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Nostalgic for the future

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Jan Salter says her retrospective exhibition was to remind herself that she is an artist

Jan Salter

Jan Salter

Many people know Jan Salter for her selfless activism at the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre (KAT) to save the city’s stray dogs and pets that she founded in 2004. But few remember that she is an accomplished artist.

The public saw that other side of  Jan Salter in ‘A Retrospective Exhibition’ at the Nepal Art Council from 22 September-10 October with 206 of her paintings and sketches.

“My work rescuing animals took me away from art, and this exhibition has helped to remind myself that I am an artist,” admits the 78–year-old Briton who first came to Kathmandu in the 1960s and never left.

These artworks were done from 1968 to 2014, most of them during treks around Nepal. “These pictures have remained in corners of my flat for years,” she said at the opening of the exhibition. “It’s only when seeing them displayed at the Nepal Art Council that I realise how many I did.” Still, there could have been even more paintings, as the artist has sold many of her first drawings.

Jan Salter had been sketching portraits from her early childhood, but it was only when she came to Nepal in 1968 that she really wanted to become an artist. “I felt in love with this melting-pot of faces,” she said.

A Retrospective Exhibition by Jan Salter

A Retrospective Exhibition by Jan Salter

A Retrospective Exhibition by Jan Salter

A Retrospective Exhibition by Jan Salter

Her style was refined after meeting famous Affandi in Jakarta, the famous Indonesian artist who had a different style from Jan’s, but she had been blown away by his work. “Affandi was the first person who told me that I had a chance as a painter,” she recalls. “He gave me confidence.”

After Indonesia, Jan traveled around the world for two years. Back in Nepal, she worked as a visual anthropologist, celebrating the diverse cultures and ethnicities of Nepal with striking portraits that first appeared in the book, Faces of Nepal.

A Retrospective Exhibition by Jan Salter

A Retrospective Exhibition by Jan Salter

Many of her first drawings were sold. “I needed money to support my Nepali son,” she recalls. “But after some time, I just found I couldn’t sell them anymore.” The artist considers her pictures as her own children. “I think every artist must feel this,” she says.

Above all, it became clear to Jan Salter that her paintings were actually a part of Nepal’s heritage. The creation of the Nepal National Ethnographic Museum by the Nepal Tourism Board became an opportunity to give an exposure to Jan’s works. “They are planning to create an ethnic village in Champa Devi where 24 of my paintings will be on display,” she says.

After more than four decades painting the faces of Nepal, Jan’s main regret is that many Nepalis have lost the pride in their traditions. “I would like to think that my paintings could remind these people from where they are,” she hopes.

Jan Salter also feels a little bit nostalgic of the time that Kathmandu used to be calmer, and some of the paintings celebrate that time. Nonetheless, Jan is optimistic about Nepal’s future. “I believe the new technologies will bring people together, but I guess I won’t be there to see it,” she laughs.

Moreover, Jan is pleased to see that Kathmandu is becoming a vibrant place for arts. Her involvement in KAT doesn’t give her the time to follow the evolution of the art scene as much as she would like to. But Jan admires a some of the new young artists she has met in Kathmandu. She adds: “I think I have a lot to learn from the new generation.”

Stéphane Huët

Read also:

Faces of Nepal Jan Salter

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