Contemporary art and cultural clashes in kathmandu.

by Satish Sharma: Rotigraphy

THURSDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER 2012

“Artist advised to paint works that are pleasing …not satirical…socio political works can only be exhibited during gai jatra..?
Artist’s paintings should be self explanatory? “a picture should speak a 1000 words”.
Artists need to follow traditional parameters while painting religious iconography….modern interpretations will be considered blasphemous
The state can take action against artists if these guidelines are not observed”
Sangeeta Thapa on ?Facebook?quoting or paraphrasing the?official?’police’ reaction.
Watching the Kathmandu gallery episode unfold on social media is a fascinating eye opener . ?So much to learn ?so ?much to think about. so many spaces to open up. in the ?minds of artists and even their local audiences.
At the heart of the incident ?I see ?a dangerous disconnect between local audiences and the Modern Artists ensconced ?in their white cube, sanitising, gallery spaces. Spaces that are about a different audience from a very different, disconnected world. ?A very white and western world which is, at this very moment, in the midst ?of its own actually bloody battle about ?” free speech’ in Libya and the Middle East.
All this, for me personally, has has a sorry sense of deja vu. ?The same battles ?were fought when Safdar Hashmi was murdered in India. ?When ?SAHMAT was formed ?to fight ?cultural wars ?but ended up ?fighting them in drawing rooms and sanitised/santising gallery spaces. ?The street where Safdar had fought his street?theatre battles was ignored ?and SAHMAT?actually?created a rift between itself and his street?theatre ?troupe.

Early SAHMAT rally. Lalit Kala Academy. New Delhi. A telling 'dhakkaa' start moment. The pushers were the working class street wallas.

Artists, ignore their?society’s?public?spaces at their own peril. ?By leaving those spaces open to more politically astute and connected to the street others ?they are losing the cultural wars and the cultural spaces that the battles are being, and will be, fought on.
“The problem manish harijan is facing with his exhibition stems from the misinterpretation of his contemporary work…the ugly face of rightist fundamentalism has reared it’s head….Nepal society is by large a tolerant and peaceful one…we need to preserve this please”
Sangeeta Thapa post on facebook
Contemporary, according the Free Dicitionary ?means ??”Belonging to the same period of time”. Within and not just outside a society, one might add .
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia comes a more art industry oriented definition
“Contemporary art?is art produced at this present point in time or art produced since?World War?II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War?II.
Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, with the advent of?Modern?and?Postmodern?art forms, distinctions between what is generally regarded as the?fine arts?and the?low arts?have started to fade,[1]?as contemporary high art continues to challenge these concepts by mixing with?popular culture.[2]

The ‘mixing’, especially in this part of the world, ?is mostly an appropriation of ?popular culture. A simple stealing of signs and symbols to create and sell ?a different ‘national’ look to a bored and?monotonous Modern, Contemporary Art Market.
There is a huge and hugely important debate that has to happen?within the Art world. And it has to happen soon. Around the world, accusations of “blasphemy” are leading to blood flowing on the streets.
In our increasingly connected ?world, no space ?is safe and sanitised. The ?white walls of galleries and museums will be more visible ?and more?violently?attacked ?if cultural?understanding? is not promoted and if cultural bridges are not built. Within societies, especially. Between societies too.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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