OVERVIEW by Prof. Abhi Subedi

(This article was first published in CONTRIBUTIONS TO NEPALESE STUDIES, Vol. 22, July 1995, pp. 113-130. Reprint permission was kindly granted by the author)


Nepali art has the most distinctive identity of all the cultural artefacts of this country. The identity can be seen at both the vertical and horizontal levels in the system of culture through time and the socio-political structures that Nepal saw with every change in the country and in the neighbouring countries, such as India and China (Tibet included). Therefore the study of Nepali art involves the study of its history, government, politics, role of the elites and of the cultural policies adopted at different times.


Nepali art reflects the history and the socio-political structure. But most important of all does it reflect the Nepali way of looking at the world, at human life, beauty, hope and premonitions of doom and apocalypse. It reflects the Nepali Utopia. Such visions of Utopia have often shaped Nepali art, its various genres, and the Nepali way of looking at the world.


The focus of this introduction is thus the critical study of Nepali aesthetics as reflected it art's various forms, especially in painting. The article has two sections.


The first section covers a period of Nepali art that is considered its formative period as well as its golden age. Various forms of Nepali art were created simultaneously at different periods of Nepali history. Over the centuries many art forms were lost and especially in recent times many art pieces were taken away by Western collectors. Now these items have formed the basis for the study of Nepali art (some of the scholars are listed at the end of this article). The dispersal phenomenon is thus a very important aspect in the study of Nepali art.


The second section will cover a period of transition to modernity.


The third section will introduce the works of some contemporary artists showing present trends in the arts.