September 20, 2012
On September 14, I posted an article on Manish Harijan's controversial show that opened at Sangeeta Thapa’s Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu. I included a photo of the painting “Super Kali”, which seems to have caused the most public outrage. CLICK HERE
I wrote at the time that, although I understood why Hindus might feel uncomfortable with some images, the content in no way justified death threats from Hindu fundamentalists and that it was my view that the artist was “merely exploring the extent to which contemporary culture has impacted Hindu culture” and, as such, should be allow to exhibit his work.
It occurs to me, however, that it would be helpful to include photographs of other pieces in Mr. Harijan’s one-man show so that readers who haven’t the opportunity to visit the gallery may have a better-informed opinion of the artist’s true intentions.
In addition to the photos, I have included descriptions lifted from the gallery’s catalogue written to accompany the show. All photos are curtsey of Thomas L. Kelly.
"I am like Itoclinas- why do you hang me like a Puppet"
The reference to Itoclinas, the pure spirit, is from the Hollywood film “Avatar”.
In the painting that reconstructs Diego Velasquez’s image of the regal child, Margarita Teresa of Spain, Manish portrays her as a pawn used by the state to advance their mercantile interests. The child dangles two Nepali puppets. By merging these images into his painting he creates a body of work that transcends geography and is both socio-political and paradoxical in content. The artist makes a powerful statement about how the West is still extending its control over the global economy and poorer nations. The hallmark of Manish’s work is the merging of cultures, the parody of globalization and a satirical take on society at large. How the viewer accepts these bold works packed with so much punch, will be an interesting exercise in itself.
"Upside Down Mountain"
In this painting, the artist reaches back to the epic Ramayana and to Hanuman’s search for a plant that serves as the elixir of life. Human greed, the over exploitation of nature’s resources and mankind’s detachment from nature itself is the commentary provided by this work.
This painting is thematically reminiscent of the work of Tibetan artists, who have been addressing the commercialization of spirituality and all pervasive materialism in their works.
In this satirical painting, Manish highlights the struggle of working class Nepali citizen, with his knotted and gnarled face. The insurmountable day to day challenges require superhuman strength- hence the Superman outfit. The fluid dance posture associated with the Natraj seems unbalanced as our Super Natraj ungainly stands on the precipice of life itself. The specter of violence that has seeped into the country becomes a moot point here, as our Super Natraj holds a lotus and a gun in each hand. The influence of contemporary Tibetan art can be seen in the artist’s composition – the stylized clouds and mountains, the flat background with decorative floral elements.
The artist uses the ancient mystical number 108 to pay homage to his own pantheon of superheroes. Each seems ready to roll into action from the traditional niche-like space associated with the local deities.
"Bhairav and Captain America Play Together"
Life and Death are reoccurring themes in this young artist’s
paintings and can be seen in
“Bhairav and Captain American play together”. Bhairav, the wrathful manifestation of Lord Shiva jostles with Captain American – frolics aside, the content has political gravitas and myriad interpretations.
The superheroes in comic book from emerged in the 1930s and have since then generated their own following. The American at critic Cathy Horn, reviewing a show Understanding Power Dressing of the Superheroes at the Metropolitan Museum in 2008, for the New York Times writes “Superheroes first emerged in the late 1930s, in the years between the Great Depression and the beginning of the World War II. American utopianism literally colored the costumes and avenging exploits of the comic heroes as they hurled bowling balls and other objects at the heads of the Axis dictators”. The narratives of the superheroes have almost always been centered around politics. They defend the values of democracy-check the abuse of power, root out corrupt individuals and eliminate megalomaniacs and despots who seemingly threatens the very existence of mankind. In January 2012, The Elis Contemporary Art gallery in USA presented a show, My Hero. The curatorial text for the show reads: “ the allure of the superheroes lives in their selflessness and in the fact that they are prepared to place the greater needs of others ahead of their own wants and desires”.
The myth of the superhero is further propagated by the fact they seem to “embody and magnify a single aspects of the human potential in each of us.” Their larger than life heroics now find continuum in print, on the big screen, in Broadway theaters”, in symposiums that discuss their individual philosophies and their costumes, college projects and in contemporary art galleries around the world.
It is interesting to note that Pop Art is being re-contextualized in the contemporary art scene in Nepal by artists such Sujan Chitrakar, Laxman Karmacharya and Sudeep Balla. Following this trend, Manish paints his superheroes as Super Pop Gods, He believes that “Superheroes espouse the philosophy of most religions: Do not kill. Do not steal”.
Though the epic stories of the Hindu mythology seem detached from present day realities, the subconscious mooring of an ancient and inherited culture looms large. The artist prompts his viewers to explore the shared philosophies, ideals and similarities of the Gods and Superheroes.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Manish Harijan is the recipient of KCAC’s Margret Washington Memorial Scholarship Award. In 2012, he graduated from the Kathmandu University Center for Art and Design.