Nepalese art is renowned for its quaint, religious aesthetic, reflective of the country’s rich cultural heritage and fusing Buddhist ideology with Hindu representation. While this still holds true, contemporary art in Nepal veers towards socio-political issues, with new aesthetics to follow. We profile ten must-visit contemporary art spaces in Nepal.
Siddhartha Art Gallery is located in the upmarket shopping complex Baber Mahal Revisited, a series of renovated Rana palace outbuildings dating from 1919. Established in 1987 by Sangeeta Thapa and renowned artist Shashikala Tiwari, the gallery has put on over 300 exhibitions to date by artists from Nepal and further afield. Having participated in several community arts projects, Siddhartha aims to exhibit art that addresses socio-cultural and political issues. Past exhibitions include Sequential Dissonance, a series of socio-political paintings depicting the chaos of urban life in Kathmandu by up and coming Nepali artist Mekha Bahadur Limbu Subba, and The Nepal Diaries – Observations on a Journey by Canadian born, Finland-based Gary Wornell: a photo documentary of his time working in Nepal captured entirely on an iPhone.
In the bustling Pulchowk area of the Lalitpur District is Park Gallery, a contemporary art space created in 1970 by the late R.N. Joshi – an artist and social activist often dubbed the forefather of modern Nepali art. It is credited with being the first modern art gallery in Nepal, and exhibits both local and international artists. Spread over two floors, this clean, modern gallery provides 1,500 square feet of exhibition space, with the upper level acting as a mini-museum of Joshi’s work. Park Gallery also awards the annual R.N. Joshi Prize, which rewards artists who have made outstanding contributions to Nepalese art.
The Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre (KCAC) is a modern art space in the important historic setting of the Patan Museum gardens. KCAC is housed within the Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site believed to be one of the oldest Buddhist cites in the world. A Nepalese gallery with an international outlook, KCAC has hosted several artists-in-residence, including Manish Harijan, the controversial Nepal-based contemporary artist whose work tackles social issues, and American painter Joy Lynn Davis. The arts centre also includes an art reference library with a collection of over 5000 books, making it the largest of its kind in Nepal.
Established in 1994 by a collective of eight contemporary visual artists, including the late painter Prashanta Shrestha, Kasthamandap Art Studio is a community arts center in the heart of the Lalitpur district in Kathmandu Valley. The studio is a non-profit, non-governmental organization geared towards inspiring artistic creation in Nepal and encouraging public interaction with visual art. One of Kasthamandap’s seminal exhibitions was the Living Canvas project, made up of art pieces designed for the human body, which exhibited not only in Nepal but also Sri Lanka and Bhutan. A number of canvases created by the founders of the studio are available for purchase, including artworks from Erina Tamrakar and Pradip Bajracharya.
Artudio Centre for Visual Arts is an innovative arts project that uses the streets of Kathmandu as its canvas and inspiration with the aim of reclaiming public spaces as open galleries. Artudio has created several street art murals in locations across the city, including an anti-violence against women inspired artwork in Ratna Park and a mural celebrating Global Handwashing Day on the walls of Tri Chandra College. Art lovers wanting to escape the confines of indoor galleries can discover these pieces as they explore Kathmandu. Based in the quiet residential area of Lazimpat in Kathmandu, the Artudio Centre itself hosts regular short photography workshops that anyone with a keen interest in photography and a good camera can take part in. Artudio also hosts photography meet-ups in public spaces, where participants can practice their photography skills while capturing unique images of the capital.
A fairly recent addition to Nepal’s contemporary arts scene, Bikalpa Art Centre was founded in 2009 to promote Nepalese art and culture. Bikalpa resides in a quaint courtyard with a peaceful garden – an oasis in the busy Pulchowk region – and boasts a gallery space, café, multimedia film and video production company, and a community arts initiative. The Bikalpa art gallery has hosted exhibitions such as Random Reveries, a collection of works from contemporary female Nepali artists Pramila Bajracharya, Kurchi Dasgupta and Bidhata KC, and Explorations in the Photographic Medium v.1.5, which featured the images of seven Kathmandu University art students working with the themes memory, home and family.
A collaborative project between online art marketplace Kala Voice and Newa Chen House set up in 2012, Newa Chen Gallery offers art enthusiasts the unique experience of modern art in a traditional Nepalese setting. The gallery is located in Newa Chen House – a historic Newari house dating back to the Malla Dynasty – whose ground storage floor, the Dalan, houses this intimate art space. Newa Chen Gallery hosts a varied range of exhibitions, with past shows including the feminist-edged Anubhutee: A Group Painting Exhibitionby 8 Women Artists of Nepal and Coming into Being, in which artists Ghana Shyam, Sumitra Rana, and Kripa Joshi explored the theme of consciousness.
Sarwanam Art Gallery is an offshoot of the Sarwanam Theatre Group, which was established in 1982 by renowned playwright Ashesh Malla and pioneered political street theatre in Nepal. The spacious 30-square-meter art gallery, or kaladeergha, provides an interactive experience for visitors with each exhibition featuring a ‘meet the artist’ segment. The gallery has shown the works of emerging Nepalese artists Bidhata KC and Saran Tandukar, and collaborated with Sarwanam Theatre on a project merging art and drama in which acclaimed abstract artist Mukesh Malla created a painting on stage as the play Mrityutsav was unfolding, expressing themes of the drama. The Sarwanam building also hosts film screenings, including Dipendra Bhandari’s 2011 documentary Journey to Yarsa, which follows a Nepalese family as they search for yarsagumba – a caterpillar fungus with medicinal properties – in the Himalayan foothills.
NAFA (Nepal Academy of Fine Arts) is a government-established organization set up in 2009 to share Nepalese art with international audiences. Overseen by Kathmandu-born Abstract Expressionist Kiran Manandhar, NAFA comprises two galleries exhibiting both established and emerging Nepali artists, located in the beautiful Sita Bhavan – a neo-classical Rana palace. NAFA, in collaboration with NGO Transparency International Nepal, has recently hosted an art workshop exploring anti-corruption and it holds the country’s annual National Fine Art Exhibition, which awards artists for their contributions to the Nepali arts. Previous recipients of exhibition awards have included traditional Newar artist Amrit Dangol and modern sculpture artist Agam Shrestha.
Located a short distance from the Narayanhiti Palace Museum on Nagpokhari in a large, bright, modern building is café-cum-art gallery Imago Dei. The company was set up by Scotland native Rachael Manley in 2006, who after living all over the world in locations as diverse as Holland and the Middle East, decided to call Nepal her home. Imago Dei’s informal and inviting atmosphere and its combination of meeting space and art space make it a popular venue with professionals, students, and tourists alike. Previous collections at the Image Dei Gallery have included a Tibetan furniture exhibition and a showing of Dutch artist Chung-Hsi Han’s sketches of his travels throughout India and Kathmandu.