Patron in Heidelberg: Christiane Brosius, with Nadine Plachta
More than a month after the first big earthquake hit Nepal, it is clear that the recovery of anything called ‘normal life’ will take a lot of time. The loss of family members and friends has to be bereaved, houses have to be rebuilt, farmland restored and businesses reactivated, but social ties and emotional turmoils too have to be looked after. While some villages have been completely destroyed, with whole communities being dislocated in camps far away, other communities have managed to stay close to their destroyed or damaged homes, hardly any one was able to move back into the houses, also because of the fear of returning aftershocks that might lead to the final collapse. Government help is still scarce, donations flow asymmetrically. But Nepalis have returned to some kind of everyday life. In some cases, they find support, very often, they (have to) manage on their own. Hitmaan Gurung, Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Mekh Limbu are founding members of an artist collective by the name of Artee, based in Kathmandu. We know each other since two years. The three have been active in art education and social activism since a long time, previously mostly related to work with underprivileged children, with environmental issues such as climate change, or the cheap labour migration of Nepalis to the Gulf states. Since the earthquake in April, they have been active in setting up a community project in Thulo Byasi, a very affected area of the farmer’s town of Bhaktapur (where we also have a restoration project). Almost all the houses have collapsed, and even though not many
casualties could be reported, most of the people now live in various camps, and many are traumatised, their work lives often disrupted. What makes the Community Project remarkable is the steady presence of the artists and their other partners and friends, engineers and teachers, at the site, that is, their commitment: they carefully approached the members of the neighbourhood, trying to find out what was needed, how best ‘help’ could be offered. But the initiative works on the basis of participation and self-help, thus there are three sub-projects: a children’s art project, women empowerment classes and a camp hub, that is a café-like place where people can casually meet and talk, not constantly reminded of their homelessness and vulnerability. The aim with all these projects is to create a ‘safe’ and creative space, to
mourn, enjoy, or reflect and address critical issues. Hitmaan, Sheelasha and Mekh try to rope in local help, for instance, teachers, who will slowly take over, one reason being that the community there speaks Newari, a local dialect of the indigenous population of the Kathmandu Valley, which already differs between Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, lying some 20 kms apart. They also know that with the coming monsoon, many of the farmers in the community will not be able to work, and are already fairly underprivileged. The project so far has not received much funding, much support has come from the artists’ themselves.
In the art classes, the children are encouraged to talk about or visually articulate their experience of the earthquake, anxieties or even anger, but also reflect how they could contribute to rebuilding Nepal, help is also given to the parents, who are often worried whether their traumatised children can cope.
Please see Report by Nadine Plachta (5.6.2015).
See also the refering article “How a Local Artist Collective Is Responding to Nepal Earthquake“
Project coordinators in Nepal
| Hit Man Gurung
| Sheelasha Rajbhandari
| Mekh Limbu