Negotiation Of Multiple Voices In Nepali Paintings

Source: Yam Prasad Sharma [The Rising Nepal]

Contemporary Nepali painting reconciles heterogeneous images and forms. Hindu and Buddhist myths, icons and symbols, and the subject matters of early Nepali art interact with western forms. The borrowed images and forms are decontextualised, modified, appropriated and sometimes subverted. The homogeneity and authority of early icons are parodied, questioned and challenged.

Referential icons of divinities in manuscript illumination, paubha and pata appear as distorted plural images in contemporary compositions. The themes of concentration and meditation, and the unity of individual self and cosmic being are expressed through impressionist, expressionist, cubist, etc. forms. The structure of mandala is recycled creating the alternative mandala. The recycled images and forms are plural, for they resemble to and differ from early forms at the same time.

Figurative images are negotiated with abstract and non-referential forms. Most of the figurative images represent native images, myths, characters and context whereas distorted and abstract shapes are created using western techniques. The intricate nexus of abstraction and figuration put some art forms in the in-between space of objective and abstract representations.

The conventional boundaries among various art genres are blurred. Painting and poem are juxtaposed in the same canvas reconciling vision and textuality. The creation of three dimensional images on the canvas, which project above the surface, makes the painting resemble to the low relief sculpture. On the other hand, sculpture itself is sometime coloured as the painting. Some works of art include photographs as the integral parts of the painting. Photography and painting, the so called low and high art respectively, enter into meaningful dialogue. Sometimes, paintings are executed and/or presented simultaneously with music and theatrical performance creating inter-art relationship. The presentation of a number of heterogeneous texts and art forms in the same art work makes it a pastiche.

Some paintings break the tradition of authorship of a work of art by a single artist through the execution of collaborative works. Poets and painters create a work of art in collaboration. A number of artists work in the single canvas using heterogeneous idioms and techniques. Their colours, images and visions enter into dialogue. Provisionally, they appear to be organised. Painters present their works accompanied by musicians, poets, actors and journalists.

The process of creation is emphasised instead of final product. The artist presents incomplete work of art, which he anticipated, to be completed by the audience. The viewers either create new images or organise the given images. As the viewer becomes the painter the distance between the artist and the audience is erased. Sometime the audience becomes actors as the performing artist interacts with them. The success of the work depends on the active participation of the audience.

The use of the common goods of daily use in the painting brings a work of art nearer to reality. The commodification of painting blurs the line between a work of art and commodity. The integration of real objects and audience in the work of art makes it life like.

Contemporary Nepali painting addresses the socio-political issues of our context. The corrupted and inefficient political authority is satirized. The disillusioned and alienated characters question the existence of the state that cannot provide humble opportunities to its unemployed youths.

The art works give voice to the exploited children and the underprivileged. Various ethnic groups and women question the homogeneity and authority of the state and strive for their share in the power. The consequences of violent struggle and armed conflict between the state and the rebels are also dealt in the paintings. However, the interaction between marginal groups and centre, and mediation and reintegration of multiple voices in the power structure are not represented overtly.

The process of creating hybrid art form through the appropriation of heterogeneous forms represents the dialogue and negotiation between the state and various groups in the margin like women, lower class, ethnic minorities and Madheshi, and their integration in the power structure in symbolic level. The heterogeneous forms, images and symbols represent multiple voices of diverse groups. As the available images and forms at the time of creation are not hybridized as they are but decontextualised and appropriated, the negotiating voices are not integrated in the mainstream as they are but modified and altered. Sometimes in the process of dialogue and interaction, new ideas emerge through mutation. The hybrid art form presents the possible model of political negotiation and conflict resolution to be emulated by the negotiating parties.

As the images, symbols and forms of early art forms are reinterpreted and reformulated in contemporary forms, our new political system should share those ideas of the past that can function well in the present. On the other hand, the appropriation of western forms represents the form of western democracy that should be contextualised and modified. Despite the fact that the ideas are old/new or native/alien, they should be exploited if they function provisionally in the present context.

The pastiche consisted of heterogeneous art forms and multiple genres symbolise the need of provisional unity among diversities in the nation. The constituent parts of the pastiche not only function as the integral parts of the work but also remain independent. They can be enjoyed separately as well. Similarly, various ethnic groups or the proposed federal states will run with relative freedom and autonomy.

The participation of the audience to complete the work, and the interaction between the artist and viewers symbolises the need of dialogue between political leaders and ordinary people, and the participation of common folks in decision making and constructive work.

As the fluidity of art form, the status of the negotiating forces is not stable. What is important is not their value for all time but how they function in relation to the time and place. In the process of negotiation, the forces in the margin emerge at the centre whereas the dominant central force is pushed into margin. However, their new location is also provisional, for another round of negotiation may bring up another new force in power displacing the older ones. Ethnic communities and Madheshis are negotiating with the state to carve their place.

As the art works are plural, the ideas coming out of negotiation can be open ended and susceptible to change if they do not function well in spatiotemporal context. Since negotiating forces and their ideas are ever changing, the emerged ideas out of their dialogue can never be fixed for all time.

The formal qualities and the process of creation of the contemporary Nepali painting depict the political negotiation, in symbolic level, more clearly than the overt political images in the composition. As Fredrick Jameson said, the cultural form always slips into political domain.

Contemporary Nepali painting negotiates the heterogeneous cultural and political forces in meaningful way. The diverse political powers of our country attempt to emulate the negotiating process of the art but they are long way from achieving this status. Political leaders’ exposure to the hybrid art form may strengthen their negotiating capacity. As Oscar Wilde said that life imitates art, Nepali politics of contemporary time attempts to imitate the contemporary art forms.


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