When Bibhakar Shakya lifted the veil to see one of his father-in-law’s self-portraits at the Museum of Nepalese Art (MONA) a few days ago, he had a warm smile on his face.
As Rajan Sakya, the founder of the museum, ended his speech with emotion with the note “Lain Singh Bangdel now lives here”, during the unveiling of the painting at the Thamel museum, Bibhakar beamed with pride.
Bibhakar Shakya, now 58, has been archiving the works of the greatest Nepalese artist, Lain Singh Bangdel, for several years.
For Bibhakar, finding a permanent home for one of Lain Singh Bangdel’s works at MoNA was a moment of comfort. It was one more step towards his life goal of securing the Bangdel legacy.
âI have to make sure that his legacy is passed on. I owe it to his contribution to Nepalese art. There is this sense of urgency that keeps me going now as time constantly flies. After Dina’s departure, I consider it my sole responsibility and also a privilege to work on art and literature related projects to highlight Bangdel’s landmark contributions to the arts, literature and history of Nepalese art. If I don’t, it might not happen at all and I want the next generation to remember him, âa solemn Bibhakar said in his Zoom conversation with the Post.
Lain Singh Bangdel was the artist who introduced modern trends in Western art to Nepal. He was also an art historian and in 1989 published the book âStolen Pictures of Nepalâ, which documented over 300 missing religious icons from the Kathmandu Valley.
Bibhakar was a school student when he first heard of Bangdel.
âI’ve always been interested in literature, and it was at school that I got to know him. I have read his iconic novels of Nepalese literature like Muluk Bahira, Maitaghar, and Langadako Saathi, all he wrote in the 1950s when he lived in Calcutta, âBibhakar said. âHe was a fantastic writer. His lyrics were lyrical and his stories were socially significant. In addition, his characters gave a outlook on life that people don’t easily think of, as in Langadako Sathi. “
He did not know at the time that one day he would be the man’s son-in-law. Bibhakar met Dina Bangdel while he was pursuing his graduate studies at Ohio State University.
âMy life changed in many ways after meeting Dina. She and Lain Singh Bangdel have had a great influence on my life, in the way I look at art, culture, art history and literature, âsaid Bibhakar, consultant based in Richmond, Virginia, in the USA. âI had been very interested in art and literature since my high school years, however, both inspired and touched my life beyond what I imagined. I have done well professionally as a Doctor of Economics, but these art and literature projects are what I find exciting and give me the real zest for life.
Today, many members of the artistic community love Bibhakar and are interested in the projects he leads to preserve and promote the work of the Bangdels – his wife and stepfather.
âDina has worked with many people on the art scene. She was more connected with the artistic culture of the country and devoted much of her life to promoting them on the world stage. I have helped and supported his businesses as much as I could, âBibhakar said. âAnd it was she who wanted to preserve and bring together the works of her father to bring his heritage to life. It was important to her. And it is important for me now, more than ever, to work on his business, for my children and for the next generation. “
In the art history of Nepal, the contribution of Lain Singh Bangdel can never be forgotten. His works mark an era itself in the country’s modern art scene. However, in these difficult times, many still do not know him and his works.
Last year, the art community was disheartened when Bangdel’s 1955 watercolor of a woman was purchased for just 100 pounds. Many artists have come forward and said the price is too low for an artist of Bangdel’s caliber and someone who has made a huge contribution to the country’s art scene.
âI think the incident showed us how much we still have to showcase and discuss what Bangdel’s works mean to the world. The younger generation and many people outside the artistic world do not really know him. They haven’t heard from him, âBibhakar said. âWhich makes my job all the more important. I firmly believe that his works should be recognized and respected both at home and abroad.
Bibhakar remembers his stepfather as a down-to-earth gentleman and someone who enjoyed socializing and genuinely cared about people, regardless of their social status or professional background.
âMy father and mother-in-law, Manu Kumari Thapa, used to organize many dinners. And in these gatherings, he engaged in intellectual discussions about politics, science, music and art. His hospitality is one of the things people who knew him still remember, âBibhakar said. “Bangdel was a versatile personality – he created various genres of paintings such as landscape, figurative, portrait, and abstract arts. He has also written both fiction and non-fiction and has also led the Nepalese art scene as Chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy.
Bangdel painted whenever he was inspired and was in the mood to let his mind run free on paper. And Bibhakar remembers admiring his dedication and passion for art when they lived together for a time in Columbus, Ohio, in the early 1990s.
âHe enjoyed the process of creating his works. And when he started working on his painting, he was totally focused. He went on for hours and didn’t even take a break to eat, âBibhakar explained. âHe was also very calm and organized. When we browsed through his works at home, we pleasantly found that he was meticulously organized with his collections. All his letters and photographs were carefully dated and sorted.
Even then, for Bibhakar, organizing the inventory of Bangdel’s work and making the tough decisions about what to do with it, where to place it, and thinking about what Bangdel and his wife would have wanted with that work was an experience. overwhelming. The trip also meant sifting through memories and learning more about the family.
âI love working on these projects, setting my deadlines and discussing the work of Bangdel jee and my wife with people. But yes, there are days when the process exhausts you emotionally. It’s not easy when the memories come back. But it’s just life, right? he said.
Today, Bibhakar is also working on translations of Bangdel’s books as part of his efforts to make the works of the late artist more accessible to people around the world. The translation of Langadako Sathi is slated for release this year, and Bibhakar is also working on turning the book into a movie. He will also begin work on the manuscript of other literary works by Bangdel. Maitighar and Muluk Bahira in 2022.
Bibhakar also simultaneously worked on an art book which includes paintings by Lain Singh Bangdel. The artbook, he says, will showcase Bangdel as a modern artist and his wife Manu Kumari Thapa, who was Prasuti Griha’s matron and was his pillar of support. He also plans to create a permanent gallery dedicated to Bangdel’s work in the years to come.
âI’m also currently planning a Bangdel art retrospective exhibition in New York in 2022 in the hope that it will give him the world stage he so deserved. His retrospective art exhibit will travel to other states in the United States such as California, Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina. There is actually a lot to do and it gets more exciting every day, âhe said.
Bangdel’s works are believed to be spread across Europe, Japan, and the United States. As Bibhakar perseveres to build a healthy archive of his works, he has established networks with people and organizations around the world who own Bangdel’s works.
âOne thing I learned from my stepdad is to do the things you want to do right now. He used to say don’t wait until tomorrow, âBibhakar said. âAnd that’s what I’m doing now. I want to do it now and I want to return Bangdel’s works and memories to society.
It is obvious that for Bibhakar, it is more than an obligation and rather his promise to keep. He also thinks it is a privilege for him to be part of such a monumental legacy.
These days when people invite him to talk about Lain Singh Bangdel and his works, Bibhakar feels proud and more than blessed to witness the lives Bangdel touched.
At MoNA, he was delighted with the discussion of Bangdel’s self-portrait from 1989 which portrayed his bliss and contentment with life. âThe year 1989 was when Bangdel retired from his professional work and maybe it was when he decided to live for himself,â said Rajan Sakya, addressing a small group. artists.
And throughout the speech, Bibhakar’s eyes shone with joy and appreciation.
âWhen you see people discussing his works and remembering his contributions, it makes all the more sense that I have to work to keep his legacy alive,â Bibhakar said.