My Great- Great- Grandmother’s Shawl , 2017
Material : photographs and recreated hand printed muslin 'Damber Kumari' Shawl , clothing tags , counterfeited clothing tags .Exhibited: Dhaka Art Summit 2018 as part of ‘A Beast, A God and A Line’ exhibition curated by Cosmin Costinas
Global clothing and textiles exports is one of the world’s most traded manufactured products .Since the late 20th century the global dynamics of clothing & textile has changed drastically. Much of production capacity shifted from developed to the developing world specially to Asian countries. While companies from Europe ,USA etc started to outsource their production in cheaper labour markets ,in an effort to increase profit .Countries like China and India advanced as major producers and exporters in this industry. By 2009 China alone accounted for 50% of world’s total fibre production and 58% of world textiles and clothing trade . This advancement has immensely affected global culture and economy. On the other hand the counterfeiting culture also bloomed as rapidly as bigger brands moved their manufacturing to developing countries. As a result in most of the countries like Nepal extremely low priced, mass manufactured ,counterfeited garments became more accessible and popular .And it started to replace comparatively expensive local indigenous textile & clothing cultures. Nepal is landlocked ,surrounded by India on 3 sides and by China in the Himalayan North. Since the flat plains on Indian border eases the transport of imports and exports opposed to the mountainous terrain of the northern routes of China ,Nepal had been politically and economically aligned more with India. India -Nepal have open border and India accounts for Nepal’s two-third trade, both in terms of export and import. The trade relation with China existed subtly ,but it was around 2005 that Chinese products started to flood the Nepal market like it did in other South Asian Countries and all around the world. From thousands of years Nepal was one of the important center for Trans- Himalayan trade . Textile was one of the major export of Nepal . Textile from Nepal has been documented from as far as 3rd century BC in the book Arthashastra . Nepal have more than 125 different ethnic communities and almost all the communities have their own clothing ,textile culture .They used to have different sub cast groups who would professionally work as weavers , tailor , dyers , spinners etc. Even till 1960s people generally would wove and sewed clothes for themselves or wore handmade clothes. From 1996 - 2006 Nepal officially went through civil war which claimed lives of thousands. Thousands of large and small local industries shut down, people discontinued their traditional practices , millions of people migrated to seek better works . Although throughout the history, Nepal 's one of the best exports have been garments and textiles , general Nepali people started to loose their connection with it. Whereas usage of ethnic garments got limited to rituals and ceremonies .
The performative art work ‘My great -great - grandmother’s shawl , is about this enormous change Nepal is going through in short period of time, which also reflects the change happening around the world . Here Sheelasha is portraying this change by tracing back five generation of her family’s clothing culture . For the work she took the reference of her maternal great- great- grandmother Purna Kumari Baidhya ’s photograph . Purna Kumari who was born about 127 years ago is wearing a shawl named ‘Damber Kumari’ in the photograph . Damber Kumari is three layered shawl , the middle part is hand printed cotton, sandwiched by two layers of the fine sheer muslin. The shawl is named after the daughter of Jang Bahadur Rana ( founder of the Rana regime of Nepal) who brought India’s Banaras’s style block printing art to Kathmandu in mid- 1800s . It is said that Kathmandu’s winter was much colder , therefore she wrapped the block printed cotton by sheer muslin so the shawl could be warm and beautiful pattern beneath can also be seen. This shawl quickly gained popularity .The Ranjitkars , a caste who is concerned with the dyeing of clothes as well as other color related activities mostly continued this block printing technique. Later the shawl also got the name as ‘Nakali Dhaka’ or fake Dhaka shawl , as the prints imitated Dhaka textile’s pattern ( Dhaka is traditional handmade textile of the indigenous Limbu people of eastern Nepal.) However nowadays almost all the Damber Kumari shawls are machine printed .
