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The utility of space

  • In her new exhibition ‘Baadiyeko Aakash’, Sunita Maharjan explores space as defined by human desires
- ASMITA MANANDHAR, Rose Singh, Kathmandu
The beauty of Maharjan’s art lies in the layers achieved through all her mediums, like a voyeur peeking through what is apparent

Dec 11, 2018-In Sunita Maharjan’s exhibition of artworks in ‘Baadiyeko Aakash’, the characterisation of human life, as summed up in the spaces we build around ourselves, compels the audience to reconsider its mundane surroundings. This ongoing exhibition of artworks in charcoal and acrylic, prints and textiles includes four series—Marpha, Terrace, Kirtipur and Earthquake—all of them sharing the same concept of space as defined by human desires.

“There are a lot of things that account for how people choose to define their space,” says Maharjan. “I was intrigued by the lifestyle and geography of the people of Marpha.” The first series, Marpha, was completed in 2014, some nine months after the artist’s visit to the eponymous village. She then decided to continue with the same theme but utilising spaces around Kathmandu, which resulted in the second, Terrace, series.

Although both these series encapsulate similar phenomena and depict aerial views of their subject spaces, there is a stark juxtaposition in the two—the open fields and small settlements of Marpha alongside the crammed rooftops of Kathmandu. The Terrace series illustrates how houses, even after being so closely attached, retain their openness and togetherness through a simple architectural affection like the terrace. The use of fabric and detailed threadwork in Marpha communicates an old world feel while the prints in Terrace portray the desire for further urbanisation.

Maharjan’s Earthquake series is showcased in two sections—‘My kitchen after earthquake’ and ‘Gatlang series’. Sharp charcoal borders fracture paintings into shattered mirrors, a reminder of the cracks that appeared in walls after the earthquake. But even here, the use of pastel acrylics is nostalgia. For the Gatlang section, the artist chose to depict the front-faces of the houses that were still standing as if nothing had happened, hiding the damage inside.

“Before the earthquake, the people of Gatlang used to sleep in their houses and work in the fields, but afterwards, they did just the opposite,” says Maharjan, who has also captured the temporary spaces that were created to replicate a semblance of home in the open fields, especially the kitchen, the most intimate part of a house, according to the artist.

The final and the most recent series, Kirtipur, is Maharjan’s ongoing project. The artist redefines the character of this dense settlement through a giant photo-collage by depicting the isolation of the space represented through a different curtain in each window of a house—a divided space within the same structure. Each house is maximised in length and turned flaccid to accommodate an increasing number of guests every year, as students from nearby Tribhuvan University come to the city, all of them looking for their own private abode.

The beauty of Maharjan’s artworks lies in the level of layers she has been able to achieve through all her mediums, almost like a voyeur trying to peek through what is apparent.

“We cannot expand the land to meet our needs, so we either add floors and rise vertically or divide the land into smaller pieces,” Maharjan says about her Terrace series, delving into the boundaries of space and its residue, as we try to occupy as much of it as we can. Maharjan’s exhibition is an intricate exploration of the simultaneously divided and shared nature of space, even the sky.  

Baadiyeko Aakash (Shared Skies) is on display at the Siddhartha Art Gallery until January 10, 2019 

Published: 11-12-2018 08:08

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