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Mundane Friction to Self-Flow: An artist’s odyssey of emotions, faith and identity

Solo art exhibition by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha
Solo art exhibition by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self Flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha

Life is a combination of day and night where one struggles every moment to survive and thrive. “Mundane Friction to Self-Flow” a solo exhibition of drawings and paintings by artist Umesh Shrestha is the visual diary of his personal creative journey from 1992 to 2023.

The exhibition showcases Shrestha’s life journey where he expresses his emotions, experiences, faith and philosophy. He says, “This is my attempt to be true to myself and art is the only thing that helps me connect to myself, my true identity.”

Paintings by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha
Paintings by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self Flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha

Viewers can witness his beautifully executed oil and acrylic paintings focusing on the tundals, temple struts, toranas and deities of Nepal. However, huge temple bells are his signature motif used frequently in his paintings, since 2004. The exhibition kicked off on September 8 at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal where one can also view paintings dealing with figures, landscapes, portraits and more.

At the exhibition

Umesh Shrestha believes that artists should rise up from their roots and create their truth, being honest with their inner expressions. And this is visible in the exhibition where his culture, tradition and observation come alive in the form of paintings and drawings. He says, “My works are the response to my surroundings including socio-political scenes.”

Artist Umesh Shrestha at the exhibition Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha
Artist Umesh Shrestha at the exhibition Mundane Friction to Self Flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery. Photo: Sangita Shrestha

Umesh Shrestha has used acrylic and oil colour mediums on canvas and created paintings that are a mix of realistic and abstract forms. There are human figures as well as different geometric forms which are placed in harmony projecting his concept and a distinct voice.

In one of his paintings, ‘Dream, reality & soliloquy’ he explores the condition of Nepal and those who joined the Maoist force for the People’s Movement in 1996 with the hope of a better nation and future. This movement is parallelly compared with the People’s Movement of France, in which he takes the reference of Delagorix’s Libertys leading the people and asks a serious question about the authenticity of the People’s Movement in Nepal.

'Dream, reality & soliloquy' by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha
‘Dream, reality & soliloquy’ by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha

In the painting, the part where Guernica is painted, its sky is clear showing the vast horizon and the path is also clear. However, the part of the sky where he has painted the Maoist guerrilla woman holding a rifle is obstructed by a horizontal check line. Nevertheless, a wooden ladder has been placed on top of it up to the moon. Then at the centre of the canvas inside a frame, he painted a temple bell. Moreover, on the bottom of the frame he has painted the flag of Nepal on a crumbled paper and the base of the figures has been distorted showing uncertainty about the people’s path as well as the nation’s dilemma.

Shrestha through this painting questions the legitimacy of the People’s Movement and the death of around 12,000 people. Along with it, he questions the sacrifice of lives who joined Maoist rebels for a better future.

“What has war given us? Nothing,” he says.

However, with the use of the temple bell in his paintings he depicts his trust towards divinity and hopes for a better future despite having an uncertain present.

Likewise, in another painting ‘Between Tech and Power Game’ he showcases the current conflict in the world which is similar to the war happening due to technology, along with showing the superiority of the nation by having and using the latest technology. In the painting, again a temple bell becomes the centre of the canvas and it is in motion. Under the bell, he has pasted the parts of the CPU—motherboard signifying the use of technology.

Painting by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha
Painting by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha

Understanding the meaning of his motifs

For Shrestha, the bells represent not only his faith towards the god but it is also the symbol of evoking awareness.

“As viewers, we are left to ponder if his bells symbolise the conflict between tradition and technology or is it to evoking the ringing in of a new political era,” says Sangeeta Thapa, Director of Siddhartha Art Gallery. “Could we also surmise that the bells herald the political disenchantment many citizens now feel in the aftermath of the civil war? Or is it all the above and is this the mundane friction that the artist is visually referring to?”

Painting by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha
Painting by Umesh Shrestha Mundane Friction to Self Flow at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Sangita Shrestha

Moreover, Shrestha says that the things he experienced, observed and became passionate about inspired him to create motifs like the temple bell.

“When I came to Kathmandu I was just a teenager and going against my parents I pursued a Fine Arts education. This led to my isolation from my family,” he says. “And when you have no one who supports you, you survive and keep on moving believing in one great energy and this is where the temple bell existed in my paintings.”

Eventually, in the course of following his passion, he completed his MFA and also became an academician at the Nepal Academy of Fine Arts from 2014 to 2018. Likewise, he met his life partner in the course of wandering and teaching art in schools.

“Whoever I have become today, it is all because of my passion for art,” he says. “One should be determined in own passion and no matter what challenges life offers you, you have to take and keep moving on trusting yourself. This is how life led me till here.”

Today in his late 40’s he is not only an artist but also a father to his architect/artist son. Shrestha who realises the potential of art and how impactful it is, says, “Now I can focus more on my art and I am looking forward to creating a series of paintings exploring socio-political context.”

The exhibition continues till September 29.

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Shrestha is a senior sub-editor at Onlinekhabar. Contact her at [email protected].

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