Refugees and the City:  Kathmandu Triennale Art Exhibition – kathmandu triennale
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Refugees and the City:  Kathmandu Triennale Art Exhibition

Special Note: Come, join us tomorrow at Yalamaya Kendra at 1 PM for a special screening of The Crossing, a film by George Kurian, will be followed by a short panel discussion on the urban refugee community of Kathmandu as featured in the work of artist Sujan Dangol.

The halls of Nepal Art Council Gallery in Babarmahal are abuzz with artists and volunteers working on numerous tasks to install artworks.

In one of the corners,  playing with a piece of clay dough in her hand, Hanifa* carefully uses a spatula to give shape to a small bird in preparation for  a mega-art event in Kathmandu.

For the last three weeks, she has been working as a volunteer at the gallery, one of the venues in the capital city, where artworks of national and international artists will be displayed for the upcoming Kathmandu Triennale event.

“I am trying sculpting for the first time and I  love it,” said Hanifa, who fled her country and sought asylum in Nepal.

Hanifa is among a few selected refugees helping the event organizer with  various tasks, from creating art to cleaning floors to painting walls and fixing wooden boards at the gallery in preparation for the festival, organized by the Siddhartha Arts Foundation.

From March 24 – April 9, Kathmandu will transform into a mecca of art, where some 80 national and internationally renowned artists are gathering to showcase their creative works under the theme: “The City, My Studio / The City, My Life,” curated by Philippe Van Cauteren, Artistic Director of Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.) in Ghent, Belgium.

Artists involved in the exhibition are working round the clock to display their creative works, which reflect on  changes brought about by processes of displacement, migration and urbanization, as  Kathmandu has evolved and embraced change over the time.

Among the artists with works on display is Sujan Dangol, a young emerging artist from Nepal, who is working on a refugee theme.

“The city is a place where everyone belongs and creates their own space. But I found that refugees were living in a vacuum state,” the 36-year-old artist  said. “Although they live in the city, they didn’t fully belong there and faced lots of challenges.”

Dangol said he is using the power of disconnection to show the connection between the refugees and the city.

“Through my art, I want to show that refugees also belong in the society and that they are not here by choice.”

Dangol has been engaging with the refugee community for the past three months, and will be illustrating an audio-visual medium to display his artwork.

“Right now, the refugee issue is the focus of global attention. I want to connect their lives and their hopes with the people who are living a normal life,” the artist said.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the planet is witnessing the highest levels of forced displacement since World War II. Globally, an unprecedented 65.3 million people have been forced from their homes due to war and fear of persecution. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

As Hanifa finishes sculpting the latest addition to her collection of clay birds, she notes “I never imagined I would be a refugee. The tag of ‘refugee’ pains me. I didn’t choose to be one, but the circumstances left me with no other options.”

She believes that such art events are important to bring the refugee issue into the public domain.

“As for now, I feel like I am a bird with clipped wings. I have my own identity, but for the time being it is lost somewhere.”

*The real name of the refugee has been changed and other details withheld for confidentiality reasons.

By Deepesh Das Shrestha, Senior External Relations Associate at UNHCR Nepal.