Learning the art of showing

2017-08-06

Nhooja Tuladhar

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Pranisha Gurung, a fourth year student at Sirjana College of Fine Arts, Uttar Dhoka, felt something like panic when her teacher reminded the class that their BFA final-year exhibition was to be held in a month-and-a-half’s time. The entire class was so engrossed in submissions of life studies and other assignments throughout the year that the reminder of the announcement that was made at the start of the year had slipped from their minds. Also, such an exhibition had never been organised by the school in the past, so the students weren’t even sure whether it was actually happening. But they went ahead and started creating works anyway; toggling their artistic endeavours between school submissions, and the management of the exhibition. What came out of their effort was the first ever Bachelor of Fine Arts show in the community college’s 16-year history.

Nepali art has been at its most vibrant in recent years and BFA shows—previously only organised by Kathmandu University Center for Art and Design—have become important dates on the art calendar. These shows have become important platforms for aspiring artists to showcase new genre-bending ideas and experimentations that they performed in art school. Alongside exposure, the shows also guarantee something equally valuable, if not more, for the students: the knowledge of exhibition design, setup, and curation.

“We have wanted to organise a show for some time now, but there have been hurdles,” says Laxman Bhujel, vice-principal of Sirjana College. “There are multiple streams that we offer to students (Painting, Sculpture, Applied Art and Music) and it has been difficult to manage everything. Also, after the earthquake, there have been issues that require immediate attention.”

Together with Lalitkala Campus, and Kathmandu University Center for Art and Design, Sirjana College of Fine Arts is one of the three institutions that offer Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) courses to students, in Nepal. While Lalitkala—founded in 1894 and run by the government—is the oldest institution offering the course, Sirjana andKUart are relatively newer and were established in 2001 and 2003, respectively. Sirjana and KUart have 200 and 89 students currently enrolled in their programmes.

All three of the colleges were affected by the 2015 earthquakes. While Sirjana and KU art have been rebuilt after the disaster—although they still make-do with very modest studio spaces—Lalitkala students are still short of space to work from.

Some respite

The exhibiting Sirjana students are just glad that the exhibition was held.

Sirjana College follows the Tribhuvan University (TU) curriculum, which is heavily based on formal training and art technicalities and hardly covers contemporary art approaches. Students do not need to be a part of an exhibition to complete the programme. “Bijaya Maharjan Sir (Graphic Communication faculty) asked us to try and create new works for the show and we started doing our research for it. There was a lot of pressure, but we are happy that we held on.”

“I think it is an issue with the curriculum. All it does is ask students to follow guidelines alone,” says painter and KUart Assistant Professor Sagar Manandhar. Unlike KUart’s curriculum, which includes a six-month-long exhibition preparation course—wherein students have to create works and exhibit them—the TU curriculum lacks provision for self-researched projects.“Looking at the exhibition’s output, Sirjana students seemed to have worked under a lot of pressure. But it is great that they exhibited. Our students, too, have to buckle down now.”

The KUart faculty members say that this will be giving their students some healthy competition. KUart wrapped up their annual show on July 25.

The Sirjana College BFA show was held in Taragaon Musuem, Boudha, between July 10 and 15. Sixteen students—eight painting majors, four sculpture majors and four graphic communication majors—exhibited. As the students had picked their own subjects and media to work on, ideas ranging from nature to deep-lying emotions were explored in their works. Works by the graphic design students were focused on products and their branding.

The participants were present in the gallery every day, throughout the span of the exhibition. They were seen interacting with their viewers as well as making sure that everything was going smoothly.

“This was a new experience for us. We had the chance to interact with the audience, directly. We would be around our works and be available for conversation,” says Gurung. As a result, the students say they found a whole new way of looking at their own works. “It is great to listen to what people have to say about your work. Sometimes, the interpretation is entirely different to the concept that we base our works on, and this is interesting. Also, I think the practice has made us better speakers now.”

“In school, you meet people who have background knowledge, so it is easier to converse,” says Manandhar. “But it is a whole different story in a public gallery environment. A student needs to consider the fact that the person in conversation might know nothing about art, sometimes.” The students all agree that the hardwork they have put into the works—and the setup of the exhibition—has paid off.

“We had no idea that setting up an exhibition would be so much work. It’s not just about making the artworks, we had to plan and manage; something we hadn’t done in the past,” says Gurung. “But this experience will go a long way. A few of us from class recently got together to form an artist collective called Art Fiction. We want to work together again in the future to keep creating art projects. I think, what we learned from this show will help us along the way.”

Challenges aplenty

“The primary short-coming of the KUart BFA show is that the college administration and the mentors take care of all aspects of exhibition setup—from printing posters to designing the exhibition. We would like our students to become more independent in this regard,” says Manandhar. From this year on, KUart has started organising short-term classes on the topics for the students. Such provisions still seem farfetched for the Sirjana College students, though. They are already pressed with projects that the curriculum demands them to complete.

Still, its students are a lot luckier than the ones who attend the government-run Lalitkala Campus. After the oldest art institution of Nepal lost its building in Bhotahiti to the earthquake, students have been working from make-shift studios—sometimes in the TU, Kirtipur, canteen (smoke soot from the kitchen had stuck to oil paintings and rats had damaged canvases there), other times in the student club’s badminton court. The government has so far failed to sanction a budget to rebuild infrastructures at the college. So, even after 40 years after the introduction of BFA in the historic campus, a Lalitkala-managed graduation show is out of the question, for now. Still, it is commendable that the students have taken it upon themselves to organise their own exhibition—Journey: From Bhotahiti to Kirtipur (held in Nepal Art Council between July 27 and August 2) featured 101 works of art by the latest graduating batch.

As for Sirjana College students, the BFA show has become their newfound source of hope.Their teacher Bhujel believes that the show will only improve in coming years. “In my opinion, the exhibition was only 25 per cent of what could’ve been done,” he says. “We are trying to work with the Curriculum Development Centre so that we can have inputs in the Fine Art course and make way for newer approaches to learning. And until then, too, we will keep doing the BFA show every year. It’s something that the students, the college as well as fine arts in Nepal need.”

Source: This article was published initially in The Kathmandu Post, on 5th August, Saturday.