Last year was a difficult one for Nepal. An earthquake in April killed over 8,000 people and caused widespread devastation. A few months later, the decision of Nepal’s top political parties to push through a Constitution after years of wrangling led to massive protests by marginalised groups like Madhesis and Janajatis who believe that the new charter discriminates against them.
This was, of course, rich material for the country’s artists to engage with and to create visual commentaries about. Among them are Manish Harijan whose work was on display at the eighth edition of the India Art Fair, which ended on Sunday.
Circle of life
From afar, Harijan’s installation titled Auspicious Suspicious looked pretty straightforward – luminous golden skulls mounted on golden plates on wooden blocks. But a closer look revealed the skulls had maggoty brains. An ever closer look showed that the brains were actually made of rice, lentils and corn.
Harijan said that the installation explored the notion of binary oppositions – the skull representing death offset by food grains symbolising life and regeneration.
“Through this installation I’m trying to represent the binaries that exist within our society – positive and negative, good and bad, the devil and the saint,” he said. “I’ve used the grain and the wood to symbolise life, positiveness and the strength to survive.”
Identity and politics
Auspicious Suspicious is also a testament to the circle of life, a theme that particularly resonates in Nepal after the death and destruction wrought by the April earthquake. “We believe in life after death,” said Harijan. “So in this work too there is life after devastation.”