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What does it mean to be a woman artist in Nepal? WOW’s Ansuhka Shrestha gets the views of three women artists in the country about gender interpretation in the contemporary art scene. Excerpts:

Seema Sharma Shah

Dr Seema Sharma Shah pursued her art career in Varnasi. She moved to Kathmandu some decades ago and her artwork subconsciously merge her Indo-Nepali experience. Her works depict ancient Nepali sculpture and architecture, culture, rituals, and Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. She does not present the mythical and religious images as they appear to us but combines them with free association.

Rashna Bajracharya

Rashna Bajracharya was an introvert child. To overcome her loneliness, she would dream and draw. She continued painting as a tool of happiness until the massive earthquake of 2015. The day of destruction taught her something about the power of creation and her art became a tool to share deep emotions and awareness. She currently works on human issues.

Jasmine Rajbhandari

Jasmine Rajbhandari received her MFA from Banaras Hindu University, India. She was a part-time teacher at the M.F.A., Central Department of Fine Arts, Tribhuvan University. She has one solo exhibition to her credit and has participated in multiple art camps, workshops and group shows locally and internationally. She is currently working as a lecturer in Lalitkala Campus. She was in the organising committee for the Kids’ Guernica 2000, an international children’s mural exhibition and has coordinated many art programmes through Zero Century Fine Arts Foundation. She was also an art teacher at Kendriya Vidhyalaya, Budhanilakantha School and Altamira School of Visual Arts.

How can art make a conversation about gender?

Seema: Art is a form of expression. An artist can show anything through her art. When depicting females as opposed to males, the artist usually presents females as more attractive than males. This does not, however, mean that women are always portrayed as beautiful. If it is classical art, physical attributes of the characters are portrayed beautifully. If the art is based on a popular female figure, her facial features are typically shown to be appealing, while if the art is based on a popular male figure, instead of his facial features, his other features like muscular physique and strong arms become the primary focus. On the other hand, in abstract art, an artist does not dwell too much on the differences between male and female.

Rashna: Art is a powerful means which can motivate viewers by potentially changing one’s sense of self. It is the visual language that can connect us and create new dimensions of communication. If we look back in our history of civilisation, we will understand the importance of art in bringing change and establishing a different empire, religion etc. Being a female visual artist living in a very traditional patriarchal society, watching and experiencing injustice and discrimination has made me aware of the need for positive change. I am always trying to raise awareness, bring change and put an end to inequality.

Jasmine: Art is always the medium of self-expression. It is what I perceive of the outer world and how it affects me. Being a female artist matters. My art talks about happiness, pain, dissatisfaction and it always raises the question about why this is happening. Art can help men understand these problems as well which will ultimately cut down the gender barrier.

Art is still not a prioritised as a profession in Nepal. What was it like for you?

Seema: I have been devoted to art since childhood. When other children my age played with dolls, I enjoyed observing them and painting them instead. I remember finding pieces of paper too small to paint on so sometimes I would join a few pieces together to make one big painting. Sometimes, I would even draw a huge figure on the whole of the rooftop of my house. My elders often called me artist chori (daughter). I went to a fine arts college, Banaras Hindu University, and completed my B.F.A., M.F.A. and PhD. My parents have been very encouraging and supportive.

Rashna: To be honest, art had chosen me before I chose it. It is something I do to live, rather than to make living. I have met so many people who are rich but not happy despite power and position in society. Art and its every aspect makes me happy, and with the time I am learning to take responsibility as an artist by making society aware of various issues through my work. Since art is still not prioritised in our society, my parents did worry about my career choice and suggested that I become a doctor. Their uncertainty died after I received Chhatra idya Padak from the President of Nepal for securing highest marks in Humanities and Social Sciences. They have realised that their daughter can heal the pain of society not through medicine but through art.

Jasmine: My family was always very supportive when it came to arts. Despite being a daughter, I got a chance to get higher education in art. Even now as a married woman I have the full support of my family and in-laws.

Do you think there is a difference in how male and female view art?

Seema: In works of female artists, one can often find the use of soft lines and more nature-inspired figures while in works of male artists, one finds harsh and bold lines and the use of more geometrical shapes.

Rashna: Art is more than just a decoration piece, it directly or indirectly tells us who the artist is and reflects their story. This is because we all have our own perception and individual experience. So, art is not only gender-based but every artwork has its own individual touch.

Jasmine: Yes, there is a difference between the views as both genders as naturally we are very different in terms of our thought process.

Where is the best place to showcase your art?

Seema: My works have been exhibited in a number of national and international galleries and museums. I have received positive response from all of them so it is not possible for me to pick a favourite.

Rashna: It mostly matters to whom my art is being shown rather that where is it being showcased. My art works might not be everyone’s cup of tea. My art is related with deeper emotions and social issues. It belongs to everyone who can feel the pain which necessarily might not be relatable to everyone. My art is catered to those who have conscience, someone willing to bring positive change and is dreaming of equality.

Jasmine: Any place where it can reach common people and can stir the same kind of emotions which I feel while I am creating it.

What makes your work different?

Seema: I am a print making artist. My etchings widely follow the viscosity technique that differentiates my works from others.

Rashna: Art is my first love and passion and whatever comes from the heart goes directly to my art. The saying, “eyes are the windows of soul” defines my art. I make sure that the characters of my paintings make direct eye contact with its viewers and share their stories. Besides, I always take up the challenge to choose different social contexts and experiment with different styles and techniques.

Jasmine: Distorted expressive figures which flow in the air and narration of stories of different experiences is what makes my work stand out.