A lot of people thought I was nuts," laughs Sangeeta Thapa, remembering the early days of the Siddharth Art Gallery. "They couldn't understand why a 25-year-old mass communications and anthropology graduate just back from America was ready to give her life to art." So why did she? "Art is my first love," she says simply.
Seventeen years ago, when Sangeeta saw the work of artist Shashikala Tiwari at the Sitabhavan Gallery in Naxal and the October Art Gallery of the Vajra Hotel, she fell in love with it immediately. The two met and talked, and a couple of years later, in 1986, the friendship turned into a partnership when they opened the Siddhartha Art Gallery on Kantipath.
"My father is my inspiration. Wherever he went, he always bought art. He always took me to exhibitions, cultural events, the theatre," explains Sangeeta speaking of daddy, the banker Himalaya Sumshere Rana. Since the age of five, she knew she was born into art. At eight, she had already sold her first painting, and at nineteen, she produced her first major work. But then in art school, Sangeeta says she realised that she didn't want to paint all her life. "There was so much going on in the world, outside, and I didn't want to be isolated from it."
And so Sangeeta decided that there had to be a way to combine her passion for the creative media with her sense of social consciousness. The gallery has been a perfect medium, as has Infinity International, an event-management firm that Sangeeta is a partner in. She has used her networks in both spheres to help raise funds for earthquake relief and the maternity hospital, bring the Pakistani band Junoon to the capital in March 2001, and organise "protest" shows like the one on the Bamiyan Buddha last year. "Artists can catalyse social change," she says with conviction.
The Gallery moved to Baber Mahal Revisited, and has hosted over 150 shows. Exhibitions there are a are a regular fixture on the arts calendar of a town that doesn't have too many cultural outlets. Sangeeta strives to bring more and better shows from all around the world to Kathmandu, and sometimes even ventures out like she did last month with an exhibition in Janakpur aimed at encouraging local artists. The current exhibition, entitled, Made in Janakpur: A Mithila Yatra is a collaboration between the gallery and the Janakpur Municipality, and is a benefit exhibition for the Janakpur Women's Development Centre.
Her next project is called Art for Peace, and she says: "Even if you can't change politics, you can contribute as a citizen, always remembering that you are Nepali, first."