Sangeeta Thapa is the director of the Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu. In November 2008 she was in London for the Khulla Dhoka exhibition, with works by Nepalese and British artists. Revenues from selling the art will be donated to the Kathmandu Arts Centre soon to be established and a joint effort of Sangeeta Thapa and British artist Celia Washington.

Open doors: Sangeeta Thapa on art and dialogue in times of war

November 2008 -

"In Nepal, we have experienced ten years of civil war, with countless casualties and the highest number of missing persons in the world. Artists can play an important part in recording and telling others about what happened in that period. They can also influence the course of events. In March of 2006 I organised a large exhibition titled Open Doors (Khulla Dhoka). That was a period in which the king would not speak with the Maoists and they, in turn, would not speak with the government. We used the door as a metaphor for dialogue. One hundred and eight artists each made a door. We also invited a large number of foreign artists to participate. Open Doors was shown at a number of locations in Nepal and received an abundance of media attention.

Much of the work in the London exhibition is also a commentary on the political situation. In Lingering Presence by Sunil Sigdel, for example, Mao's image rises among a group of mourning people."

Sunil Sigdel,'Lingering Presence', 92 x 92 cm

"Artists certainly played an important part in the enormous changes in Nepal, and writers perhaps even more so than artists. The Maoists chopped the heads off of every statue of members of the royal family, leading to the strange situation of soldiers guarding statues. Mahesh Bikram Shah wrote an amazing book about that: The soldier and the statue.

Art can mean a lot, certainly when freedom of the press is threatened. The Maoists who now hold power killed many journalists during the civil war, and the current Prime Minister has already said a number of times that the press has too much power.

The art world is very small in Nepal and is characterised by the isolated position Nepal held for a long time. Now that the civil war is over, there is a total lack of infrastructure for the growth and development of contemporary art and scarcely any support for artists. This is why we are establishing the Kathmandu Arts Centre, for both Nepalese and international artists, with world-class exhibitions, workshops, seminars and an extensive international exchange programme. The future is about networking and communication."

Manuj Babu Mishra, ‘My Mona Lisa’, 119 x 91 cm

"The London exhibition is the first Nepalese artists have had in Europe. In that respect, we have a lot of catching up to do compared to our neighbouring countries, India and China. With the Kathmandu Arts Centre, we want to give the new generation of artists in Nepal an international stage."