“Hide not your talents, they for use were made,
What's a sundial in the shade?”
Rarely does one come across an artist who begins painting when she moves to a neighboring country and two years later is exhibiting her works at a gallery in London. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Painting is only one of the many passions that fill her busy life. She also writes books and articles, curates art exhibits and plays lead roles in theater performances. Yes, as a visual artist, writer, curator and theater actor, Kurchi Dasgupta puts on many hats.
We went through what felt like a maze before reaching her residence and realized that the round-about way of getting to her apartment was only because the roads inside the colony are one-way. Kurchi was there at the door to greet us along with the stray dog that she has adopted.
With her son off to Abu Dhabi for his studies and her husband at work, Kurchi was alone but for her servant girl. She has been living in Kathmandu since 2005 and that’s also when she found inspiration to take up painting seriously. “The peace and the spiritual calmness of Kathmandu is probably what got me going,” she says, explaining why it all began here in this capital city. But she has also been living in the most peaceful quarters of the valley; first in Budanilkantha and now in tranquil Bhaisepati.
Born in Ballygunj, Calcutta (now of course Kolkata) in 1974, Kurchi attended South Point before moving to Modern High School to complete her 11 and 12. In 1994 she took a diploma course in Commercial Art at the Birla Institute of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Later at Jadavpur University where she completed her BA and MA courses she excelled, becoming the Gold Medalist in both the courses. She received her Master of Arts degree in Comparative Literature in 1998.
The following year in 1999, she married Kanishka and by 2005 was employed as CEO of the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films (The Ray Society). “Then my husband was offered a job in Kathmandu which left me in a dilemma. Should I move to Kathmandu with him and leave my job?” she recalls thinking. But then she was fortunately given the option of working from Kathmandu, so Kurchi grabbed the opportunity and came to Nepal which proved to be a life changing move.
In the quietude of Budanilkantha which she now misses, Kurchi started painting abstracts and miniatures in gouache. Amazingly, by July 2007 her works were already being exhibited in a group exhibition at the Brick Lane Gallery in London. It was then time for her to go solo. “I had my first solo exhibition entitled World Cinema: A Dialogue at the Millennium Gallery, London in 2008. The second was Mahabharata: An impression at the Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu in January 2010. Following this I exhibited Bishoy Mahabharata at Imago Dei in August which I then took to the Nehru Centre in London for a September 2010 exhibit where I displayed twenty-one of my works,” she informs.
Kurchi is impossibly versatile, painting anything from scrolls to miniatures to abstract on large canvases. She read 4000 pages of the Mahabharata which resulted in her interpretations through paintings in oil, gouache and mixed media, taking two and a half years to complete. Her World Cinema; A dialogue were interpretations of films by the giants of world cinema like Kurosawa, Truffaut, Ray and Kubrick.
As we climb up to her studio on the first floor, she says, “I’ve been shortlisted for Harvard SAI fellowship and did an interview via skype recently. Out of ten of us, four will be selected,” We are surprised to see just a few paintings in her studio upstairs. But she explains, “Sorry, I don’t have a collection to show you because as I paint them they get sold off.” Her paintings are as diverse as her career seems to be. Dasgupta is inspired by regional geopolitics and gender issues and explains her views, “I’m concerned about how we South Asians can put up a common front for the rest of the world to see in the field of art. I’ve written about Nepali female artists from Bhadra Kumari Ghale to Biddhata K.C. and am very interested in the similarities and differences between Nepali and other Asian artists.” One fact that struck her was that traditional Nepali art has a stronger standing than contemporary art here in Nepal, outselling the latter by a wide margin. “In India, traditional art stands no chance against contemporary art which has a huge market while traditional art has been practically side-lined,” she reveals.
In 2012, Kurchi joined the Kathmandu Quartet formed by a group of local artists that included Chirag Bangdel, Kapil Mani Dixit and Bidhatha K.C. The group did two shows collectively and met three times a week. However, it wasn’t to last long as they split up a year later. “But we had some great times together though,” she recalls. At the moment she is ‘working with flowers’ as she puts it. We come across a painting of flowers, but she’s dismissive: “Just something to do before starting something serious.” Kurchi does scroll painting (read box text) which she says is a tradition dating back to the 13th Century. She’s working on a project on ‘the refugees of the partition of India’ through stories narrated by their descendants and other family members, relying on oral history. “It’s never been done before,” she says.
In her role as curator Kurchi took Ashmina Ranjit’s paintings to India for an exhibition and has also worked with artists from the Maldives. She has travelled to nine different countries as a curator and reveals her motivation, “I’m focusing on their similarities and trying to build a network among them.”
Kurchi also finds time to take part in theater and has played lead roles in many One World Theatre productions: Telling a Tale (2014), The Laramie Project (2015), The Laramie Project Ten Years Later (2017) and Three Sisters (2018). Besides acting and painting, she has written books: A Torn Quilt Tale (translated into English) was published in India in 2009, Possessions (translated into English) 2008 and The Death Trap in 2004. She has written articles for most local publications including ECS Nepal and Friday Magazine. Among e-zines she has written for Frieze Magazine (London), Art and Deal (New Delhi) Hyperallergic (New York), Ibraaz (Dubai) and many more.
Lost in conversation with Kurchi Dasgupta, the tea she offered me was forgotten as she revealed the many layers of her personality. In the fifteen years that have gone by, she has painted, written books, been engaged as a curator in Kolkata and Germany, in talk programs here and abroad including Qatar and Sri Lanka, residencies in Weimer, Germany and workshops in Berlin. Then there are the theater performances! This dynamic intellectual is a force to contend with and one can say with certainty, that she has much to offer not just Nepal but the region of south Asia as a whole. Perhaps she will be the galvanizing force to bind all these countries together for the greater glory of art.
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