Contemporary Art of Nepal, Picturing a Nation, Performing an Identity
This thesis consists in the historical and critical analysis of the process of construction of Nepalese contemporary art and its different styles over the last centuries.
Departing from the hypothesis that it must be understood around the performative parameters of its traditional culture, where the piece of art is valued primarily as a guide to attain enlightenment and connect with the divine beign during the ritual process, contemporary art in Nepal is defined as a tool for a) to project the nation of Nepal and its cultural identity, as a way of tourist attraction and international income; and b) to project the idea of a modernized Nepal by the appropiration of Western aesthetics and styles as a symbol of distinction exclusively limited to the country’s elite.
Therefore, through the study of its diverse aesthetic currents and most relevant figures, this work proposes a revisionist perspective regarding the following approaches:
a) the analysis of the idea, and therefore the image, of Nepal, as a utopia generated by the need to define the nation towards the international world and the East / West dichotomy;
b) the analysis of the myth of Nepal as a round-trip game in which while the foreigner exoticizes Nepal, Nepal exoticizes the foreigner, while reappropriating this foreign gaze so as to establish its own identity
c) the analysis of cultural heritage as something focused on the creation of the newār artists of Kathmandu Valley, and the deliberate adaptation of such image to contemporary art as a symbol of “nepality” or indicator of the “brand” Nepal, and international mean of visual communication.
In order to establish what Nepalese contemporary art is, the structural methodology follows the scheme of a mandala as a fundamental basis. The convenience of this system is justified when highlighting that through it the ideas of time and space can be understood following a spiral, contrary to the historical linear comprehension, where the space-time concepts of “tradition” and “modernity” emerge as parallel ideas in Kathmandu Valley. Therefore, following this mandálica structure, this thesis is divided into the following aesthetic paths that encompass the contemporary art of Nepal:
a) The kisch paintings of Himalayan landscape and traditional culture of Nepal corresponding with its Shangri-La´s imaginary as souvenirs available in tourist areas such as Thamel, and made by the citrakar in response to international demand but following the paubhā´s traditional aesthetics.
b) The handicrafts made by the different ethnic groups of Nepal and touristized on the basis of solidarity idealisms and development aid, but hardly valued within the category of art as it does not correspond with the cultural heritage established in the Valley
c) The picturesque paubhā that adopts the aesthetics of British landscapism and painting as a new mode of divinity´s representation and contemporary devotional art, especially reclaimed by the Nepalese middle class.
d) The court portrait appreciated as a derivation of the picturesque paubhā by representing the king or prime minister as a divinity through western technique and aesthetics as a signifier.
e) The Paňcāyat art, as a national movement led by King Shah and through which Nepal is represented around the idea of “nepaliness” and nostalgia about its glorious past, while using Western avant-garde techniques and styles as indicator of modernity.
f) The irony and metaphor provided by surreal and abstract techniques understood as possible tools of subliminal criticism, although they apparently collaborate with the Paňcāyat system.