There appears a certain contradiction in the photographs of women who have their faces covered but share their complete details upfront, with their hands clutching their identity cards. “Just because you know their name and family details does not mean you know everything about them,” says Hit Man Gurung.
The Kathmandu-based artist puts out the portraits — in the work My Home, My Land and My Country at the India Art Fair (Booth B 14) — to discuss issues, from patriarchy to blockade at the Indo-Nepal border and discrimination of communities. The women belong to the Tharu community of the Terai region, near the border. A marginalised group, they have been protesting the federal delineation of new states as proposed in the constitution. “They fear it will affect their political representation,” says Gurung, 29.
He places gas cylinders in bronze next to the portraits to symbolise the basics that are unavailable after the blockade. “People don’t realise the impact,” adds Gurung. As a student at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, in 2007, he organised a protest “Walking on the Streets”, demanding the introduction of a Masters course in fine art. The demonstration had students carrying a portrait of themselves painted by Gurung. “Real stories should be told through the people affected,” notes Gurung.
In another project, he is documenting Nepalese migrant labourers who leave their families and country behind to join the work forces in foreign countries, especially the Middle East. “Many are injured or die due to substandard working conditions,” says Gurung. In the last four years, he has met up with families of such workers. While several migrants have featured in his portraits, posing against stark, minimal backgrounds, his studio has videos of the devastated homes and objects, including passports and identity cards. There is a coffin too — used to send the bodies of the migrants to Nepal. The artist will turn it into an installation, signifying their last journey home.