As you enter the ground floor of the Mcube Gallery in Chakupat, Lalitpur, a huge untitled painting by Sangee Shrestha immediately catches your eye.
In the middle of the painting is a figure resembling a Buddha. On both sides of the figure are two symbols of dharmachakra (a Buddhist religious symbol), and the dark red and black color permeates the corners of the canvas. The board also has six square shaped boxes. Just above the figure are five squares painted red. There is a blue colored square right next to the heart of the figure.
At first glance, it is difficult to understand what the artist is trying to say because the patterns seem ambiguous. But once you know the theme of the work and the exhibition, everything becomes clear. The five red colored squares above represent negative thoughts, while blue represents the calm we have within us to combat these negative thoughts.
In short, the painting represents all of us who have fought the pandemic with a courageous and calm heart, despite being constantly disturbed by negativity, explains Shrestha, whose 38 works are on display with this painting on the premises of the gallery. Mcube.
âThrough this painting, I wanted to portray those days of hopelessness and despair that we all experienced during the second wave of Covid-19. Despite the many challenges, we have done our best to remain as brave and calm as possible, âsaid Shrestha.
Entitled “Sambeg”, this is Shrestha’s second solo art exhibition in her two-decade career.
Her first solo exhibition ‘Abyakta Abhibyaktiharu’ was held at the Siddhartha Art Gallery in 2009. For her second exhibition, she teamed up with Gallery Mcube founder and curator, Manish Lal Shrestha, and the exhibition features her paintings and his mixed media work, inspired primarily by the devastating second wave of Covid-19.
âLike anyone else, I have been through a roller coaster of emotions in the midst of the pandemic. I live next to a hospital. Every day I heard the sirens of the ambulance and the screams of people, which affected me mentally. I have seen my friends and family get sick. It was an environment of fear and uncertainty, âsays Shrestha. âIn such a difficult period, I took refuge in painting. Every day I created new works of art, painting my distinct style and channeling the emotions I was going through. I was really satisfied with what I was able to represent on the canvas and decided to show it to the world through this exhibition. “
Shrestha’s love for the arts began in her childhood. She started by drawing on every blank piece of paper she found, Shrestha recalls.
âI have always known that art was my true vocation. While deciding what to study for my graduate studies, I insisted with my parents that I only study the arts. Nothing else. And that’s how I enrolled at Lalit Kala campus for my undergraduate studies and started my artistic journey, âsays Shrestha.
While her studies at an art school provided her with many learning opportunities, she still felt that she had to create more than what was asked of her.
âAt that time, well-drawn works of art were praised. However, I wanted to break that down and redefine the meaning of art. I wanted to show that art doesn’t need to have definite shapes and to be perfectly drawn â, she says,
It took a while for Shrestha to hone her skills and develop her unique voice and style to represent her emotions in her works. She began to encompass geometric shapes in her paintings, especially squares, to break up the conventional linear structure.
âIn all geometric shapes, the square is the one I could relate to the most. Just like the boundaries of society, which limit us, the space within a square is also restrictive. Therefore, to represent such boundaries that prevent us from being vulnerable and being the real us, I started using squares in my works, which makes it my own style, âexplains Shrestha.
In her later works, Shrestha used squares as a pattern, which has become her trademark. In a few of his paintings there are faces with half-closed eyes, which Shrestha says is a motif used to represent emotions because the face is considered to be the true reflection of the people and feelings they cross.
Another underlying theme common to his recent works is faith and hope.
In many of the works of art on display there are images of Lord Ganesh and other religious images like a mandala, a lotus and a peacock feather. Likewise, the paintings also feature texts from many Buddhist and Hindu chants such as’Om Mani Padme Hum‘ and ‘Vakratunda Mahakaya‘juxtaposing with vivid divine colors like blue, red and yellow.
Shrestha says that before the pandemic, she rarely used religious motifs in her paintings.
âDuring the pandemic, like most people, I often prayed to the gods and goddesses to protect my friends and family from the pandemic. And because at that time I believed so much in religious faith and it brought me peace, I was inspired to use religious motifs in my new works of art, âsays Shrestha.
Basically, his works reflect our experiences and emotions of recent months. The works of art reflect our strength, our optimism and our faith.
However, none of the artwork in the exhibition is titled. There are just numbers stuck under the paintings. Unlike most exhibitions, there are no statements pasted under the works on display. Only the brochures, which mainly disclose the theme of the exhibition, inform the spectators.
For visitors, this can make it difficult to keep track of the work.
But according to Shrestha, this is something done intentionally. She says she doesn’t want to overload visitors with information or preconceived opinions, because she wants people to derive their own meaning from it.
âI want people to be interested in my works. I want them to look at the works and draw their own interpretations based on their own experiences and how they might resonate with my work. If I had put in a statement or any text, it would have limited the meaning of my work, which I don’t want to happen, âsays Shrestha.
During her two-decade career, Shrestha has produced over 200 group exhibitions. But this is his only second solo exhibition.
âI don’t do solo exhibitions just for fun. I only do this when I am satisfied with my work. I am satisfied with the works of art that I have created and that are on display in this exhibition, âsays Shrestha. âI think I was able to sum up the feelings of hope and hopelessness I felt during confinement in my works.