Ang Tserin Sherpa was born in Kathmandu and trained in thangka painting by his father Master Urgen Dorje. Influenced by his own experience in the Himalayan diaspora and the nomadic history of its peoples, Sherpa’s œuvre has grown to feature a rich vocabulary of Buddhist iconography paired with pop-culture references, to reflect the interplay and tension between what is sacred and secular, and what is traditional and contemporary.
This is related also to the increasing commodification of traditional art in Nepal whereby artworks have been reappropriated as mere objects to be marketed and showcased.
“These are our cultural heritage as well,” says Sherpa. “We cannot rely on other people to uphold and preserve our culture, our history when we ourselves overlook and forget them.”
To renegotiate and reexamine this trend is a larger theme with Sherpa’s work at the Biennale. He adds, “My plan is to collaborate with many Nepali artists and artisans, and initiate a dialogue about our heritage, skills and contemporary art.”
The application process for Nepal’s pavilion at the Biennale began in June 2021, and was pushed forward by seed money from the Rubin Museum in New York. But because of various delays, it was not until November that the work finally began.
“In Nepal there is no proper support system for artists to get international exposure,” Sherpa added. “But this is not a one-time thing. Funding is still an issue but hopefully this initiative can inspire artists, communities and corporate bodies to be involved together.”
This resonates with the burgeoning push for the global visibility of Nepal’s contemporary art scene in the international arena, as was seen at the Nepal Art Now exhibition at the Weltmuseum Wien in 2019 and the ongoing Kathmandu Triennale 2077 set to begin on 11 February.
“The inaugural Nepal Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is a historical moment for the contemporary art of the region,” said Fabio Rossi of Rossi & Rossi who represent Ang Tserin Sherpa. “Though Tsherin will be the focus of the pavilion, it will also be a collaborative effort which will bring greater visibility to the diverse artistic and curatorial expressions that can be found in Nepal.”
Jorrit Britschgi, the Executive Director of the Rubin Museum of Art, believes that the pavilion will help to raise the Nepali profile as a vibrant country for the production, promotion and presentation of contemporary art.
He said in a statement: ‘The Nepal Pavilion will provide artists with an invaluable international platform to showcase their work whilst positioning the country to contribute to a broader narrative on contemporary art that moves away from a Eurocentric art history and discourse.’
First founded in 1895, La Biennale di Venezia is one of the most visited art exhibitions in the world today. The Nepal Pavilion will be presented at Sant’Anna Project Space One, located on Fondamenta S. Anna in the area between the Arsenale and Giardini – the two main venues of the Biennale, which will run from 2 April through 27 November 2022.
Ang Tserin Sherpa is hopeful of the precedent this attendance sets. “It is not that there are fewer artists in Nepal or less production of art, but that there are fewer avenues,” he said. “Venice is a first and I believe this can inspire our second involvement to be an even more organic event, bringing together communities, artists and institutions.”