Chen: Vanished Newa settlements come colourful in Kathmandu’s new art exhibition

Artist Sushma Shakya’s fourth solo print exhibition–Chen: Overlooked Reality–that began on June 5 at Dalai-La Art Space, Thamel, focuses on the right balance between five elements of life along with a knock for those who are living in the Kathmandu valley as it reminds them of old Newa settlements here that have vanished.

The quest for a balance

Chen: Overlooked Reality by artist Sushma Shakya print exhibition that began at Dalai-La Art Space, Thamel.
Chen: Overlooked Reality by artist Sushma Shakya print exhibition that began at Dalai-La Art Space, Thamel.

There needs to have a balance in five elements—earth, fire, water, air and space—of the universe for a harmonised environment. Whenever one of the elements is imbalanced, it causes a disaster and there are examples of such disasters that humans have faced and with deadly consequences.

The rapid change in the settlements in the Kathmandu valley in the name of urbanisation and building a smart city, once known as the city of temples, has turned the valley into the city of cookie-cutter houses, encroaching on most of the vegetative landmarks.

Shakya explains, “Back in the day, our ancestors build houses using locally sourced eco-friendly materials. While doing so, they followed an integrated chowk system to build the structure of the house, which was durable and sustainable. The intricate four-storey design of the house was also meant to serve multiple purposes. But, today, in the name of fashion, saving time and economy, we are blindly following the west. But, it is not sustainable development.”

She says that in the past, the houses have their own small space for kitchen waste management known as “saagha” where they were decomposed and later used in fields. “If we had been following our traditional way of building houses, the problem we are facing today could have been minimised.”

According to a governmental survey conducted in 271 municipalities across Nepal in 2020, 54 per cent of the municipal waste is covered by biodegradable elements. Yet, 48.6 per cent of the total waste arrives in landfills.

Past for the future

Through her artworks in prints exhibited at Chen, Shakya narrates the importance of balancing these elements along with their connection to a home in the exhibition. To do so, she has chosen traditional Newa houses of the Kathmandu valley as her major motif. Through this, she has become vocal about the need to get back to the past and learn from it for a better future prospect, if balance and peace are desired.

Other than that, her artworks are a form of a wake-up call to the viewers to develop the city in a sustainable way using local resources for building as done in the past.

In the exhibition, Chen, there are 13 sets of prints on display created in 2013, 2017 and recently; each set contains up to five pieces of artwork. Her choice of hues is subtle and earthy but she has chosen red and gold for her latest prints dedicated to the vibrancy and value associated with traditional houses. Other than Chen—the Newa term for a house—she has used flowers, bajra, etc as her motifs to show the connection of elements.

'Chen: Overlooked reality' by artist Sushma Shakya art exhibition that began at Dalai-La Art Space, Thamel.
Chen: Overlooked Reality by artist Sushma Shakya print exhibition that began at Dalai-La Art Space, Thamel.

About her medium being print, she shares, “I get to play with textures while working using printmaking technique—embossing (3D effect), which cannot be created in paintings. And I did my master’s in print making, thus exploring it in my artworks.”

For Shakya, art is her way of expression. She says “I don’t know how to speak about the things that I am concerned and art has become my way to communicate the same.”

The exhibition space that used to be congested has expanded now. Though the space is smaller in comparison to mainstream galleries in Kathmandu, with an aim to promote contemporary artists, Dalai-La Art Space has been continuously providing the space since 2018. Till now, 10 contemporary artists have showcased their artworks with the objective of promoting one artist, for one month.

The exhibition continues till June 30.

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