Govinda Sah

Cycle Tour Diary

In the year 2000, the artist, Govinda Sah made a solo, three month cycle trip across Nepal from east to west. As he travelled, he encountered not only the 
rich cultural heritage and linguistic variations of his native land but in stark contrast to the natural beauty of the country, the poverty and despair of the people over the continuing violence of the Civil War. In many places, Govinda stopped to give lessons in drawing to those local people who were eager to learn, encouraging them, as he did so, to join him in making this the century of art and peace. The original diary entries, written, at the time, in Nepali, have now been translated into English by Ross Michael Adkin.

The following is a short excerpt -

6th January

The 21st century, the century of art and peace began six days ago! My main hope for this new century is that other students of art remain free from the kind of suffering I endured while painting at a young age because of the lack of knowledge and appreciation of art among my parents and teachers. I wish also that the despondency and despair among the younger generation will disappear.

It’s been more than twenty years since the establishment of Fine Arts campuses in Nepal and there has been no progress in either the field of art or in promoting the work of emerging artists. Today’s artists are concerned only with their own personal development and with painting in western styles, and disregard completely the natural beauty of their own country. Most aren’t interested in travelling even outside of the Kathmandu Valley to develop their techniques – motivated by money, all they are concerned with is going abroad to the West.

While planning this endeavour I was frustrated by the Prajya Pratisthan, an institute established to promote the development of art but which actually discouraged me from my desire to propagate it throughout Nepal. From the officials of this institute ( who earn thousands of rupees per month ) I received a total of twelve hundred rupees! Where are the results of the pay rises they are always getting? It’s the same in our tourism sector – those who earn thousands of dollars a day giving tours of our national heritage and art remain unwilling to invest in its development.

7th January

Something else which has concerned me for a while now is the reluctance of business people and industrialists to contribute anything to the development and preservation of our cultural inheritance. Today, lakhs of rupees are being invested in the furthering of art around the world. But in this sphere, our country is and has been, slipping further and further behind. While those who are earning tourist dollars are happy to show off the artwork and beauty of the interiors of temples and cloisters, they make no effort to preserve them. Everyone looks to the government to do so but what use is this when the government is corrupt?

On campus the Fine Arts are taught by instructors who draw salaries in the lakhs* of rupees to train new students. These instructors however, cannot tell a good artist from a bad one. Krishna Gopal Ranjit is but one of a number of Nepali painters who did not study in an institution but still went on to earn a name for himself; that institutions have not been able to nurture and produce such talent is their fault alone.

8th January

Over in the Nepal Fine Arts Council, officials earn similar wages and yet manage to hold just one exhibition every year, where the only thing on show is the Council’s increasing infatuation with western styles. A list of prize winners reads like a roll call of Jang Bahadur Rana* and in a similar way the fine artists of today labour under delusions of their own importance, busy covering faults in their own painting by promoting western techniques. Again, it is the artists of the country who are to blame. The Nepal Arts Council, meanwhile, is busy increasing its purview and importance. If Bangdel* had not already been a respected artist, King Mahendra’s government would not have invited him to Nepal, but once he was there, his imitations of Picasso’s style and his own self importance resulted in him being made the Vice Chancellor of the National Academy.

Art schools have been established but the academy has become sluggish in its admiration for western painting. Only the work of patrons and admirers is shown in exhibitions, and competitions are held exclusively for the resident artists’ followers and disciples. There are a number of painters who benefited well from this development, such as Bijay Thapa, Uttam Nepali, Govind Dangel, Sharat Ranjit, Surrendra Bhattarai, Shasi Vikram Shah, Krishna Manandhar, Kiran Manandhar, Lain Singh Bangdel, Asmina Ranjit, Raja Manandhar, Rangini and others. These artists cover the flaws in their own work with the pomp of western styles, and money is the reason behind why they paint. Because they know that I have been a critic of western painting, even if, during the course of this journey my labour receives some form of recognition, I expect nothing but contempt from the establishment.

I’d say about half of the population has learned a little about art through my own efforts and activities but far fewer have actually seen my work with their own eyes. Of course, I have confidence in myself as an artist at the forefront, but I never thought I’d manage to carry out this endeavour.

Hearing of my plan, some of my journalist friends were deeply worried.

11th January

Ramesh Khanal,a host on Radio Sagarmatha attempted to discourage me, warning that trying to see such a journey through would bring me only sorrow and sadness. But yesterday, at an exhibition of my work in Ilam, people came forward to offer the necessary things I’d need for my journey and this has given me hope that I will find help further along the road.

The circumstances of my life at home have troubled me since I left and I don’t believe that there will be any return from my investment and hopes, no matter how successful I become. If I die while on the road, my hope is that the fruits of my labour will fill the hands of my mother. I begin this journey remembering the simplicity and innocence of the salt of my birthplace. Will I also be troubled by memories of the simple love of my mother?

* lakh = one hundred thousand crore = ten million

* Founder of the Rana dynasty which displaced the royal Shah kings and effectively ruled Nepal from 1846-1951. The ‘roll’ was a list of succession which ensured that each of Jang’s brothers would in turn hold the office Prime Minister and benefit from the power and riches which accompanied it.

* Lain Singh Bangdel (d. 2002), a prominent Darjeeling-born painter and novelist


Previous: Amber Ablett