28 Aug - 3 Sep 2015 #773

Hope after struggle

The 25 April earthquake had a strong impact on Travers’ residence at KCAC
Stéphane Huët

British artist Martin Travers is a social worker involved with youth custody centres in the Netherlands. In 2015, he wanted a break from social work and applied for residence at Kathmandu Contemporary Art Centre (KCAC) to concentrate on his own art.

After collaborating with Nepali artists to make a mural on the wall of the British Council – launching the celebration of the bicentenary of Nepal-UK diplomatic relations – Travers went to Langtang where he was stuck when the earthquake hit Nepal on 25 April.

Even though he was advised by the British Embassy in Kathmandu to return to Europe for security reasons, he stayed on to see if he could help.

“I wanted to utilise my skills to help students deal with post-earthquake trauma,” Travers says. He ran several workshops in schools of Nepal, each one being attended by about 100 children which were sources of inspiration during his residence at KCAC which lasted two months, instead of five as initially planned.

“Inner power and adversity are recurrent themes in my work and my experience after the earthquake just fit into it,” says Travers. But while working in KCAC’s studio, he wanted to add a Nepali flavour to his paintings and came to know the work of Paubha artist Samundra Man Shrestha.

“Martin showed me the painting of a girl with a bright smile looking up, and asked if I could fill the background,” Shrestha says. He added the White Tara of Compassion painted on a cracked wall. This picture reminds us that religious buildings may have been damaged during the earthquake, but Nepalis are still buoyant.

“When I saw what Samundra had done, I knew it had clicked between us,” Travers says passionately. So they worked on two more paintings. Ten of 12 paintings Travers made during his Patan residence are currently shown in Of struggles and dreams – a homage to the people of Nepal launched last Sunday at Siddhartha Art Gallery.

This exhibition begins with a painting titled 25.04.2015 (pic, top), a poignant picture of a close-up of the eyes of an elderly woman in which we can see the reflection of collapsed temples. The impact of the Gorkha earthquake on Travers’ residence is clear.

But as we go round Of struggles and dreams, the pictures become more optimistic, even if the 25 April earthquake is referred almost every time. Like Art Healing which shows a girl crouching to paint. A Himalayan monal pheasant is flying away from her paper and another one is over the girl’s head. In the background are silhouettes of damaged buildings. This suggests that art might wipe away the children’s bad memories.

It is also interesting to see that among the 10 paintings shown at the launch, eight have female characters. It’s like Travers is saying that Nepal’s reconstruction will be led by women – which is somehow the case as many Nepali men working abroad couldn’t come back to Nepal after the earthquake.

Many drawings made by children during Travers’ workshops are displayed on the first floor of Siddhartha Art Gallery, many of them transcribe the raw experience of the earthquake.

They show Swayambunath struck by a giant mouth coming from the ground, eating a clock stopped at 11h56, bricks covering a bleeding hand, a body falling from a waving Dharara Tower, or people running as houses are collapsing and a child asking ‘Mom, where are you?’.

Some are more optimistic, like one illustrating a damaged temple titled ‘Today’, and next to it a rebuilt temple with the inscription ‘Tomorrow’.

During his workshops, Travers was moved by the students’ testimonies, and surprised that some of them had never painted before. That’s why he is working to help the introduction of arts in their curriculum.

A portion of the sale of Travers’ paintings will to go to two schools of Kathmandu, Kanti Ishwori Madhyamik Vidhyalaya and Jagat Sundar Bwonekuthi for this purpose. He has also trained teachers to conduct art classes.

Of struggles and dreams – a homage to the people of Nepal

By Martin Travers, in collaboration with Samundra Man Shrestha

Siddhartha Art Gallery

Till 6 September

Read also:

Reality show, Stéphane Huët

Murals of hope, Stéphane Huët

A rising Nepal, Stéphane Huët

Art aid for Nepal, Stéphane Huët