Based on the pattern of the shawl on the photograph, Sheelasha recreated two Damber Kumari shawls. She took the photograph of her late grandmother Chiniya Bijukche who was 77 years old , wearing one of the Shawl. During Chiniya’s time the tradition of clothing and textile had not changed much although some textiles from India and very few from China were available. Sheelasha collected tags of mass produced textiles most of them are counterfeited brands from India and China , then sewed the tags almost entirely covered the second shawl. She wore the tags covered Damber Kumari Shawl and captured it in the photograph . By 29 years old Sheelasha’ generation the textile culture has changed dramatically . The ethnic diversity in textile has flattened by mass produced readymades , hand mades replaced by machine mades , domestic industry are mainly export oriented, development of consumer culture contributing to higher import of clothing and textile. Increasing demand for mega branded wears at the same time acceptance of counterfeiting culture.
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Treaty of Peace and Friendship- This is What Friends are For , 2017
Material : Copper , silver plated brass , motor , wires
Dimension : Diameter 6ft x height 4inchExhibited : Young Subcontinent project , Serendipity Arts Festival Goa curated by Riyas Komu .
From once being an important centre for trans-Himalayan trade, Nepal’s geopolitics now lies in flux between two emerging world powers of India and China. Historically, Nepal lay at the crossroads of several trade-routes including east-west silk route, the north-south caravan route and even the Tea and Horse Caravan Road over which it collected taxes from different kingdoms. Along with economics, these routes also became channels for cultural, technological and ideological exchange. Nepal experienced tremendous political and economic tension over the last 70 years when India became an independent country, China became a People’s Republic and Tibet was taken over by China.
In order to ameliorate such tension, several treaties were signed between India and Nepal after 1950, including the ‘Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ and ‘Treaty of Trade and Commerce’ that aligned Nepal politically and economically with India. By 1960, Nepal also signed the Sino-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China. However, after the extreme tension between Kathmandu and Delhi in 2015 over the blocking of imports of basic supplies and fuel from the sole supplier India, Nepal went ahead to sign the ‘Transit and Trade Treaty’ with China in 2016. China further opened combined transport services (rail and road) to Nepal which would connect Lanzhou, the capital city of northwestern China’s Gansu province to Kathmandu. In 2017, Nepal officially became part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also referred to as the Silk Road Economic Belt, despite India’s reluctance to join it.
The flat plains of Nepal along the Indian border eases the transport of imports and exports as opposed to the mountainous terrain of the northern part of Nepal that is next to China. India and Nepal have an open border and India accounts for Nepal’s two-third trade, both in terms of export and import. After the 2015 India-Nepal crisis, the landlocked Himalayan country agreement of (BRI) brought lots of hopes and dreams as BRI has been discussed as a possible alternative gateway for Nepal, giving access to China, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. China and Nepal are also talking about the possibility to extend the rail connection to Kathmandu and probably to India as well; there is a potential of Nepal becoming a corridor for land routes between China and India. There have been informal proposals from India to build direct rail from Delhi to Kathmandu and Kolkata to Kathmandu as well.
Art work (a)
Many people in Nepal had handlooms in their homes in the old days. People either wove and sewed clothes for themselves or wore handmade clothes. There were different cast groups working professionally as weavers, tailors, dyers and so on. The practice of home weaving continued till around the 1960s, but after 1950 , more and more Indian products started to occupy Nepal’s market. Nepal’s trade relation with China slowly bloomed starting in the 70s, but it was around 2006 that Chinese products started to flood the Nepal market like it did all around the world.
From 1996-2006 Nepal itself officially went through civil war which not only claimed the lives of thousands but also resulted in the closing down of a huge number of large and small local industries, causing people to migrate outside the country in search of employment. Locals then preferred more accessible and affordable products from China and India. Nepal, from being a key exporter of textiles, lost its industry to India and China who could reproduce these at much cheaper costs, leaving the locals helpless between the two large manufacturing powerhouses.Given this background, the introduction of railways within Nepal seem to bring a mixed feeling of hope and anxiety. While it may open up corridors for the landlocked Himalayan country, the railway could inundate Nepal with an influx of imported industrial goods, gradually leading to a loss of traditional craftsmanship. On the other hand, if Nepal fails in its diplomatic role, it may become privy to extreme external political and economic influences.
