February 2, 2015

Kyoorius Knocks: NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati

by Anusha Narayanan

NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati caught our attention when we came across her project – Being Nepali in the New Democratic Republic of Nepal and traced it back to photo.circle. Being Nepali is a photographic documentation of the ethnic diversity of Nepal, something that surprised us too, as not many know about it. The project captures portraits of people from some of the ethnic groups and brings out the serious political and social debates raging in the mind of the photographer.

NayanTara is also a media producer from Kathmandu, who has been researching and documenting the idea of ‘New Nepal’, post the People’s War against Maoists (1996-2006). She studied International Relations and Studio Art from Mt Holyoke College, Massachusetts, and followed it with a Masters in Documentary Photography from SALT Institute of Documentary Studies, Portland, Maine.

Being Nepali_02 Being Nepali_05 © NayanTara Gurung KakshapatiBeing Nepali in the New Democratic Republic of Nepal © NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati

After returning to Nepal in 2006, NayanTara started photo.circle which is now an emerging platform for photographers in Nepal to exhibit and promote their work. In the process they also learn from each other and come across different iterations of Nepal as seen through each other’s eyes, through workshops, publications, exhibitions and commissioned assignment work. photo.circle also started Nepal Picture Library in 2010, a project wherein rare and old photographs and albums of Nepali families are archived. We had a dialogue with NayanTara on New Nepal and photography. Below are some excerpts from the same.

What does being Nepali in the new democratic republic mean to you personally?

At the time I started the Being Nepali series, I felt that my personal awareness of my ethnic identity was much more acute than ever before in my life. I am half Newar and half Gurung and this seemed to matter to people a lot. I was suddenly not only janajati but on double counts. Identity politics related to issues of political representation and state restructuring was rife [in Nepal]. Political parties were breaking up on the lines of ethnic identities and consensus on state restructuring was left pending due to this. I had, of course, lived a privileged life without having to bear ethnicity-based discrimination but I was beginning to question it all, be it populist tactics within politics or issues of true representation and equality.

Being Nepali_14 © NayanTara Gurung KakshapatiBeing Nepali_20 © NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati Being Nepali in the New Democratic Republic of Nepal © NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati

What did you chance upon in the process of the Nepal Picture Library project?

All the photos which we were able to gather for Nepal Picture Library were ‘rare’ in the sense that these photos are mostly from people’s private family albums and collections that would otherwise never be seen in the public domain. However, these photographs also represent a shared history because most of us retain little pieces of our past and cherish them as photos. The aim of Nepal Picture Library is not just to archive rarity but in fact to embalm a sense of collective, shared history. Eventually, we hope to make the archive accessible online as a database that researchers, artists, social scientists, curators, students, and others to use and benefit from.

Nepal Picture Library - Mukunda Bahadur Shrestha Collection  Nepal Picture Library (Above: Left – Mukunda Bahadur Shrestha Collection/Nepal Picture Library, Right – Juju Bhai Dhakwa Collection/Nepal Picture Library)Nepal Picture Library  Juju Bhai Dhakwa Collection/Nepal Picture Library

As of now, where do you see both the projects – Being Nepali[…] and Nepal Picture Library – going?

Nepal Picture Library is growing fast. This year, we are working on making a new online portal where collections will be made available online. We are adding an oral history component to the archive, and are going to do books and exhibitions; hopefully we’ll get to present them at several museums here in Nepal and around the world. We are developing a curricular project and will be working with schools to take some of this alternative history to classrooms. The Being Nepali series has been selected to be exhibited at Photo Phnom Pehn in February 2015. That’s thrilling to us!

npl_2014_rms03_00083          Rabi Mohan Shrestha Collection/Nepal Picture Library

npl_2013_smg01_00380         Sumitra Manandhar Gurung Collection/Nepal Picture Library

Any other interesting projects or collaborations that you are currently working on?

I have started working on a new project on migration. It is a collaboration between a long-time human rights campaigner, a researcher and a film maker. I will be photographing it myself. It will be a multimedia project that will try to document the lives of Nepali migrant workers in Qatar and their families back home. [Right now] I am trying to put the various pieces together and raise funds.

We are also working on setting up a small photography festival in Nepal. We finally think it’s time – and we are elated about it. Everyone should mark 1-5 November 2015 in their calendars to come visit us in Kathmandu.

NayanTara’s socio-political documentation of Nepal is not restricted to just these two projects. For more, visit her website.

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