At the serene jungle retreat of Osho Tapoban in the Nagarjun hills west of Kathmandu, a group of 13 Nepali artists, writers and musicians gathered last week for the five-day workshop called (modestly) Genius at Work.
The organiser was Sutra, a group that is trying to bring renowned Nepali artists together to bridge the generation gap and cross-pollinate ideas. In the process their simple and innovative approach kept participants interested and thoroughly entertained. The experience, for most, was an entirely new one.
Writer and satirist Krishna Murari Gautam (alias Chatyang Master) was ecstatic. "The workshop gave me a chance to cleanse my mind," he told us. "It was a great opportunity to know what others are doing, painting, sculpting and how I can help them be better and how they can help me be better. I feel enriched."
Sutra's prime mover, Ashmina Ranjit, also thought the experiment worked. "As younger artists we wanted to show respect to our gurus, know more about them and how they work. We wanted to know what is between their art and their art process," she said. Other members of the Sutra group include ceramic artist Kala Premi Shrestha, musician and freelance writer Sulil Subedi, painters Manish Shrestha and Sarita Dangol, graphic artist DP Upadhyaya and Sujan Chitrakar who teaches art at Kathmandu University.
The participants kept diaries in which they wrote down thoughts and feelings that arose during the five-day retreat. The only requirements were that they be completely honest and avoid dry accounts of what they did or what happened. "The purpose of this exercise was to help us and the participants understand their own and others' creative processes," explained Sutra member, Sujan Chitrakar.
Intoxicated by the jasmine delicately scenting the forest air, participants found their time at Tapoban a relaxing break from the tumult of their busy lives in the city. Some even commented on personal responses to the stark yet pleasant change of pace and lifestyle. Literary figure Khagendra Sangraula whose writing appears periodically in the Kantipur column Kushan Kaka, entertained the group with his musings while walking up the unending and agonisingly vertical stairs to reach the street or scramble down to the river just for a smoke. Tapoban prohibits tobacco. "Khagedra Sangraula brought in the positive and the negative, all his moods. To me it was interesting how he put his thoughts and feelings into creation as a writer and this was our goal with the exercise," said Ranjit.
Though everyone was asked to write, the artist participants were given an activity of their own. Each had a small piece of canvas to work with. Initially, some like Sankar Raj Singh Suwal were annoyed and demanded a larger canvas. But when he proceeded to paint on several long, rectangular pieces of canvas placed several inches apart from each other, the results were stunning: swirls of turquoise blues and emerald greens and a relief Buddha sitting in meditation fixed into a ball of light to the left of the painting (see pic). For the others, it was interesting to watch him work. "He was forced to think differently. The first step was to break the shape, a challenge he accepted. These were the kind of immediate result we were looking for," noted Ranjit.
Sashi Kala Tiwari, known for her vibrant expressions on canvas, had a different experience. On pieces of canvas resembling a rectangle cut in half diagonally, she painted two fallen leaves. "Nature was alive and all around, so I took the leaves and gave them their own identity to show that their existence is still very strong," she explains. When asked whether the oddly shaped canvas presented a challenge, she replies: "It's not about shape. It's about expression. It's about how you put yourself in the paper, poem, canvas. Everything else is minor." For Tiwari, most of the results of the workshop will be long-term, realised as her subconscious releases bits at a time. For now she appreciates young artists wanting to learn from her own experiences. She hopes they find a new road to call their own.
Non-artists and artists alike, all enjoyed the retreat. Artist and cartoonist Durga Baral learned new ways to solve problems in his work by seeing how other artists work, understanding the philosophy behind what they do