so i wrote for The Week about Prithvi Shrestha’s ongoing exhibition at Siddhartha Art Gallery, but they haven’t posted it online yet. It took me some time to write yesterday because i’ve been so out of writing formally for some time. i would like to write often but time constraints and other things come in between. anyways, i hope to write more regularly on art once again. excited and looking forward to some shows.
Also, The Constant Change, showing at the art council in baber mahal is a MUST SEE. I can’t emphasize that enough. it is an amazing group of works. i loved the photographs of Raute and construction workers….am sorry i can’t remember the photographers’ names. :-P but it is a superb show. anyways, i get really happy to see great works and i think the end of this year will have more exciting works…hoping so. looking forward to this one particular exhibition. Soni Shakya’s works at Siddhartha too is great!
nabin joshi is having his photography exhibition at the park gallery from saturday onward. There’s fulbright scholar Maureen Drdak also showing her works. from now, i’ll try to post all the art events i know of.
so they’ve put up the article online: http://theweek.myrepublica.com/details.php?news_id=38179
Existing to perform, or performing to exist?
The purpose of our existence – what is it? How do we define our existence?
In his second solo exhibition, Prithvi Shrestha explores his take on existence through a series of self-portraits.
His complex concepts come together in a group of acrylic paintings titled “Astitwo” or Existence.
Visually dominated by his self-portraits, repetitive metaphors, motifs and a colorful palette, Astitwo is similar to Meena Kayastha’s recent exhibition of sculptures, where each work had its own narrative to reveal.
Prithvi’s artistic statement, with heavy words, is difficult to understand in one read.
“Our bodies are made up of tiny particles and this physical existence eventually gives away,” Prithvi attempts to simplify the concept behind his series. “We all die. But despite knowing that, we still go chasing after big dreams and desires, and become caught up in achieving them throughout our lives,” the 34-year-old Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate says.
But if we have only one life and if we are going to die, why not go after these dreams?
“Well, these achievements never last, and yet we keep going after them,” Prithvi unravels the dilemma in his perspective. He compares this constant chase of our desires to a game of chess. “Life is merely a game, and we are merely the performers,” he writes, making an analogy of the perfect checkered board and its pieces to our mortal existence and actions.
The chessboard and its pieces knights, pawns and bishops – are metaphors that appear in all his paintings. We people are the “performers” playing a game and our existence, in his terms, revolves around winning and losing these games. “We play the game, despite knowing that what we achieve is temporary,” he puts in. Life is covered with this “blanket of existence.”
Prithvi’s paintings are mirrors of what people desire to achieve as performers; but here, he uses self-portraits. “I’m the performer in these paintings,” the artist declares but clarifies, “Not all of these depict my personal desires though, and they are in general what people desire to be or do in their lives.”
Currently on show at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, Astitwo has 22 paintings. In I am the King, the artist is seen wearing a bejeweled golden crown of chess pieces, with the king’s piece at its center.
The figure wears matching bracelets and stares out to the viewer with a halo around his head. I am the King portrays the artist’s internal desire to be a king.
I want to fly, hanging on the first floor of the gallery, depicts another craving of people. The figure’s torso is overlayered with squares as he gazes upwards. Elephants and horses with wings fly alongside birds and butterflies in the background.
Prithvi retains the pattern of the board but not its original black and white colors. “My color choices are more intuitive in these works and don’t symbolize anything in particular,” he shares and continues, “I do think that our personalities have different colors, which explains why I haven’t used our natural skin color for the figures.”
Physical particles and atoms are only side of the story of our existence as performers.
The artist links human life to another aspect as well – the invisible and divine power of deities.
“We haven’t seen this invisible power but it is us, humans, who have given forms to them,” he says. “For instance, when we think of Brahma and Bishnu, we have certain images in our minds. These images are man-made.”
Prithvi further outlines, “The existence of this invisible power of gods is something that continues into another generation, and while we believe in it, our physical bodies eventually disappear.”
This continuity of the divine power is symbolized by lotus flowers in his paintings. The lotus carries religious significance in both Hinduism and Buddhism, and the artist alludes to both beliefs.
Lotuses in different colors directly and indirectly interact with the figure. In Sky, Land and Water, the stem of the flower penetrating through the artist’s chest as he sleeps breaks through the three layers of sky, land and water.
Hook shows the flower piercing into the artist’s head like a hook. Atop the flower sits Brahma in meditation. And in Cover and Sewing Mask, the stem of the flower weaves into clothes, masks and the body.
In addition, Prithvi’s self-portraits have golden halos like gods and goddesses. Does that allude to the desire of humans to become godlike? Instead, Prithvi has another interpretation.
“I believe that we all have an invisible power that links us with other people through our common habits,” says the artist, who likes to observe people’s postures and actions. “When we stand, we fold our hands, or put our hands in our pockets,” he gives an example. Such observations in the environment influence his works, he claims.
This concept of invisible power within people goes back to Prithvi’s first solo exhibition in 2007. “Visible Lines” consisted of figures that were overlapped with lines – lines that represented the “invisible” lines that keep moving inside of us.
Surreal and saturated with metaphors, layered meanings and allusions, Astitwo, as a series, is at times mind-boggling and at other times obvious. One moment you will clearly get what Prithvi is trying to deliver and in the next painting, you are lost again.
“Is that bad?” he questions. “During this exhibition, a lot of visitors have asked me questions,” reveals Prithvi, who spent two years to build up this series. “But in talking to them, I’ve learnt to better articulate myself and what I’m trying to convey through my works.”
And that can’t be bad. After all, art should make people think and ask questions. If not, what would be the purpose of art’s existence?
Astitow is on show at the Siddhartha Art Gallery in Baber Mahal Revisited, Kathmandu, until Thursday, November 17, 2011.
Burathoki is the contributing arts editor for The Week.