Seventy-two days, 317 portraits, nearly 200 self-portraits submitted and still counting, five days to go for the exhibition at Patan Museum, yet Antonio Nodar puts in, “I wanted to do more but I have limited time.”
All the same, numbers aren’t as important as the passion and concept that drive Antonio’s project, ‘…from portrait to self-portrait…’ which began in Spain in 1996.
Since his arrival in Kathmandu on January 10, 2012, Antonio has been on the move – in, around and outside the Valley, taking photographs of as many artists as he can. He prints these photographs on canvas and gives a copy to the respective artist in order to transform it into a self-portrait.
“I’m asking you a question when I give you the portrait,” he explains, casually walking around in his temporary apartment at Mangal Bazaar. He continues, “It is a visual interview where nothing is pre-established.”
And the answers to his question are limitless, unpredictable, diverse and personal.
“I’ve seen renowned artworks being reproduced by artists where they add or remove certain elements, but I’ve never seen a portrait being reproduced on a portrait,” shares Manuj Babu Mishra, 76. One of the participants at the project, Manuj adds, “This is a unique project and although the size of the print was small, I did what I wanted.” By which he means, drawing his own head with horn. “I love my head,” he states firmly over the phone.
Printmaker Ragini Upadhyay, on the other hand, has added a crown of thorns on her head and snakes slither down her hair. To the left of her figure, she has added an imbalanced beam balance.
“I wanted to show that although women are appreciated for their beauty, the reality is that women still face injustice,” she says.
Over at the apartment, Antonio boils water in a kettle and serves tea. “I like people,” he replies, when asked why portraits of people and not any other subject matters. Antonio finds the project to be a positive learning process and describes it as a game with other people, which goes farther than taking pictures.
“I’m asking you a question when I give you the portrait,” Nodar explains, casually walking around in his temporary apartment at Mangal Bazaar. He continues, “It is a visual interview where nothing is pre-established.”
“It’s not always my point of view but it’s their portraits that make it more interesting and dynamic,” he humbly says and laughs, “I would actually like to completely stay in the background, but that’s not possible.”
Antonio, born in Spain, is currently based in London. The first exhibition of ‘…from portrait to self-portrait…’ held in Barcelona in 1997 included works by 97 artists. The original portraits and resulting self-portraits are always exhibited together.
The Elsa Peretti Foundation has been collaborating with Antonio on the project and together they launched Volume 1 of ‘…from portrait to self-portrait’ last year. The heavy book consists of 242 diptychs. Eventually, there will be five volumes of the series with a total of 1,001 diptychs.
With the support of the Elsa Peretti Foundation and Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Centre (KCAC), the project was brought to Nepal this year. Here, Antonio has taken photographs of 317 artists. But not all of them have picked up their portraits and not all of them will return their self-portraits.
“It’s interesting because I don’t know what will happen even till before the exhibition,” Antonio states. About ‘The Nepal Album’ exhibition, which opens on March 28 at Patan Museum, he merely hints, “It’s going to be a big surprise.”
Celia Washington, the Co-Founder Director of KCAC expects the show to be the beginning of contemporary art renaissance in Nepal.
“There are a lot of divisions in the arts community here but this project doesn’t discriminate,” highlights Celia who first met Antonio in 1998. Celia believes that the exhibition will act as a catalyst to promote Nepali contemporary arts and help Nepali artists to build international identities.
Senior cartoonist Durga Baral seconds Celia’s thoughts. “I think it will give Nepali artists a good platform for international exposure,” expresses Durga who lives in Pokhara.
A high school student, Mina Gurung was one of the young artists who was photographed by Antonio in Pokhara. “There aren’t many art programs happening here and it feels good that I got to participate,” she says. Besides Pokhara, Patan, Kathmandu, and Bhaktapur, Antonio also traveled to Biratnagar and Baglung for the project.
For young artists Sanjeev Maharjan, Bikash Shrestha, Laxman Karmacharya, Sunita Maharjan and Manish Harijan who have been assisting Antonio in the project, it has also been a learning experience.
“I think we discovered a lot of creative people,” coordinator Sanjeev reveals and continues, “We always say that the arts community is small, but there are a lot of creative people here who may not be working directly in the arts.”
Although the project may not have included each and every single artist, the exhibition will be the first of its kind in Nepal which brings together such a diverse pool of participants. From illustrator Kreeti Shakya of Kazi Studios and fashion designer Astik Sherchan to traditional painter Udaya Charan Shrestha, and MFA Painting student Sundar Lama, ‘The Nepal Album’ will feature a wide variety of drawings, paintings, collages and mixed media works.
More significantly, it will be interesting to observe the thought processes behind each work and the multiple perspectives of self-definition.
“The project is a great way to bring together artists and an avenue to see different styles,” says Kreeti while Udaya opines, “There’s no prize, there’s no money, yet everyone has put in a lot of effort in their work.” And that in itself, he feels, is a major achievement for local artists.
…from portrait to self-portrait, The Nepal Album will open on Wednesday, March 28, at 5:30 pm at the Patan Museum. P.T.O 8 & 9 for exclusive photographs and artwork that will be at the exhibition.