Sangeeta Thapa is my colleague at the Kennedy Center Fellowship. In the summer of 2011 I had the chance to have a long talk with her about the first Kathmandu International Art Festival, Sangeeta being the driving force behind it. I saw the catalogue, I learned about some of the artists, one story was always bringing another. At the time, Sangeeta was already talking about the next edition of the Festival, that would be dedicated to environmental issues. It took place last November and the photos shared on Facebook were absolutely stunning. Sangeeta shares with us this amazing experience which brought together artists from 31 countries and which involved the whole country.This post was written together with Sharareh Bajracharya (Festival Coordinator)and Nischal Oli (KIAF Media Coordinator). mv
|"We may end up in the same boat", by Michelle Spalding (Photo: KIAF)|
The Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF) is a non commercial contemporary arts festival which is organized every three years with the aim to “to firmly place Nepal on the global map as a venue for the contemporary arts, allow for artistic collaboration and exchange among international and local artists, and use art as a platform for critical reflection and the sensitization of society”. Each edition of the Festival focuses on a specific theme, which is of critical concern both locally and globally.
In November 2012 the Siddhartha Arts Foundation hosted the 2nd edition of KIAF, which was centered on the theme of the environment, ecology, climate change and the human relationship to nature. Even though Nepal is not a global polluter, we are a vulnerable nation. Climate change is a topic of great importance to us, as the Himalayan ranges house the greatest water towers in the world. Global warming would result in a vertical tsunami that could inundate 33 nations.
The management of the Festival involved a coming together of many different institutions and individuals in the arts community, and the Festival was seen as a platform to support a strong and emerging generation of contemporary artists in the country. One of the Festival's pervasive motives has been to promote contemporary arts of Nepal, so it was able to bring together an assortment of individual and collective energies, which attracted an even bigger audience to create a larger impact. KIAF fostered a platform for inter-disciplinary exchange on issues raised by the Festival's theme and goals. This exchange, through all the dimensions of the Festival, was created between institutions, artists, media, traditional communities, and educational institutions. There is a general agreement that the Festival was a collaborative effort and that people went outside the line of duty to make it happen. In this way, there is a collective sense of ownership.
Driven by our mission to make contemporary arts accessible to and in conversation with a wide public, the KIAF team placed the artworks in multiple venues across the city. The artworks were brought to people’s doorsteps. This meant that a larger audience visited the exhibitions and allowed us to take the discussions about global warming out of the realm of academia into the world of creative arts and to the public. The wide representation and variety of art forms allowed for the works to appeal to diverse audiences and left an impressive monumental impression.
People from all over the country were witness to a contemporary arts exhibition and experienced an interpretive artwork about the mythical serpent, the ‘Naga’, stories around which most people in Nepal are deeply familiar. There is no guarantee that people fully understood the intention of the artist in creating the recycled plastic work from Cambodia, but it made every individual who entered the space, stop, look, wonder, and question. In general, in each of the exhibits, people read the labels and wanted to know more. Artists were able to go to each new venue, see new possibilities in terms of spaces to exhibit, ways to exhibit, and seeing a reason to do their work.
|"Naag", by Leang Seckon, at the Central Zoo (Photo: KIAF)|
Guided tours were held for different age groups. The outreach work around guided tours has created a confidence and realization in the arts community of the necessity to involve schools, school children, families, in addition to a wider range of development institutions in their works. Horlicks (Glaxo Smith and Kline) sponsored and organized three art competitions in three cities, encouraging children to collect materials around them to create three dimensional installations, collages, or mixed media/paintings. Their paintings were displayed in the British Council atrium as an integral part of KIAF.
Over 400,000 people visited or saw parts of the KIAF 2012 exhibitions, events, performances, outreach activities. Out of this figure, 100,000 visitors were recorded in the exhibition spaces. People felt a sense of excitement, joy, and wonder at the diverse forms of artworks, the places where people were coming from, and the issues that the artists were bringing up. Deep connections were made to Nepal by the visitors. The community responses from Patan were strong. A group of elder people got on to the Nevitrade bus because they were excited about the ride. They ended up seeing all the venues and appreciated the tour. One of the old men, when reaching Metropark, walked in wonder and stated: “It is because of you people I am getting to see this side of the city and being able to see artworks I have never seen or thought of before!”.
|The Nevitrade bus (battery-run bus) received great publicity and many calls for events after KIAF 2012. (Photo: Sangeeta Thapa)|
The Festival attempted to reduce its carbon footprints as much as possible within its resources. One of the major ways we did so was by encouraging clean energy activities - the staff using bicycles and public transportation, and working alongside the cycling community. In collaboration with Nevitrade, we were able to operate a clean energy vehicle-bus that allowed people to reach the various venues. The Festival also looked into reducing carbon emissions by accommodating artists near their workspaces. Recycled flex bags were created from flex banners used by various organizations around the city. After the Festival, our banners were collected and made into bags and folders.
In what concerns funding and fundraising, working with the government has been the largest anticipated challenge. The Secretary of Culture changed six times and each time their commitment needed to be reviewed. In terms of government budgets, only government workers’ salaries and basic requirements to run the institutions were released. Any amount they had promised could not be actualized. There was a similar problem with the Nepal Tourism Board. With the generous contribution of the Prince Claus Fund, the Brazillian Embassy, WWF, Hariyo Ban, USAID and others, the scale of the festival has expanded exponentially, resulting in the need to mobilize local business houses, banks, embassies, individuals and art foundations with affiliations to Nepal. It has been a challenge, to say the least. It has been extremely difficult to keep some of the funders accountable to their commitments. Embassies paid their sponsorship amount after the festival was over, and most of the money that was locally pledged still needs to come in. We will most likely be able to clear our outstanding payments only in the first week of March.
KIAF 2012 has created a path for the Siddhartha Arts Foundation to do more works that bring different organizations and institutions together to promote the contemporary arts in Nepal and to create an international platform for its growth. Regarding KIAF 2015, we will need to think it through carefully to ensure the scale and quality of the works continues. While preparing, the Foundation plans to continue to bring international artists to exhibit in Kathmandu, create community art projects to encourage public participation, work with local museums and create structures where children and the general public are provided opportunities to interact and reflect on the artworks.
Sangeeta Thapa is the Founder Director of the Siddhartha Art Gallery which was established in 1987 in Kathmandu. She has organized 400 exhibitions over the last 25 years and has conducted several community art projects which brought together artists, poets, writers, musicians, theatre artists, dancers and people from disparate social groups. She has also conducted two International Art Festivals, the last one in 2012, in which artists from 31 countries were represented. In 2010 she co-founded with Celia Washington the Kathmandu Contemporary Art Centre (KCAC), located in Patan Museum, which hosts The Washington Library and serves as a residency space, where international and national artists share studios. In 2011 she registered the Siddhartha Arts Foundation which hosted the second edition of the Kathmandu International Art Festival. Sangeeta remains deeply committed to mentoring artists and arts managers who will be involved in promoting the contemporary arts movement locally. She is on the board of Patan Museum Development Committee and is the author the book “In the Eye of the Storm – The Drawings of Manuj Babu Mishra”. She works closely with the Australian Himalayan Foundation Art Awards program, which endows two Nepalese artists each year with a bursary, and in a similar vein with KCAC.