Trapped in their beauty

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Over the past few weeks, the art galleries in Thamel have seen a multitude of art exhibits. One such gallery in Thamel that has an ongoing art exhibition is Dalai-La Art Space. Entitled ‘Chen: Overlooked Reality’, this exhibition by Sushma Shakya, a visual artist from Patan, features 23 artworks and covers four series, all of which focus on the ancient architecture of the Valley that incorporated the philosophy of the five elements of nature: earth, fire, water, air and space (ether), and how harmful human activities damage the natural environment.

His series entitled “Reverence for Newari Architecture” includes three miniature paintings – of a temple, a house and a community living complex. The canvas paper of the artwork is discreetly embossed with the emblem of a close-knit Newa settlement with mountains in the background.

In each of his works from 2017 to 2022, Shakya focuses on telling viewers how the ancient houses and temples of the Kathmandu Valley were built by balancing the ecosystem. And by maintaining a balance with nature, architecture also sought to give people contentment. The thesis of his idea is that when chhen (house/house in Nepalbhasa) is built by maintaining the harmony of the five elements, it provides an ideal environment for humans to live.

In his “Pancha Tattva” (Five Elements) series, Shakya attempts to illustrate how human activities are upsetting the balance of the five elements of nature and exacerbating global warming and climate change. She suggests that even the air we breathe has become unnatural. In his work entitled “Mandala of Nature”, Shakya shows a plant, symbol of life, in the center of a mandala. The imagery is perhaps to notice the idea that the kind of life we ​​lead determines the balance of nature.

The artworks in the exhibition show that Shakya is influenced by Buddhism and has a particular fondness for the ancient architecture of the valley, which placed great emphasis on community exchange. In many of her works she tries to emphasize the design of bahas and bahis to emphasize how they emphasize human relationships and the functionality of space.

Shakya’s works presented in the exhibition are aesthetically pleasing. His prints are beautiful, especially his work ‘Reverence of Newari Architecture’. His ‘Overlooked Reality’ mixed media series includes three works of art, and they appropriately showcase Newa’s architectural craftsmanship.

However, grasping the meaning of all the works in the exhibition is not easy. Viewers will struggle to understand the concepts and logics explored by Shakya’s works. It is difficult to follow the concept of the mandala and the five elements and to imagine the balance of the five elements (the harmony that she wants to emphasize with her works).

And that may be because his works repeatedly diverge in different directions instead of converging on a particular idea. It is difficult to see the five elements of nature integrated into its structures. When admiring the architecture of structures and settlements in his works, we hardly think of the law of nature – which shouldn’t be the case because that is what the idea of ​​the exhibition is based on.

Unless we read the artist’s statement (written on a postcard), we cannot identify the ignored reality (which could be the five elements or simply the ancient, sustainable house-building techniques) that the exhibition attempts to distil. ‘explore. It makes sense to remember ancient architecture in a world that is becoming more and more concrete and replacing the nature of things. But we cannot ignore that five elements continue to exist in the new architecture that surrounds us. The five elements are the law of existence itself, so the comparison of what we lack in the architecture around us today and why the artist emphasizes five elements is unclear.

The title of the exhibition itself, “Chen: Forgotten Reality,” prompts us to think about emotions and human/community relationships in reference to the word home. But it will be a surprise that ‘Chhen’ in the title does not adhere to ‘house or house’ but simply to architecture. What is missing from the exhibition are also humans and their interactions. And so, we continue to view Shakya’s work from a distance as if we were only looking at photographs of house structures.

If the artist and the curator of the exhibition had provided additional information to facilitate the understanding of the works by the spectators, the exhibition would have had more impact. At this time in the art scene, there is an urgent need for artists and curators to work together to make it easier for viewers to enter and understand their works, thereby inspiring them to explore art further.

And it’s not just detailed information about the artworks that helps viewers enter into the experience of an exhibition; sometimes it’s also about artists and curators double-checking, revising, and monitoring whether they have enough artwork to say what they want to say with the exhibit.

Maybe Shakya should have added a few more artworks to establish people’s relationship with the architecture she presents and the interaction of the five elements.

Shakya’s “Chen: Overlooked Reality” felt like it needed more artwork to tell why the five elements matter and how humans, houses, and the elements are interconnected. Although the general theme of the exhibition is interesting, it does not succeed.

‘Chen: Overlooked Reality’ will be on display until June 30 at the Dalai-La Art Space at the Dalai-La Boutique Hotel, Thamel.

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