Interview with Christiane Brosius on Kathmandu Post

Walking through time

Nov 1, 2015- Christiane Brosius is professor of Visual and Media Anthropology at the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies of Heidelberg University in Germany. She is also a co-founder of SAI NepalHelp at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg. One of the photographers participating in the photography festival Photo Kathmandu, Christiane is currently researching on the Nepali art scene, with particular focus on migration, urbanisation and post-earthquake notions of heritage and locality by art collectives and institutions. The Post’s Alisha Sijapati talked with the artist about her exhibition and her interest in the patis of Patan. Excerpts:


Could you please describe for our readers what form this curated walk across Patan, visiting its patis (public arcaded platforms), will take? What kind of audio-visual elements can we expect to encounter?

The curated walk takes the visitor through alleys of Patan, connecting four patis and their communities. Each pati presents one of the manifold facets of this amazingly unique—and yet often overseen—public space. Starting from Patan Durbar Square, the visitor at Mangahiti is invited to journey into a time lapse, a trip availed through the lenses of two bioscopes capturing the vibrant life in and around a pati that is seen as a nodal point of everyday culture. How this has been changed after the earthquake is presented through music and photographs in nostalgic scenery at Chakabahal. In between four key sites, like smaller pearls on a string, visitors can discover eight more patis that relate personal experiences of locals to the site, glimpses of the diversity of urban life into a deep past and a fascinating present.

How does one plan/design a curated walk?

The design of the curated walk is based on several months of planning and engagement with the local communities, based on many conversations between the co-curators: Rajendra Shakya, Sujan Chitrakar and myself. We selected four from dozens of patis that we have begun to study as part of a larger research project on the urban fabric of Patan. The selection was based on the desire to show at least a few of the many qualities of this remarkable public site.

What kinds of tools are used to guide people through the space?

The ‘tools’ are the feet, ears and eyes. And each and every visitor’s sense of space and curiosity for the beauty of street life. Kathmandu valley’s urban culture is so unique, yet so marginalised. We hope that the people will develop a desire to find the hidden patis we have built into the curated, and yet un-mapped walk! It’s a treasure hunt, in some ways.

What role did you find these patis have in the lives of the local people?

The patis are important for all kinds of people passing through—even the deities stop over, take rest, during chariot processions, for instance. But many patis are also encroached, converted through privatisation. However, there are also communities and individuals that appreciate the pati for their everyday and ritual life, for their elderly people to rest and meet, for children and adults to play games, so in some instances they are carefully restored, in others build anew–for instance, in concrete. The use and role of the pati reflects the vibrant and ever-changing cultural practices of Nepali people. We hope that this project will contribute to the appreciation of the pati as important part of a fantastic city and its people.

How does your exhibition fit into the larger Photo Kathmandu festival and its central theme of ‘time’?

One motto of the festival is ‘build back stronger’. For me, the motto ‘We will rise again’ was crucial after the earthquake, and represented the enormous productive spirit of the young generation of people wanting to rebuild Nepal after the earthquake, the festival is a ray of hope, a creative think space and an energy container. ‘Time’ in this festival is granted to the everyday—to the people that truly make up Nepal, in all its troubled times. The patis cannot be seen without the people inhabiting, shaping—and even demolishing—them. The photographs and oral histories connected therewith bind the fragment to the larger whole of the festival.

Can you give us an example of a story that you will be relating on this curated walk?

 I take the liberty of telling two stories. The patis are part of a special soundscape. The first story is that of an early morning walk through Patan, early this year, and guided by sound. The sound of cymbals, drums, and voices, coming from a pati that, as we approach, is filled with the warm light of candles lit for the deities by a bhajan group. Linked to this are several conversations with themwho told us how the patis were their ‘homes’. And how, after the earthquake, the loss of the pati was a loss of all this, too. The second story is that of interviews taken during our research with women from Chyasal: these women related their hardship and workday to the pati as a place of joyous relief from sorrow and loneliness, a place where they could verbalise their family problems among their peers.

Published: 01-11-2015 09:04