After the fall of Rana regime and the establishment of Democracy in Nepal in 1951, due to the cross flow of people within and across the border; many Western influences entered the domain of Nepali art. Art witnessed a paradigm shift from realism to abstractionism, public to personal, objective to subjective. Gradually, Nepali artists began to practice the techniques of impressionism, fauvism, expressionism, cubism, dadaism, abstractionism and surrealism. Given the fact that Nepal has always had a rich history in art,one might think that art business has escalated to new heights or has it?
Sangeeta Thapa, Director of Siddhartha Arts Foundation, recipient of many prestigious awards and a curator with extensive curatorial experiences shares that art is a narrative form of expressions. She has been in the art business for 30 years and basically created the market single-handedly. “Frankly speaking, the art business is badly hit by the ongoing political instability,” elucidates Thapa and adds, “the market is survived by a handful of buyers, patrons, diplomatic community and expats that live in Nepal. The number of buyers has not increased in the past decade.” She informs that Nepal is rich in art in terms of the religious art form but in contemporary art, there is a lot that needs to be done. Her efforts could be witnessed as she and her partners hosted, perhaps, the biggest art fair “KathmanduTriennale 2017” that Nepal had witnessed. The intention behind it was to reach out to more people and expose the city of Kathmandu globally as an art hub.
Nischal Oli has been working for the promotion of art and culture in Nepal for the past six years. He was one of the directors of Kathmandu Triennale 2017. When asked about the art business; this is what he had to share: “Art is not only about gaining profit. It creates engagement and dialogue in the society. The market of art has not advanced due to ineffectiveness of people operating it. The authorities have been unable to fully commit to a vision and the market lacks collaborative efforts. We get very little support from the concerned institution (state and academy) to promote art”.
Oli thinks that government policy is not very conducive to the growth of art; despite the biggest selling point of Kathmandu being culture, people and art. The market is also functioning on privileges. Some people are able to market themselves better and some are supported by gallery. Most artists sell their work through galleries. The gallery promotes, manages and keeps a commission up to 40 percent. Artists can also choose to demonstrate works individually in places like Nepal Art Council but they need to pay rental charges. Currently, Nepali artists are promoting themselves with international curators.
Bekharam Shrestha of Nirvana Gallery reminisces, “The business of art in Nepal picked up during 1990s. And the number of galleries also increased. Before that, there were only a handful of galleries in operation inside hotels, and the general public were oblivious of art exhibitions been held. Back then, artists relied completely on the Royal family for survival. It was the only source of income for them as Royals decorated their homes and office with artworks. There were excellent artists before 1990s as well but making a living only through art was impossible”. He adds, “Gradually, the scenario changed as business flourished. If the country is economically stable, the purchasing power of people will also increase. Therefore, there must be stability in politics for the business of art to flourish”.
Prithvi Bahadur Pande, Chairperson of NIBL bank started collecting art in1980s as a hobby and since 1995 he has earned the reputation as an avid art collector. It is because he appreciates Nepali art and culture, he collectes art to show his support for local artists. He is the proud owner of more than 500 pieces of art. “It’s an instinctive approach and one must have an eye for it while making a purchase,” he explains. He shares his desire to establish a trust and entrust his collection of art to this entity.
Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) is the product of a united struggle of Nepali artists for three decades. Ragini Upadhyay, the Chancellor of NAFA and a renowned and highly acclaimed artist herself has her own gallery and understands the obligations of running one. She understood, “If any private gallery is not able to function, then why not simply close it. It’s absurd to rely on the government for help as these galleries are registered privately.”
Private galleries and curators have the right to hold exhibitions and do business. The government has no objections as long as they are paying taxes and promote Nepali art and culture. She discloses the impediments of NAFA that obstruct work in progress. After a protest by artists six years ago, the government finally recognised NAFA as an individual entity. Resultantly, it doesn’t have to rely on Nepal Academy anymore. We are just in an infant stage; there are many things to do. She admits that the rules and regulations are still the same as the ones mandated 50 years ago. She presses that when nominating who will lead NAFA, there should be a rule of thumb that the nominee should have at least 20 years of experience in the field of art.