Art work (b)
The structure of sculpture is based on the 7th century Lichhavi Dynasty copper coin of Nepal. Lichhavi Dynasty ruled the Kathmandu Valley from approximately 400 to 750 CE. Lichhavi-era coins are the first coins widely used in Kathmandu valley and its surrounding hills. Lichhavis are remembered for maintaining their excellent trilateral relation with Tibet and the kingdoms of India. The copper and brass surface of the coin is embossed with the suggestive map of Lhasa, with Kathmandu at the center as well as New Delhi. The train track connects the three cities.
The ancient Jatakas recognize white winged horse as a bodhisattva and as a symbol of safe passage during the difficult journeys of the caravan merchants. The narrative of winged white horse and the merchants are ] depicted in different countries around Asia, in paintings and sculptures of various temples, sacred places and manuscripts. However the winged horse with two heads on opposite sides moves but goes nowhere. It just lingers on the center, struggling to balance relations between its two powerful neighbors. Landlocked Nepal has often found itself at the heart of the Sino-Indian geopolitical rivalry as well as to India’s historical influence.
The works presented here enfold the economic and political past and present into their materiality in the hope of reconciling the anxiety of an unclear future.
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I Still See That Same Old House of Ours In My Dreams , 2017
Material : Copper , Brass , old doors and windows, digital print on archival paper, archival ink ,
Wooden frame with silver mount , elephant grass mat .
Wooden box : (3 Boxes ) 67cm x38cmx45.5cm each
Frame : (32 Frames ) 33cm x33cm each
Exhibited : Kathmandu Triennale at Nepal Art Council ,Kathmandu
‘I still see that same old house of ours in my dreams” is based on the narratives of the artist’s maternal grandmother, Chiniya Devi Bijukchhe. The artwork depicts a physical space and related situations linked to the space, all of which exist in the past. But at present, it only exists in the memories and stories passed from the older generation to the younger. Bijukchhe’s narratives revolve around a house which the artist’s great- great- grandmother Purna Kumari Bhaidya had bought in Bhotahity, a neighborhood that was a central part of Kathmandu Valley’s historic settlement. The narratives also includes several other related stories of the neighborhood, of the city, of the society and of Nepal from the bygone decades. In the narratives, Chiniya describes how drastically the society transformed within her lifetime, how close-knit communal spaces transformed to commercial centers, how businessmen from India gradually introduced Indian industrial textiles, how Tibetan refugees adjusted to the city, how peaceful historical places became noisier, overcrowded and more polluted, and how traditional houses in the neighbourhood which were made of clay and wood, with beautifully carved windows, started to get replaced by drab, tall concrete buildings. In more recent years, her own Bhotahity house was demolished to make a shopping complex.
Just like her grandmother, Rajbhandari was also raised in the Bhotahity house. She remembers the storage room in the house, the bhandaar. Inside the bhandaar, there were many wooden sandooks, boxes of different sizes. Inside the sandooks were objects that belonged to Rajbhandari’s grandmother and her ancestors. But when that house was demolished, some of those sandooks were misplaced. The objects that carried her history were lost.
“What do you miss the most?” the artist once asked her grandmother, referring to those lost objects.
“My vadakuti,” she replied, referring to a set of miniature pots and pans gifted to her by her grandmother.
For the artwork, the artist constructed the narrative using materials remembered and imagined. She recreated the ancient objects as accurately as she could, using the same kind of wood, as well as copper and bronze. Along with those, she also used old, tattered photographs (most of which came from her family’s archive) and wrote related stories on top of them. Her grandmother’s actual voice, narrating her memories, softly played in the background during the exhibition.
Although this artwork is based on Rajbhandari’s personal history, it reflects Nepal’s national, collective history. This project is the artist’s attempt to retell history by tracing her maternal family history, by giving credit where its due.
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Who are Heros of our time? 2017
Participatory Photographs with Nepalese Migrant workers at Doha by Hit Man Gurung and Sheelasha Rajbhandari
Photograph by Sumesh Pradhan.
Photo Edit by Sachin Yogal Shrestha
Digital Print on fine art paper
Exhibited : Built/Unbuilt :Home /City collaborative art project , Kathmandu