sk any Nepali about Ireland, and most have no idea where it is and some may mention the Irish pubs in Lukla, Thamel or Pokhara. Ask a person on the street what a ‘Guinness’ is and the answers will pertain more to a certain book of world records rather than the dark beer.
Which is why the first-ever exhibition of Irish art in Nepal is such a landmark in Kathmandu’s cultural firmament. It is a small brief window that gives people here in Kathmandu a glimpse of the sensibilities of this gentle land on the edge of the north Atlantic.
The artists, affiliated with Wexford Arts Center in Ireland, have brought to the Siddhartha Art Gallery an eclectic collection that includes landscapes, portraits, mixed media and photographs.
Viewers are exposed not just to contemporary art themes but also techniques: some exhibits hang by clothes pegs on washing lines, tiny installations are framed in the style of miniatures, and there are renderings of the Irish landscape.
Because the artists came from so far away and on such short notice, they mostly brought smaller pieces. The collection has landscapes which artists say is representative of contemporary Irish art trends.
“I do not paint exact representations of the landscape, what you see, are my emotional response to it,” explains Olivia O’Dywer (below, right) whose dreamy, almost pointillist series is called ‘Between the Sky and the Sea’.
Declan Cody looks for themes in the abstract, and ventures beyond landscapes to visuals like cow skin, groups of birds, or a close up of a patch of sand. He says: “I prefer to call my art abstracted rather than abstract, to differentiate it from traditional abstract art.”
Oil and acrylic mediums and techniques of layering are popular among Irish artists, and they hope to foster a cultural exchange between Nepal and Ireland, learning from each other’s art forms through this exhibition. The Irish visitors are attending an art camp for Nepali artists in Kathmandu on Sunday.
Also read: Artivists at the bank, Kanak Mani Dixit
Under Kathmandu’s Spell, Duksangh Sherpa
The use of pastels, blue, white, gray, soft pink dominate the paintings. Bernadette Doolan’s impressionist portraits stand slightly apart from the trend of landscapes, capturing “emotions rather than persons”. Her titles like Determined, In Quiet Agreement, It’s My Party, I wish, are intense with emotional expression.
“As adults we pretend to be strong, but in reality we all have a child in us,” explains Doolan (below, left). “And children are strong, but also vulnerable. My portraits remind us all to let the child out sometimes.”
At the other end of the spectrum lie inert machines, which photographer Michael Duggan (top) foregrounds in his skillful compositions. Tools like a plough and a forge, which have now fallen into disuse, give us a glimpse of the transition in Ireland’s traditionally agrarian society.
“I capture machines that were once beautiful in their efficiency, but today are just ornamental, and so, beautiful in another way,” says Duggan.
“Documentary photographers everywhere try to capture things used today that will disappear ten years later. Our work might not make sense at the moment, but it will be valued more as time passes.”
The artists all agree that the scope of art as a career is limited and full of struggles in Ireland, just like everywhere else in the world.
The exhibition hosts works by two other artists who could not make it to Nepal: Kate Murphy whose titles seem larger than her miniature mixed media frames, and Paddy Lennon’s elegantly inked Water Series.
“Nepal and Ireland have completely different landscapes, one has mountains and the other has oceans and islands,” said Veronica Cody, European Union’s Ambassador to Nepal, who is herself Irish.
Our landscapes affect how we see the world, and exchange of art is an opportunity to transcend that worldview and get a glimpse of another.”
Cody hoped the exhibition could be an inspiration for Nepali artists, and that Ireland would be inspired to host them in future.
Irish Artists in Nepal
An Exhibition of Mixed Media Works (till July 20)
Bernadette Doolan, Declan Cody, Kate Murphy, Michael Duggan, Olivia O’Dwyer, Paddy Lennon
Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited
Sunday to Friday 11 am – 5 pm
Saturday 12 noon – 5 pm
Also read: Art in the Planet, Stéphane Huët