Art in Nepal

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Nepal is one of those rare countries in South Asia that has never been officially colonised. Not that it was out of the reach of the colonisers, but probably because it provided no economic incentives as much as its two biggest neighbours did. It did act as a buffer state between India and China to the British but never served them as a colony. A considerable area in the country is made up of the Himalaya mountains and most of the top ten highest peaks in the country are present in Nepal, which adds to the inaccessibility factor of the country. Some of the places here are still few of the remotest due to their almost inaccessible terrain.

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Probably due to the Gangetic plains being the smaller part of the country, some of the oldest evidence found in the country indicate to it being host to some of the oldest inhabitants. Evidence has been found that indicate towards the Neolithic age. Mentions in the old Indian texts reveal the identity of Nepal and talk about grand old kingdoms being ruled by a long line of kings. Information about the kingdoms of the Nepal could be found in texts denoting their ages at around three thousand years. The founder of Buddhism – Gautama – is known to be a prince in one of these kingdoms. In the last two thousand years, Nepal saw different kingdoms. Of these, the Gorkha kingdom was the most significant as it resulted in the unification of the country to almost the shape that it is today. The kingdom fought with the Chinese as well as the Britishers (first against them and later with them) later.

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The art of Nepal is simple though it is known to have developed a long time ago. Although the earliest known examples of Nepalese art are found in the form of cave drawings, the more popular and matured art pieces can be majorly seen in two formats – the smaller format being the coloured paintings used as the covers of the manuscripts done on wood and the larger format being paintings done on cloth. These examples are aged within a thousand years but indicate towards the already matured Nepalese art form.

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The influence of the modern school of painting and art was brought to Nepal only in the late 18th and mid-19th century when the Nepalese painters got in contact with the British subjects. In particular, two Nepalese artists are known to be the ones responsible for introducing western art forms to Nepal in the opening years of the 20th century. Both of these artists studied in India where they learned and experimented with different forms and mediums of art. Modern art gained significant traction at the onset of the second half of the 20th century when a number of students from Nepal enrolled in different art schools in India. Nepal also saw the opening of Juddha Kala Pathshala – an art school around this time.

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Dil Bahadur Chitrkar was one of the foremost artists from the modern Nepal art scene. Lain Singh Bangdel, who was trained in Europe was the first of those Nepali artists that turned the tide for the art in Nepal. Later, some artists collectives, one of them popularly known as the SKIB Group [Shashi Shah, Krishna Manandhar, Indra Pradhan and Batsa Gopal Vaidya] were formed. Ragini Upadhyay (who established WAGON, the Women Artists Group Nepal), Uma Shankar Shah, Shashikala Tiwari and Shashi Shah too made their mark in the modern art scene.

The Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), that was formed in 1955 by His Majesty Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, organized the first National Art Exhibition in 1965. The 1st Kathmandu International Art Festival organized by the Siddhartha Art Gallery was held in 2009. It was established as a non-commercial, theme-based, contemporary arts festival. The Society for Modern Art, popularly known as SOMA was established in 2008. Other galleries and art organisations such as Bikalpa Art Center, The Park Gallery established in 1970, The J Art Gallery is making a mark in the contemporary art scene.