Artopia: According To Sujan Chitrakar

AJIT BARAL , www.myrepublica.com

A son of a reputed painter whose reputation was eclipsed as a cartoonist, I grew up hearing laments about the absence of art critics in Nepal — art critics who could inform the public about art.

This lament prompted me to try my hand at writing on art. And I did write about the works of Shashi Shah, Uttam Nepali, Kiran Manandhar, and a few others. These were the artists who helped usher in modernism in Nepali art.

But they did not try to reinvent themselves by experimenting with new forms, mediums and subjects and were reduced to doing the same kind of paintings over and over again. And once you wrote about one of their exhibitions, you had nothing new to write about their next exposition.

The lack of anything new to write about their works disenchanted me, and I stopped critiquing art.

Fortunately, at that very moment, a crop of young artists – Ashmina Ranjit, Sujan Chitrakar and the like, who were schooled in art outside the country and au fait with the latest development in international art – were emerging and introducing newer forms of expressions, rejuvenating the hitherto tepid art scene.

They were bold and radical at times, exploring female sexuality, critiquing the decade-long conflict in Nepal. And they were not just making works of art; they were also trying to engage with the public. Their attempt in this was, however, constricted by the fact that there were not many people writing on art.

Of course, there were a few art critics like Mukesh Malla and Ramesh Khanal in recent years, in tow with Abhi Subedi writing about the painters of the times – the SKIB group, for instance – in the 1970s. The late Narayan Bahadur Singh at the Gorkhapatra Sansthan was another regular critic. But their writing output and the space they got in papers were not enough to bridge the gap that existed (and still exists) between artists and the general public. Hence, there is no surprise that the works of young artists went largely unrecognized and underappreciated.

But what could one do about this? Not much, many would say.

But not Sujan Chitrakar.

 

Long live ARTocracy by Sujan Chitrakar

 "Long live ARTocracy", 48 x 72 inch by Sujan Chitrakar

(after Min Bajracharya's "the moment speaks for itself " 1990)

"We can make art accessible to the common people," Sujan states. "We can take art to public spaces, out from galleries, forcing the public to engage with it." And he has been doing just that, through the ARTivities Project, of which his latest exhibition of paintings – titled "Let's Talk about Art, Baby" – is a part.

In the exhibition, which kicked off on December 17, he has deliberately simplified his works in order to make the general public understand what he is trying to drive home: a creation of an "Artopian" society. In doing so, he has replicated photos taken by some of the photographers onto canvases and given them a spin.

For example, in a famous photograph by Min Bajracharya, showing a woman shouting with her hands upraised amidst a sea of people congregated at Tundikhel to celebrate the reinstitution of democracy in 1990, Sujan has inserted a dialogue bubble which reads "Kalatantra Zindabad", translated as Long Live Artocracy.

The artist has replaced hoarding boards in a photo of the Kathmandu city with paintings of Shashi Shah and Vincent van Gogh. A group of women returning home from shopping, flaunt of owning Manuj Babu's painting, rather than the latest designer shoes.

In his paintings, Sujan creates a city where art has primacy, where the talk of art is in the air, where a couple out on a date feel the need to talk about art, where we see paintings being carted on the street.

Surprisingly, art critics, who I would assume are indispensable to the existence of the kind of city they envision, don't have a place in his paintings. Critics or not, the Artopian city that he aspires to is also unattainable, like the Marxian Utopia. However, we should commend him, for such an aspiration makes us more human and brings sanity in our lives.

"Let's Talk about Art, Baby" is a cry—a loud and desperate cry, if I may say so – for taking art out of gallery walls to public space. So viewers might find it strange that Sujan, who made a name for himself by doing installation art, which is more or less public in nature, has decided to do the conventional on-canvas-art and displayed them in the confines of a gallery.

But we should remember, as he said at the inauguration, he is making that cry for taking art out of galleries so that the general public can engage with it, better appreciate it, and then flock back to galleries. Artists cannot live on art without people going to galleries in droves, can they?

Many a people have envisioned a utopian world – and a dystopian world for that matter – in writing or on canvases, but I don't think anyone has envisioned an Artopian world. For this reason alone, "Let's Talk about Art, Baby" merits a visit.

Go watch the exhibition at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited. It runs through to January 27.


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