Prove It, NAFA!

KANCHAN G BURATHOKI, www.myrepublica.com

Stepping into 2011 marks 21 years since Manuj Babu Mishra decided to remain in seclusion at his hermitage in Boudha, Kathmandu. It was only apt for the year 2010 to begin with a major solo exhibition of drawings by the 75-year-old artist at Siddhartha Art Gallery in Baber Mahal Revisited, one of the busiest galleries of the year, along with Kathmandu Contemporary Art Center (KCAC), which opened this year, and the Nepal Art Council (NAC).

Of the many exhibitions, installation works and performances, the art scene was more than just alive, especially in the second half of the year.

But what will go down in the history of Nepali art of 2010 is the establishment of the Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) with painter Kiran Manandhar as its first Chancellor.

Officially inaugurated in April 2010, the Academy opened with its share of controversies, with Ragini Upadhyaya resigning as one of the nine-member council within 48 hours of her appointment. Albeit the accusations thrown at NAFA for not being transparent on the selection of the council members, some artists expressed that they should be given a chance.

And indeed, they are being given the chance.

NAFA's first exhibition titled "Varsha" in July, with its randomly cluttered works and badly hung canvases, was more of an insult to women artists and their works, rather than a celebration. The announcement of a new logo in September can hardly be considered an achievement. And neither are the expensive interior furnishing, costing some 15 million Rupees, and purchasing of four brand-new vehicles with private license plates justified.

Yet, all of these can be overlooked if NAFA is to truly perform in the coming year.

The promises made are heavy for a triennial exhibition for SAARC countries, budgeted at Rs 200 million to a Rs 100 million structure for artists' residencies, workshop and museum spaces. Of course, it is not possible to complete all of these in the coming year, but we hope to see, at least, the roots of the grand plans taking to the ground.

Along with infrastructural developments – and only those that are truly necessary – the emphasis of NAFA in the coming year should also be on building a better art fraternity and in coming up with projects to expand the accessibility of art to the public arena, to promoting artists and their works locally, and reaching out to artists outside Kathmandu as well.

Similar to what Kathmandu University Center for Art & Design (KUart) academic program coordinator Sujan Chitrakar put in at his recent talk at Martin Chautari, NAFA, along with artists, today should think of ways of how to give back to the society, rather than complaining about the lack of the public's understanding of art. After all, the money which goes to NAFA comes from the government's budget and therefore, the public.

At this time, NAFA also needs to rise up to prove itself to the Nepali art community, especially to the younger artists who have little faith in the so-called senior artists. Such attitude of the younger generation is natural, when veteran artists, once pioneers in the field, are still stuck playing their ego game.

It is not rare to hear, "Oh, X didn't show up because we called Y to inaugurate the program" or "Z didn't come to the exhibition because we didn't drop a formal invitation at his place."

If artists truly care for the betterment of the arts, why the trivial bickering?

In an interview with The Week in May 2010, the then Campus Chief of Lalit Kala Campus, Raju Manandhar, had expressed his commitment to improving the fine arts program at the college. Ironically, only a few months after making accusations on previous campus chiefs who had failed to do anything, he himself resigned and moved to Australia.

A teacher at Lalit Kala Campus since 1988, sculptor Laya Mainali was appointed the new Campus Chief three months back. He will, with hope, bring together the crumbling college, both in terms of infrastructure and academic standards.

While the KUart, established in 2003, progresses each year and already has plans to introduce an MFA program soon, the fine arts program of Lalit Kala still remains under the Humanities Department of Tribhuvan University, and students receive BA degrees instead of BFA degrees, even after 33 years.

Nonetheless, Mainali states that plans for Lalit Kala include extending the three-year BA course to four years, and to creating a separate department for fine arts.

The first batch of some hundred plus students currently enrolled in the MA program of Lalit Kala are expected to graduate in 2011. Perhaps the coming year will even be busier and more interesting with theses being produced on various topics of art. But with only a handful of students attending classes regularly and with the lack of a library to conduct researches, one's excitement may only be met by disappointment.

The year 2010 also witnessed a significant rise in the number of young photography enthusiasts, from members in Galleria CUC, Image School's online photography competition, and participants in photo.circle-facilitated workshops. They have potential to take photography in Nepal beyond the conventional picturesque images, no doubt. Even so, these youthful shutterbugs still lack exploration in terms of subject matter and in understanding the powerful medium.

Wrapping the year up is a rather sad song.

For many local artists, exhibitions seem to be just a number rather than a serious opportunity to showcase their works and to make an impact. Sushma Rajbhandari and her paintings of Ganesh prop up at every other exhibition with nothing new to offer each time around. So are the horses of the maestro Shashi Bikram Shah. The long list of group and solo exhibitions at the end or beginning of catalogues is at times simply redundant, given the works hanging on the walls.

So, for those who have had solo exhibitions the past year, i.e., in 2010, should probably think twice before booking a gallery for another solo show in 2011.

Maybe it is time to ask, "Do I have something new to offer? Have I progressed personally, as an artist?"


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