The monarchy is now defunct, and the palace itself may be a museum, but there's no shortage of galleries in Kathmandu these days. This week, Siddhartha Gallery is featuring an exhibition of 'supracollages' from the Indic artist Geoffrey, The Seven Henry Series: In Search of an Ideal Landscape.
Geoffrey made his mark early, snagging the Paris Biennale award in 1965 at the tender age of 25. But while he enjoyed the acclaim that followed, unprecedented for an artist of Asian origin (he was born in Chiniot, now in Pakistan), he was not content to wallow in bohemia. Fuelled by a highly developed sense of injustice, Geoffrey took up a degree in law, graduating with honours from Harvard. Both art and law dovetailed into his pursuit of the truth, and he made a living out of subverting everyday expectations (particularly of the elite).
Decades later, Geoffrey seems as combative as he ever was, as an artist and lawyer. In the 1990s, he earned some notoriety for defending Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani who was eventually executed for the murder of two CIA employees in the US. Then in 2005, he sued the Hayward Gallery in London for 65 million pounds for the loss and damage of 300 of his works (the gallery had offered him compensation of 65,000 pounds).
MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
He isn't particularly forthright about his own art, either, photographic reproductions of which sprawl on the table between us. I ask him to explain the thrust of his work, and the mechanics of one of his playfully thoughtful collages to illustrate this, but he suggests that to give me an explanation in words would negate the need for ideation through
Geoffrey does explain that he considers the process of creating his 'pain-things' more important than the endpoint. He is constantly at work, even on works he may have begun a quarter of a century ago, and carries his 'art ammunition' wherever he goes (he draws out a stick of glue and some pens from his jacket, smiling mischieviously).
Certainly no such considerations appear to have stopped Syyed Iqbal Geoffrey from doing what he likes, making fun of the establishment the whole time. He takes pride in citing an art critic's appraisal of him as "not catering to the needs of society but rather creating them". But in the next breath, he ridicules the same critic: "I suggested that I would burn my works outside the Pasadena Art Museum in California, let the clouds of smoke move to the museum, and that would be my exhibition. He took it seriously – he wrote a whole article about it!"
With the passage of time, Geoffrey may have come to recognise the limits of what he can lay claim to. This does not dampen his spirit. "People call me a has-been," he concedes, before fixing me with an earnest gaze. "And I tell them: at least I have been a has-been!"
The Seven Henry Series: In Search of an Ideal Landscape, runs from 28 October to 17 November, Siddhartha Art Gallery, Babar Mahal Revisited, Gallery hours: 11am to 6pm, 12pm to 4pm on Saturdays, 4218048