Ukus-mukus over Kathmandu’s art

May 6, 2013 , by Shreya Thapa, Leave your thoughts
Ukus-mukus over Kathmandu’s art » My Dreams Mag
Photo: Artudio
Kanchan G Burathoki has been mostly behind the scene when it came to Kathmandu's art scene.  Now with her first exhibition on display she’s establishing herself not only as an art writer but also as an artist.  

Kanchan G Burathoki is a name well heard of within the art circle. An artist herself, she was an art journalist for Republica before leaving the national daily in order to focus on her own work. With her first exhibition on display right now, Dreams sat down with Burathoki to hear about her art and her opinion of the art scene in Kathmandu. 

You’re sort of known as an art critic. In your opinion, has the art scene changed in the last few years? What’s your take on the overall art movement in Nepal?

I think I prefer to be known as an art writer or art journalist because I don’t have the academic background to be a ‘critic.’ In the last few years there has been an increasing trend of younger artists taking up new subject matters. They’re not just painting beautiful images; they’re more personal and they’re making something with a statementthere’s more thought behind the process and what they want to say.

There’s also more street art that is coming up, which is good, but I wish it was less haphazard than it is.


Nepal isn’t known for contemporary art, mostly just landscape—do you think the newer, upcoming art has an international appeal? 

I think most of the artists use their culture and their background—there was a student in Kathmandu University who comes from a traditional dance family and he is an art student—that’s very personal and it has potential. Usually we are afraid to putting forth our feelings because we’re a very judgmental society.

I think we might be lacking in honesty. Just because we delve into our culture doesn’t mean we’re being honest, it could be cliché, the artist might just be trying to appeal to a wider audience.  I think maybe the reason we haven’t made a mark in the international scene yet is because we haven’t spent a lot of time self-critiquing—we make pretty art but they’re not necessarily out of the box.

A lot of the artists here have been working with the same subject, theme, and style which is okay, but we have to ask—do they have something new to offer?  I think the priority should be to look inwards, to ask if you’re being honest, and question if you’ve given it your best.


Tell us about your background and how you started studying art?

Art was a hobby when I was a kid. In 2005 I went to study and at that time I was an economics major, I studied a little bit of art history and in the third year of my undergraduate degree I decided to switch to Studio Art. I took a painting class, a drawing class and then I realized I didn’t want to do anything else. For me, art wasn’t just a hobby. I think I realised you can’t really force yourself to study something, if you’re not interested you get frustrated and art was an outlet also but it was also a passion.


When you switched, did you think about your career options and what you’d do in Nepal?

Yes, I had to think about it—because of that I had originally started studying economics. There was obviously a risk in studying art but there was the question of what would happen if I didn’t take art, maybe I’d regret it later.


So after coming back what did you do?

I joined Republica. I was very excited because they had just started the art page. It was the only newspaper that had a full page dedicated to art. They wanted me to edit that page so I became the arts section coordinator until they scrapped it.


Were you involved in Nepal’s art scene before you went to college?

No, I didn’t know anyone actually and I had no idea what was happening. It was only after I came back that I came to know about Ashmina Ranjit, Sujan Chitrakar and other artists. I wish I had known them before then I would have had a better idea of what was going on here but at the same time, it’s good I didn’t really know much.


Your first exhibition is on display now. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Well I was very nervous because I’ve been writing about other people and their art, and I was worried about what kind of reaction I would get – maybe some people would like it, others might not like it, maybe some people would not understand. Actually that turned out to be true, a lot of people really didn’t understand what I was trying to say.

A few people came up to me and told me they didn’t get it.


Your theme is ‘Ukus-Mukus’ – what were you trying to say? 

The whole exhibition and the works revolve around my life in Kathmandu and my experiences not just in the last three years but I also go back into my childhood—things that used to be here, or in my memories. I use writing and visuals, I’m interested in putting together visual metaphors and textual metaphors.

I don’t think my work is very literal. Just by saying “ukus-mukus” you don’t see a person who is frustrated and feeling suffocated—you don’t get physical representation, you don’t get figures…it’s more of an internal emotion that comes out through one of the elements of the exhibition which is the wires. 

The idea is to express an emotion and something that is physically and mentally disturbing without illustrating the obvious. And I think that’s where people didn’t understand how it was ukus-mukus—how a collage of tangled up wires represents that.


In this exhibition you’ve used photography and sketches and words. What other mediums do you use in your work?

This exhibition has mostly collages and drawings but I’m also really interested in print making and I’ve used screen printing for this exhibition too. Actually, screen printing is quite common in Kathmandu; they print business cards and clothes—but it’s not really used as a medium of art, not yet.

But I’m interested in it because for me, it’s not just about making fine drawings but even though it’s technical it’s about the process.


You’ve had your first exhibition. So what’s next – are you done with this theme?

I don’t think an exhibition represents the end of something, it’s just a show at a certain point in time. I like working with words and images—that’s something I’d like to continue. And I think Kathmandu will continue to influence me, maybe not the wires but we’ll see.

Maybe I’ll collect more patterns from Kathmandu. There are many ideas I have in my head that haven’t come together, for example, I might have a text in my head but I don’t know how it connects to a visual pattern—it takes many months. Some of the pieces in the exhibition took a year or more to come together. It’s a lot of researching and a lot of patience because it gets frustrating when you’re stuck on one idea for a year and you don’t know where you’ll get the answer.

I think it’s something that is difficult, but it also pushes me forward—I don’t think any idea is useless, maybe I’ll use it one day. I guess art just can’t be forceful, it just has to come together.


Ukus-Mukus is on display at Park Gallery, Pulchowk, until May 12, 2013.

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Categorised in: Arts, Interviews