist views her history as her own mirror. How she holds the mirror up to nature is her choice. First the mirror becomes a very private affair. She cuts canvases, puts them up in her private studio, gets her palette ready and liberally or sparsely uses the brush strokes on them. In this manner she creates her mirror, her voyeurism that is greatly inward looking. Women artists have created patterns of voyeurism which are different from those warranted by the male voyeurism which encompasses the perceptions of the nude, the foregrounding of the body parts and facial contours. The voyeur is male and that makes a difference.
Sarita Dongol, a talented Nepali artist of the young generation has introduced an element of rupture in the male voyeuristic pattern in Nepali paintings. She has created a woman, a persona not in the finely balanced body shapes but in the persona of trees. Her voyeurism in her paintings should be perceived longitudinally. We can see her tree paintings in time. First, she went to the field, made sketches and carried the richness of them in memory and painted. Then she moved on the stage. She only saw the trunks, as she could not look up. In her journey of perception she missed the foliage. Next she saw the branches, and also hills where they stood but could not cross over. She identified herself with the body of tree but feared to approach it. Then the trees became human to her. She heard the tress. The title of her exhibition became “scream of nature”. Then she began to develop empathy with the quiet, fixed yet vibrant trees that change colors The trees got coupled, made love, became big and round with pregnancy. The fetus became the locus. Muscles, nerves and wrinkles of trees formed the texture of the painting.
Sarita Dongol saw the trees as stage where the cosmic drama involving sun, sky, air and water are the actors. She saw erosions, challenges and mutations; she saw tremendously vibrant growth of the trees. She saw trees rebelling from their fixed positions. To show a rebellion of the silent and fixed is difficult. But the tree by virtue of their qualities as silent and fixed became a trope of female persona to her, as she confessed to me in an interview. Sarita has played with the colors and figurality of the trees to show the change. The contortions in the stems and trunks of trees are strongly delineated with brush strokes. The intensity of the effect can be seen with every stroke pattern.
Sarita has created visibly contorted imageries in her early paintings. First, to show the tree-ness of the trees she has used mauve, brown and yellow interspersed with black here and there along the trunk and bole lines. But the foliage part is vibrantly green. That is a straight metaphor. Then she played with the very difficult part, which is the humanization of the trees. Sarita has given anthropomorphic form to the trees by subtly placing eyes and lips and giving expressive angles to certain sections of the tree. In this way when we study her female voyeurism with care what we see is that Sarita Dongol is creating mirror in the trees where she looks her own image, and those of women in general. But those women whom she represents in her tree paintings are women seen by her, and also created by her. So, here we see a unique pattern of voyeurism that deconstructs the one-sided, hegemonised male pattern. Sarita’s paintings remind me of the works of her senior compatriot, the well-known veteran Sashikala Tiwari who has created similar mirror patterns. But Tiwari’s mirror has a sunburst effect. She does not fix a mirror on a particular imagery. Flowers reflect her, mountains with human dimensions reflect her, the eroding mother earth reflects her and the depressed rivers that cut across the bustling metropolis reflect her. Tiwari’s woman is an ambivalent, plural and sometimes amorphous presence in these variegated images whereas Sarita Dongol’s mirror is a singular continuum—the tree. She seeks plurality in this single imagery. To do that, she has created heuristically approachable schemata.
She divides the phases of her tree voyeurism and then gives strength and credence to her voyeurism. The schema is presented through her own grouping of her paintings in the following manner. The trees in the new series are presented as liberated that she shows through the imagery of mobility. After years of encirclement the trees see the walls and the barbed wire broken allowing the sunlight to flood in. Sarita’s thematic treatment of sadness and depression as experienced by the trees contrasts with the stylistic treatment of that theme. She creates a warm, free and loving ambiance by a combination of warm colors and the wonderful harmony of them. Both the visible and invisible lines run so splendidly well. But she said to me as she showed me the paintings that these canvases are supposed to show depression. I noticed a pattern of certain complexity in the voyeurism that the artist creates. Theme and styles contradict at some places.
But the paintings in the latest series, the series that she links with liberation and, interestingly, with the restoration of democracy in 1990 and thereafter are very eloquent. Sarita follows the pattern of historicity. She projects her own mood of anger and depression when democracy is usurped in recent times. She combines that with the mood of fear and depression caused by the violence of the insurgency. I found that interpretation and the predicament of Sarita’s trees so moving. They become not only her mirror or the mirrors of women, but they also become everybody’s mirrors where each one can see his/her image caught in a catch-22 situation in the present times.
But essentially, what is important is the artist’s perception. Sarita Dongol has worked with these trees, talked with them, touched them in the small hours of their suffering with love, caressed them with the brush strokes and shared their pain. Her burdening them with the sense of historicism and her creation of tension between sense and style reflects an artist’s journey, which Sarita rightly says, is the journey of love and pain. And she wants to see the journey as a woman. She takes the entire responsibility of this gendered creation as her own. But these paintings on display present a theater where every viewer sees his/her own drama. But I must confess that the total effect of these paintings is sheer pleasure. The rich stylistic delineation of the tree persona, the artist’s intensive treatment of the theme of tree and the mature combination of colors creates an unambiguously pleasant mood of surprise and confidence. The paintings in this series show that Sarita Dongol has achieved greater maturity in her art. I have followed her paintings ever since she worked in a studio at the NAFA attic and these paintings create a history of woman artist’s journey which is not a travesty but a reality that each painting and the themes they seek to dramatize suggests to the voyeur.
Dr. Abi Subedi writer/critics
- 1992-96 Lalit kala college, Tribuvan Unversity, Nepal, Bachelor degree of Fine Art (History of art & Painting)
- 2002 (three months) Kyushu Sangyo university Faculty of Art, Fukuoka, Japan (special painting course under profe
- 2000 "Defining Trees" organized by Siddhartha Art Gallery, KTM. Nepal
- 2001 Painting collection Exhibition organized by R.A.P.S Association and MAIRIE de comps, France
- 2001 Contemporary Painting Exhibition at Mahendra Art Gallery, Pokhara, Nepal (organized by Creative artist group)
- 2002 "Trees and Trials" at NAFA art gallery, Naxal, Nepal
- 2002 "My view on trees" at Sappro Station, Hokkido Japan (organized by SAPANA culture exchange group)
- 2003 "Creation and Creations" at NAFA art Gallery, Naxal, KTM Nepal
- 2004 "Revelation of Invisibility" an installation and paintings Exhibition at gallery nine ,Nepal
- 2004 "Scream of nature" at Lumbini art gallery, NAFA Nepal
- 2005 Recollection from 1998-2005 paintings exhibition at Buddha art gallery, KTM Nepal
- 2005 "The sinuous Shapes of Trees" at NANNANSEI NO KAZE Gallery, Dazifu city Japan
- 2006 "Tree and Voyeurism" at Art Shop, Kathmandu
Selected Group Exhibition & workshop Participation
From 1999 to till 2009 around 36 Painting exhibition and participation in Nepal, France, India, Dhaka, USA, Japan, S. Korea
- 1992 1st prize in "Human happiness" organized by Srijana Contemporary Art Gallery Nepal
- 2001 1st prize "The second eastern region" painting competitions and exhibition, India (Organized by Camlin Art foundation, Kolkota)kota)
- 2004 Special prize of 35th National wide painting competition, organized NAFA
Norway , Fukuoka Art museum Japan, Canada, Australia, Korea, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, India, U.K, U.S.A & National museum in Nepal (NAFA), Uijea art museum, Gwangju city, S. Korea & lot of privet collection in Nepal.