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The face of faceless art

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of waterless and powerless Kathmandu, you may want to duck into the retrospective of artist Surendra Pradhan at the Park Gallery at Pulchok. The relaxing exhibit is a window into the world you just left. On the street outside, the chariot of Machendranath is getting its finishing touches, and a long queue of motorcycles is waiting for fuel at a petrol pump down the road.

Surendra Pradhan is one of Nepal’s greatest modern artists and the exhibition showcases some of his most striking creations from the past 30 years. Influenced by cubist greats such as Pablo Picasso and Henry Matisse, it is Pradhan’s obvious Nepali influences and emphasis that distinguish his work.

‘Surendra Pradhan – A Retrospective’ begins with his early watercolours and woodcuts made when he was a young student at the JJ School of Art in Mumbai. Scenes of an ocean or a clean city street betray his European influences. The people depicted in these predominantly pastoral scenes are not the focus however, nor are they European. They are like the people you see everyday in your peripheral vision, but hardly notice. They are carrying water across a green field, two friends chatting outside a storefront in the town square. They are identifiable by their familiar setting, but they are faceless.

This faceless theme carries over to the main portion of the exhibit. Walk through the tasteful open-air courtyard to experience the Aha moment. It is obvious these paintings are what Pradhan is known for. A musical band wearing Nepali topis with drums hanging at their waistes, and a spattering of tika on the forehead of the protagonists are just the obvious examples of the influence and expression of Nepal in his work.

Displayed in a two floor exhibit the works resemble mosaics or stained class windows. A combination of bright colours and earth tones, along with broad sweeping curves meeting sharp points characterise each painting. Where the figure of a mother ends and her baby begins is inseparable. But the faceless subjects are the most unifying and powerful theme. The identity of the mother and baby is not important. They are familiar, and even without a face depicted on their head, or only a single eye, we know who they are.

Together, the 40 pieces of Pradhan’s art paint the picture of Nepal. Each painting is a window, and what it frames stands on its own. Each parade scene and gossiping neighbors stands alone. Each is a window into life in Surendra Pradhan’s native land, and his identity.

Matt Miller

“Surendra Pradhan – A Retospective’
Park Gallery, Pulchok
Sunday-Friday from 10:30AM-6:00PM
Till 18 July

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