Playing The Blame Game

KANCHAN G BURATHOKI

The library on the second floor with its stone floor and wooden beam ceiling appears dingy and abandoned. The books in the glass shelves are dusty and many haven't seen the light of day for ages. Prem Shrestha, the librarian, shuffles through some registers and files behind his desk.

"You can say that there are about 5,500 books. We get new books once in two to three years," he puts in, after failing to find any record of the number of books. "That's how it's around here. There's no budget for the library," he sighs. Shrestha, who has been in charge for the past four years, can't even recall the membership fee for the library. He guesses, "I think it's around Rs 150."

So much for the glorious history of Nepal's first and oldest fine arts institute—the Lalit Kala Campus.

THE HISTORY

Situated at the bustling entrance of Botahity in Kathmandu, the seeds of the former Juddha Kala Pathshala were sown in 1934 by a small group of visionaries, led by Master Chatur Ratna Udas in its initial four years. The then HMG Education Ministry took up its current name in 1973. Lalit Kala Campus began its Bachelors program in 1977, under the Tribhuvan University (TU), with Kali Das Shrestha as the first Campus Chief.

Perhaps, the pioneers of Lalit Kala Campus from the late Tej Bahadur Chitrakar to the late Chandra Bahadur Manandhar had left with much hope to see the institution blossom into one that would produce great Nepali artists one day. However, standing at its gates, besides the sign that reads 'Fine Art Campus', there is nothing artsy about this place.

One could argue that you can't judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, this is inapplicable to Lalit Kala—given its physical as well as academic conditions.

THE BUILDING ITSELF

"Engineers declared this building unfit for students 20 years back," states Campus Chief Raju Manandhar as he sits in his office with worn-out carpets and old furniture. A brown towel, signature of all government officials, hangs on his chair. "We have around 800 Bachelors students from all over Nepal and there are only 12 classrooms here," Manandhar reveals the sorry state of the infrastructure.

The Department of Archaeology (DoA) can't point out when the building was constructed but estimates that it was probably erected at the time of Durbar High School. In that case, it is over one hundred years old. "There hasn't been any renovation works from our side so far," informs Suresh Shrestha, a DoA officer.

No wonder, it isn't the white paint that is falling apart but the walls themselves. The sculpture studios are unkempt with materials lying all over the floor and there is no space to walk into, let alone make works of art. The wooden staircases creak with old age, and the dingy rooms are far from inspiring creativity.

The press in the printmaking studio, where artist Saurganga Darshandhari is conducting her class, goes out of order frequently. At 11:30 am on Wednesday, the Compulsory Nepali class of first year students is going on in a makeshift classroom, situated right in the middle of the corridor, of the ground floor.

Even so, several aspiring young artists flock to Lalit Kala in hopes of getting a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, only to be left disappointed.

Lalit Kala Campus

BFA IS ACTUALLY BA

"The degrees that are issued by the TU Academy Council to Lalit Kala students are Bachelor of Arts in Painting, Sculpture and Music, respectively, and not BFAs," states Nava Raj Kanel, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Manandhar, on the other hand, informs, "Up until last year, students received BA certificates but graduates from now on will get BFA certificates. Former students can get their certificates changed for a nominal fee." According to him, the change was made after the introduction of MFA in Lalit Kala in 2009 because 'students with BA couldn't enroll for MFA'.

However, Kanel contradicts the Campus Chief, "It is MA in Painting. Not MFA."

The issue also arises because there is not a separate Faculty for Fine Arts, and the Lalit Kala, since its establishment, has been under Humanities and Social Sciences.

"We've been demanding a separate division because then we can design curriculums that are more suitable to fine art students," puts in Manandhar, an Associate Professor of English, pointing out that fine art students are studying Compulsory English that is designed for Humanities students.

More than 50% of Lalit Kala students never graduate because of their poor marks in English. Well-known sculptor Kalapremi Shrestha is among them. "I can't teach art because I failed in English and don't have a degree," he shared during a visit to his studio in Maharajgunj.

"But that's the students' fault if they can't put effort into English which is required for research and to study art history," argues Jasmine Rajbhandari, who teaches Creative Composition. Even so, Compulsory English can be designed to include art history texts instead of being all grammar and literature intensive, which have little relation to the process of making art.

"The process of designing separate syllabi will not change even with a separate Fine Arts Faculty," says Kanel. He furthers, "A split from Humanities and Social Sciences means a raise in administrative costs, and right now, we can't afford that."

'Lack of budget' is an old story, and it returns every now and then. According to Lal Kaji Lama, the chairperson of the Free Students Union at Lalit Kala Campus, so was the case with the first batch of MA or MFA students in 2009.

AFTER 32 YEARS

"Everyone has equal rights to education, and limiting seats for the MFA program wasn't fair," shares Lama. "We collected Rs 1,200 per month from those interested in pursuing Masters at the beginning of the year," says Lama of the 114 students who are currently registered for the program. The annual fee for Bachelor students is Rs 3,500 on average.

"At first, only 15 seats were opened, and then it was raised to 30 after pressures from students. But continued protests eventually led to the program being open to all," narrates Manandhar, who recently went on a tour of major art universities of India.

"The Banaras Hindu University only takes in 17 students each year," he sighs, apparent of the flawed Nepali system. "Well, we have over 400 graduates from the last three decades, and we can't deny them further education," he gives a diplomatic reason.

The irony in all of this is that only a maximum of 35 students attend classes regularly. With the second year approaching, they are supposed to be working on their theses, but the Lalit Kala Bhawan at Kiritpur not only lacks a library but even basic furniture.

"I guess some of our classmates are busy in other things," surmises Lama.

THE TEACHER-STUDENT EQUATION

"I stopped attending classes after my first year at Lalit Kala because I wasn't learning anything," Jupiter Pradhan had boldly expressed a week and a half back. He claims that teachers refused to share their knowledge because it had taken them 'over 20 years to learn everything and they weren't going to teach everything right away.'

Former students, gathered at their debut group exhibition in March, had similar stories to tell.

"If teachers aren't willing to teach us, what can we do?" Rukumani Shrestha had voiced back then on the lack of finesse in the works presented at the exhibition.

"It's true that there are teachers who bring their egos along with them to class, but since we don't have written complaints from students, we can't take action against them," relates Manandhar and shares another dilemma, "And even if we do fire them, who is going to replace them?"

Students who take 'tuition' classes with teachers at their residences tend to score higher marks in their exams. And the fear of getting low marks averts students from filing written complaints.

"Well, students don't complete assignments but neither do the teachers follow the syllabus, which too is outdated," confesses Uttam Dangol, who teaches Woodcarving, Anatomy and Art History. The Nepali Art History course, which is over 10 years old, stretches from the Lichhavi period to Malla era, but does not incorporate Mithila Art.

"There aren't authentic books on these topics available to create standardized textbooks," he laments and adds, "The sadder part is that teachers themselves aren't up-to-date with the latest development in art."

The Lalit Kala Campus has yet to include subjects such as Alternative Media, Digital Art, and Art Criticism.

"Even when the Masters program doesn't have Art Criticism in their curriculum, how can they be expected to write a thesis?"

The question is a good one indeed. 


Read Comments | Add Your Comments
i am very intrested in at an things joining with it but my parents has never been able to give the permission so what should i do plz relpy me.....
By: sonish bajracharya, bhaktapur thalachhee ward no 4 (2015-02-05)
 
its discouraging
By: grrason darnal, ktm (2015-02-05)
 
 
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