Wednesday, September 24, 1997

Paintings: A Heritage of Chitrakars

by Razen Manandhar From Kathmandu Post
The Kathmandu Valley has never been separate from art and artists for each and every cultural, religious or festive occasions and the sole responsibility to decorate the Valley with color has been fulfilled by the Chitrakars, or painters, those who follow painting as traditional profession generation after generation. Heritage of Chitrakars silently advocates their age-long contribution in dressing up the beautiful city.

The huge collection includes a portrait of Bhimsen Thapa done by an anonymous painter in 1832, and many more anonymous antique paintings of which dates are uncertain. Painting of Bagalamukhi, Guhyeshwori, Dwarika and Bishnu exposes the transition from purely traditional to contemporary trend. The paubhas has more to show off than imaginary deities with decorative details. For the collector generally has his family's name and date written with the details of the occasion, and prayer to the God at the bottom.

There are paintings by milestones to Nepali artistic movements like Tej Bahadur Chitrakar, the pioneer to modernization of paintings and Amar Chitrakar, a living legend who still paints today after half a century of non-stop exploration in traditional and modern paintings. Manohar Man Poon's numerous paintings are enough to make people aware of his presence there. Other old and newly emerging artists from Chitrakar circle includes DB Chitrakar, Hera, Keshab, Ratna Bahadur, Sunder Lal, Dil Bahadur, Buddhi Lal, Purna Man, Keshav, Julum, Lekh, Indira, Sunil, Bidya, Nabin Manik, Surya, Resham, Prachanda. Amir, Marina, Sarada, Laxmi, and many others who have been devoted to the world of colors not only for the sake of preserving traditional profession but to revive the value of once neglected creative imagination.

Another interesting part of the exhibition is the pot-painting and decorative prints with stone-colored fillings. The Newars need painted clay pots right after a baby is born. In almost every ritual, such potteries painted with different signs play significant roles. Festivals like Gathamuga, Gaijatra, chariot procession of Kumari and Matchhendranath postulates are paintings by them. A girl child "marrying" with never-drying fruit, a man getting married, an old man celebrating his 66th birthday and even at funerals - such pots can stop the whole affair if they were not produced at the right moment. The Chitrakars have special method of painting them which may have dense meaning behind the simple-looking pictures. The set of such pots, prints, masks etc are also exhibited which are indeed essential for those who claim to understand

Nepal from cultural angles. Besides, some historic and recent photographs, collected by Shyam and Kiran. King Jayasthiti Malla was the one who, in search of producing balance to social diversity and to give traditionl skills a professionalism, divided the local residents of the country in several categories, i.e., families. It originally was not a bad idea to divide the society according to the profession they practiced but later it appeared that the social circumstances led people to believe the working class as inferior to the administrative ones. Further, it became even a fashion to discriminate people according to the profession, that is, their family names. This resulted in Chitrakars reluctance in practicing their profession and later they even shifted themselves came to regard painting as humiliating job.

Meantime, a simple artist Bhajuman got an opportunity to accompany Jung Bahadur Rana in his ever first visit to Britain and commenced practicing with oil color for the first time in Nepal. Later, in 1921, two artists Tej Bahadur Chitrakar and Chandra Man Maskey went to Calcutta and became the first ones to obtain formal training in painting. Both of them started creating disciples in their specializations, oil and water color respectively. This was in one way or another, Renaissance for the artistic movement in Nepal which continued till Lain Sing Bangdel brought new concepts here by 1960s. Some three years ago, Chitrakar Society was formed with the view to channeling the excessive expenditure in social affairs and other activities of social upliftment. It set two targets : teaching basics of painting to Chitrakars and to resume an exhibition of the heritage of Chitrakars. "We are working on how to preserve our ritual art so that the coming generation may feel proud at their ancestors," says Madan Chitrakar, the co-ordinator of the exhibition.

In short, the exhibition is a museum of the heritage of Chitrakars they have so far preserved, evidence of the milestones they have offered to the country and the significance of their paintings and other artwork in social and religious life of the locals.