When I asked the young promising painter Bidhata KC, “Why do you paint?” it was no more than a fleeting attempt at a routine question for me. The answer, less impetuous, filled me with deepening sensitivity compelling me to look beyond the apparent colours and forms on her canvas. “I paint to express, explore and understand myself, my identity and to make sense of my own feelings and desires.” It is thus no surprise that art critics have nothing but accolades for her work. “One gradually does not expect such philosophical musing from younger people…. she reflects and we feel it – the depth of her sensitivities towards life…,” wrote artist and art writer Madan Chitrakar.
For someone who has achieved so much in a mere six years in the field, it is surprising to know that Bidhata never nursed a desire to paint or draw during her childhood. “I did occasional doodling and I copied cartoons off comics, but I never really held any interest in art. Instead I was into sports and enjoyed volleyball thoroughly,” she recounts. A district level volleyball player and winner of player of the year award for her excellence in the final year in school, she says sportsmanship she developed then has today helped her immensely to stay focused and constantly reinvigorate herself in her work.
It was after SLC when she joined Lalit Kala Campus on her dad’s suggestion that she really took to art. “Even then I was not serious about art. I think it was only during my Bachelor’s level studies in 1998, that I really became serious about it,” explains Bidhata. She contributes this change to her age and maturity. “I was finally starting to introspect, explore and understand my inner feelings, and I found great joy and felt a sense of clarity expressing them through my work,” she says.
Bidhata’s earlier works were mostly academic forms, reflections of her outer world - nature and cultural motifs. Today she has evolved beyond realistic representation, and semi-abstract form is the hallmark of her current work. Still she credits her academic training for helping her build a foundation. “You will never be able to grasp the theoretical knowledge of art, appreciate the vastness of it if you pursue it just as a hobby without any formal trainnings,” she advises.
For Nepali artists, it is still difficult to make a living solely from their work and Bidhata says that she is no exception. “I have no option but to take up a job to survive.” Immediately after graduating in 2001, Bidhata worked with school children as a teacher and then as a curator in Buddha Gallery for three years, and today she divides her time between her art and as an art teacher at Lumbini International College. “I was little bit bored teaching school going children, but with college students, I have more freedom to experiment and a wider range of subject matter to cover. It’s like re-learning all over again,” she explains.
Commercial art is an option, but Bidhata understands that to establish herself as a contemporary artist, she cannot compromise her artistic merit by commercialising her art. “Of course I have to make a living and all my works are for sale, but when doing commercial art, it’s not mine but my customers’ feelings and perspective that will be more vested in, and I prefer not to work within such boundaries,” she explains.
Such is the attitude that Bidhata maintains in other aspects of her life also. “What cruel game did God play on you?” old women often sympathise with her when they see her right hand with three fingers missing. It is with such amazing deftness that Bidhata works that it never once lets you elicit a sense of defeat or remorse in her. But what is more astonishing is the attitude she carries. “May be I would have felt different if I had lost them due to an accident, but I was born like this and I don’t know any better. We all have some form of weakness and once in a while I do get disheartened about it like everyone does about their weakness” she says.
Emotions are the hallmark of her paintings. Lately it is in the theme of the leaf that Bidhata revels in. “I have always noticed the leaf even before the flowers,” she explains. A love affair that started in 2005, her series ‘Life is Leaf’ in 2007 won her acclaim both from art enthusiasts and critics alike. Today she continues to work on the theme, focusing more on the inner fragments of the leaf rather than the leaf as a whole. “I am one but my desires are many. Road to our goal is divergent for it comes with challenges and roadblocks that force us to maneuver around, be it self rule, cultural norms, traditions, etc. similar to the imprints of the branches found in leafs,” she says. It is in the striking similarity and strange interrelationship between a human life and a leaf that first drew Bidhata towards leaf. “A leaf is a symbolic embodiment of life, collective representation of nature. In its pristine beauty we often forget to relate that just like human life, a leaf suddenly appears, grows, radiates a sense of joy and beauty and suddenly vanishes back into nature.”
Death as an inevitable part of the life cycle is something Bidhata has experienced first hand, having lost her mother at 16. Today, Bidhata finds solace in her memories and finds inspiration from what little time she had with her. Whether it’s visiting galleries, travelling, doing group exhibitions or fellowship programmes, Bidhata takes each experience in life as a learning experience and derives inspiration even from the most mundane of situations. “Change is constant. Evolvement should thus only be inevitable. Today my desires are vested in leafs. It may change tomorrow, or it may not. I go with the flow. If something is impeding you to move forward in that flow, take that element out of your life,” she offers further adding, “Accept life as it is. If you can not accept it, life will be difficult for you.”
Mandan Chitrakar was most certainly right.
Text – Sharmila Gurung
Photo - Ashesh Dangol
– Nilima Sharma Mainali