26 Dec 2014 -1 Jan 2015 #738

Art for heart’s sake

Sadhu-X's audacious artwork 'Rape Me' is finally on display as part of #Occupy: an expression of global conscience
Stéphane Huët

In November 2012, a young Nepali woman returning from Saudi Arabia, was raped and robbed by immigration police in Kathmandu, prompting protests across the capital. Public outrage over the crime spilled into the streets in front of the Prime Minister’s official residence in Baluwatar and expanded to include other incidents of violence against women in the country. The movement spread through social media and was called Occupy Baluwatar.

Many artists took part in the demonstrations, but one piece of artwork conceived specially for the occasion was never shown: Aditya Aryal’s image representing a topless Kumari holding hands on her head, with butterfly wings behind her back with the inscription ‘Rape Me’ over the top.

Two years later, this audacious artwork is finally on display as part of #Occupy: an expression of global conscience that is on at the City Museum till 7 January. The exhibition gathers images from the Occupy movements in New York (Occupy Wall Street), Hong-Kong (Occupy Central) and Kathmandu (Occupy Baluwatar).

Museum director Kashish Das Shrestha curated the exhibition to relive the worldwide outrage that had its own manifestation on the streets of Kathmandu. “It was a social experiment stirring reflection,” he said, “and I hope the audience will feel something in their hearts.”

Aryal himself felt the Kumari image was too sensitive to be exhibited at the time. “The street art scene of Kathmandu was still fresh,” Aryal explained. “I didn’t want to spoil it before its breakthrough with a provocative artwork.”

There was and is an epidemic of rape and violence in India and Nepal, and Aryal remembers thinking: ““If we worship goddesses, why cannot we respect real women?”

The wings on the Kumari are a throwback to the Nirvana album In Utero and the song Rape Me was written by Kurt Cobain to express his feelings about his family’s privacy being constantly ‘raped’ by the media.

After Occupy Baluwatar, Aditya Aryal (pic) became a well-known street artist who goes under the pseudonym of Sadhu-X and his works have been exhibited in Kathmandu with those of his friends from ArtLab Life collective.

He tried to put up ‘Rape Me’, but no gallery in Kathmandu would risk putting it up. As in India, artists and galleries have been threatened and attacked for depicting religious motifs. Aryal maintains that he doesn’t intend any disrespect to anyone’s faith.

City Museum’s Shrestha knows he is dealing with a sensitive issue, but adds that he felt it was important to shock people about impunity and injustice. He sums it up: “There’s no reflection without provocation.”

Aditya Aryal says he is glad Shrestha agreed to take the risk. “I try to make people face their contradictions,” he said, “and I’m happy that a Nepali, moreover a Newar, curator understood my work.”

Occupy: an expression of global conscience

The City Museum

Until 7 January 2015

www.thecitymuseum.org

Read also:

Occupy Baluwatar: Day 4

Blasphemy charges in a secular state, Anurag Acharya

Solidarity for justice

A day at the museum, Tsering Dolker Gurung

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