Object in Focus: Nepal Edition (Roshan Mishra, ITP 2018)
Written by Roshan Mishra, Director, Taragaon Museum, Kathmandu (ITP 2018, Nepal)
After coming back from the International Training Programme, I had so much energy to do something new and something exciting. I was constantly thinking of how I could implement what I had learned and seen at the British Museum. From the very beginning phase, I was very attracted by the one-object exhibition format of the British Museum’s Room 3 – The Asahi Shimbun Displays, but I was not sure how I could replicate that idea. The British Museum had lots of archaeological, historical and three-dimensional objects, but my museum did not have any such objects. Our collection was more two-dimensional. Therefore, I decided to move away from our permanent collection and apply the same idea to contemporary art. As we have a contemporary art gallery within the museum, I knew the Object in Focus format would work very well with the Nepali contemporary art. As the concept itself was new to the Nepali art community, it was also bit challenging. Hence, I was determined to employ an artwork that had a big idea behind it.
In 2017, our city celebrated the Kathmandu Triennale art festival and there was one work I was quite intrigued by. This installation artwork project was initiated by an artist as a community project. The object took the form of a kitted rope that was made from wool, thread and cotton, and was 1336 metres long. The process of making this rope involved the participation of a lot of women and young people. In the Triennale it was displayed as a very tangible object and all the visitors were very playful with the artwork. When I saw that artwork, I was very curious about how people would react to the object if they were not allowed to touch or play with it. How would it look if it was piled up in one room and how would the viewers react to it? The Object in Focus concept encouraged me to get in touch with the visual artist behind this artwork, Manish Lal Shrestha. When I shared my concept with the artist, he felt very positive about the show and he was very much interested to bring his artwork, entitled Project 1336, to the Taragaon Museum.
Representation of the elevation of Kathmandu Valley from the sea level
Kitted rope made from wool, thread and cotton
Length 1336 meters
Visual Artist Manish Lal Shrestha’s connection with fabric and textiles began since his childhood. He feels very connected with these materials as he is deeply influenced by his mother, who was a textile artist. He has seen and learned the laborious method of making the knitted fabrics and he profoundly senses the engagement of the women from the community, who supported his mother while she was making it. He has witnessed how these beautiful and colourful threads were transformed into a piece of art, made by his mother; as he recalls.
Manish created this 1336 metres long knitted woollen rope to represent the elevation of the Kathmandu valley from the sea level. This installation work started at the 2017 Kathmandu Triennale as a community project, which included local women and youths. They all worked together to create the rope that is as tall as the elevation of the valley, where we all dwell.
This is not just a long rope but it also identifies us, it refers to our existence in the valley, it tells us where we are actually standing and how important is our ground level. It pushes us to look down to the ground and to understand the bond we have with this part of the earth where we are going to live most of our life. The vibrant colours carry a significance of our traditions, our dresses, the culture and the festivals. Most of all it carries a greater message to the community and society; to work together and to contribute as an individual and also as a community for the betterment, peace and prosperity of this valley.
On the opening day, it was very interesting because Nepali artists and viewers were not trained to see only one object in the gallery, and there was nothing else to see than a pile of woollen colourful rope. A single object exhibition concept really allowed the viewers and also the other artists to LOOK, SEE & THINK contemporary art from a completely different perspective. People were very curious about the shape they saw in the gallery. As a curator, I laid the woollen rope almost in the form of the Kathmandu Valley – the shape had a hilly raised area around and was a bit deeper in the middle. It was set as a reference of the valley and how it is situated and locked within the hills around it. There was a lot of interaction with the artist and myself on the opening day, and many people came and saw the work during the exhibition time.
As we wanted to reconnect the object to its original concept, the artist and I announced a public procession to carry the object and walk around the great Buddha Stupa. We wanted the community and the youth to get involved in this process. Therefore, we approached lots of schools, colleges and locals and requested them to be a part of this public procession. The idea was to carry the object in a form of a long rope and walk around (Kora) the circumference of the Stupa.
On 10 February 2019, more than 350 volunteers turned up at the museum to support the procession, and local police also equally helped us as it was interrupting the traffic flow. We successfully walked from the Taragaon Museum to the Stupa, we walked around it with the object and brought it back to the museum. It was one of the most exciting exhibitions we did here, lots of media covered it and we had a lot of good feedback. It was probably the biggest art related procession that ever took place in Nepal.
I hope to continue with the Object in Focus exhibition series in the future.