In May 2017, we initiated a community art project which would lead to 18 artists from four different countries immersing themselves in the life, society and politics of Sipapokhare village in Nepal’s
Why Sipapokhare? It is one of the country’s least developed, and most socially marginalised communities with a high concentration of families from the lowest Dalit caste. In Sipapokhare itself,
it’s estimated that there are 165 Dalit households. But despite its vast distance from the centres of economic and political power, Sipapokhare found itself almost at the very epicenter of the earthquake which hit Nepal in April 2015. Thousands in the area were killed and many more injured. Since 2015, friends of mine have been involved in a school reconstruction project in the village but I, like many fellow artists, felt inadequate. What could we as artists do, to offer our support, and to contribute to the healing process of such a devastated community?
There are so many others better qualified to take part in the actual physical rebuilding of places such as Sipapokhare. But as art activists – artivists – could we use art and the mentality that creates art in all its forms to rebuild attitudes? Other countries like Japan experience frequent earthquakes but without suffering to the same extent the ongoing social and economic destruction we have seen in Nepal. Japan may be wealthier and more developed, but have we been held back by exclusion, prejudice and our inability to challenge established ways of thinking? We wanted to use art to make those worst affected by the quake think about and question what they had experienced and were still living through. Just as schools focus on children and teenagers and bring together teachers and mothers in the educational effort, we decided to hold art residencies in Sipapokhare to allow these four groups to engage with our artists to find new ways of understanding their lives and the society they live in. I very much believed that the way these workshops were conducted would be of vital importance in determining the art that might be created. The earthquakes of 2015 had destroyed so much but in order to help the young and marginalized of Sipapokhare build better futures we had to break down the mental and cultural barriers that alienated them from their society and from the wider world beyond. That is why the 18 artists who took part in this project lived for eight days within six Dalit homes and experienced exactly the same living conditions as their hosts. That is why both pupils and teachers in Sipapokhare who took part in the workshops were encouraged to express their view of the greatest problems they faced in the classroom away from their school environments with their traditional hierarchies. As a result, the opinions voiced were both surprising – an enduring fear of snakes – and realistically practical – how to improve acoustics and temperature levels in temporary structures built with tin walls and roofs.
As well as this project, we at LASANAA have also brought Dalit children to our NexUs cultural centre in Kathmandu so they could see art produced in the heart of their nation’s capital. They have met artists from countries like Mexico so they can understand that political and economic marginalization while living so close to the centers of power and wealth is a worldwide phenomenon and not one that is unique to their own experience. They have also acquired practical artistic skills through taking part in workshops run by the American photographer, Kevin Bubriski, so they have a means to document and envision their own lives.
It was a pleasure and privilege to have the involvement in this project of artists from the University of the Arts, Helsinki, in Finland – a historical first for us at LASANAA in terms of intercontinental artistic co-operation. The opening of perspectives that enabled is something we will both continue to learn from and to develop. Adolescents and children have been central to the rebuilding process at Sipapokhare and we see this as an ongoing relationship. We have chosen ten marginalized kids from different schools in the district and we will continue working with them.
The 18 artists on this project – given the title Rebuilding Recaptured – have produced the work that you see in these pages in full collaboration with the women and young of Sipapokhare who so bravely and kindly agreed to take part. The artists were given no brief other than to respond to the ideas and input of the village residents and to try new ways of thinking and producing art. That is the ongoing ethos of LASANAA. They have also, along with the art you see, written brief outlines of how their thinking about the meaning of the term community art has changed as a result of this project. I hope their art and their words will prompt you to re-evaluate and perhaps re-define your understanding of both community and art.
– Ashmina Ranjit, founder and director of LASANAA
Post-quake art exhibit this week – [Kathmandu Post – 22 Aug. 2017]
Recalling quake hit Sindhuplachok through art. – [Katmandu Post, 3 Sep. 2017.]
कलामा भूकम्पको कहर – [Souradaily. com, 4 Sep. 2017]