NAFA will die in its childhood if it is merged with other academies
Ragini Upadhyay Grela is a well-known Nepali artist. A graduate in fine arts from Lucknow College of Arts, India in 1982, Upadhyay won a British Council fellowship for Printmaking in 1987-88 at Peacock Printmakers, Aberdeen, Scotland and Oxford Printmakers, Oxford, U.K. She further won a grant in 1989-90 for Printmaking at Kunst Academy, Stuttgart, Germany.
A successful artist, she has won several prizes over the years. She got the Kate and Robert Wilson Prize, Bradford, U.K. in 1984 and won the National Award in 1979, 1985 and 1988. She was decorated with the King and Queen -- Birendra Aishwarya -- Memorial Medal in 2002.
Upadhyay was a visiting lecturer at Lahti Fine Art Academy and Pekka Art Academy, Helsinki. She has done 58 solo exhibitions of arts around the world. Her works can be seen at the SAARC building in Kathmandu, Tribhuvan International Airport, Nepal Television, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Late King Birendra Art Gallery, World Bank Office, Kathmandu, Fine Art Academy Lucknow, India, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan and Bradford Museum, Bradford, U.K.
Currently, she is the Chancellor of Nepal Academy of Fine Arts. She talked with Amarendra Yadav of The Rising Nepal on issues relating to her organisation and Nepali art as well as the government plan to merge the academies related to art and culture.
Why are you strongly opposing the government’s decision to merge the Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) with two other academies –Nepal Academy and Nepal Academy of Music and Drama?
All three academies have their own importance and existence. The Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and Nepal Academy of Music and Drama (NAMD) were established as independent entities many years after the creation of the Nepal Academy. The establishment of the two academies was a reflection of the Nepali artists and the people who had actively participated in the Second People’s Movement in 2006. But the government’s sudden decision to merge the three academies has hurt not only the spirit of the April Uprising of 2006 but also disappointed the artists and art lovers across the country. We feel that not only the existence of NAFA but also the existence of Nepali arts is at stake due to the decision. That is why, as an artist and Chancellor of NAFA, I urge the government to rethink and withdraw its decision.
What if the government does not withdraw its decision, what kind of loss will Nepali art suffer?
From the establishment of the Royal Nepal Academy (now Nepal Academy) in 2022 BS, it was representing the field of fine arts till the birth of NAFA some eight years ago. You can compare the works the Nepal Academy did for art and the works accomplished by the NAFA in a few years. In spite of several obstacles, including financial, NAFA has done a lot of remarkable work for the development and enhancement of the Nepali art and culture in a short period.
If the government does not reconsider its decision, the Nepali art arena will suffer incomparable loss. NAFA will die in its childhood as it has been only eight years since its establishment. The growth and development of the different genres of art and artists across the nation will cease. Effective continuation of NAFA is required for the preservation of Nepali arts and culture, promotion and advancement of the artists and marketing and publicity of Nepali artworks across the globe. In a nutshell, Nepali arts and artists will be helpless and hapless in the absence of its promoter and guardian, NAFA.
Following the announcement of the merger of the three academies, the artists have gone on agitation. NAFA has reportedly been active in a campaign to convince the government not to implement its decision. What are the concrete steps that NAFA has recently taken to stop the merger?
First of all, we, the chancellors of three academies, met with Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Rabindra Adhikari and urged him to rethink the merger plan. In reply, he said he had not sought the merger of the academies, but the museums because there are unnecessarily more museums in the country. During our meeting with him, he expressed his ignorance about the merger plan and told us that he would talk with the Prime Minister. He assured us that the government would rethink its decision. Thereafter, we also met top leaders of the ruling and opposition political parties. They have also backed our demand, giving us assurances that they would help us in persuading the government to roll back its merger plan. Furthermore, several organisations related to fine arts have submitted their memorandums to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, requesting the government to annul its decision.
We, the chancellors of the three academies, are also trying to approach the Prime Minister. We have also asked for time with the Prime Minister and convince him on the issue. According to his aides, the Prime Minister is busy in preparations for his upcoming State visit to China. Let’s hope we can meet him soon and be successful in our campaign to convince him in our favour.
On the one hand, the government is thinking of merging the three academies into one. On the other, artists and art lovers are demanding the promulgation of the Constitution that will have NAFA restructured as per the federal spirit. What is your view on this?
NAFA should, of course, be transformed into a federal structure. We should respect Constitution in both word and spirit. We should learn from our neighbouring countries like India and Bangladesh in this context. I came to know a lot about NAFA’s counterpart institution –Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy - during my recent visit and meeting with its Director General that the Academy has altogether 75 branches across the country. Similarly, India has a number of branches of its Fine Arts Academy across the country, especially in the major cities.
I think the government should hold consultations with the concerned stakeholders, experts and ex-academicians to solicit suggestions and guidelines from them and work accordingly on restructuring NAFA and other academies. In my view, all the three academies should be established at the provincial level, considering the government’s budget. If the government has limited budget, it will be better to establish a merged or joint unit of the three academies at the provincial level.
It is said that NAFA has failed to work effectively and deliver its services brilliantly as not all of the council members and assembly members are equally capable due to the drawbacks in their selection criteria. The nomination process is heavily influenced by partisan politics. Do you agree with it? How can it be improved?
The truth cannot be concealed. Political influence is more or less a bitter truth in NAFA like in other government institutions. It is because the council members and assembly members are nominated on the basis of political quotas and affiliations. That is why, now a new and strict criterion for recruiting the academicians in NAFA and other academies should be developed by the government, and it must be followed while appointing them. I think, besides their decades-long artistic background, academicians must also have a higher level of educational qualification as well as long experience in their respective genres.
The correction should be started at the personal level as well as at the government level. The cleanliness should begin from the top. The government needs to form a panel of experts to suggest improving the selection criteria. After all, it is the government that must follow the selection criteria strictly while picking the academicians for NAFA.
Your four-year tenure as Chancellor and that of your team is ending this September. How do you assess the work accomplished by you and your team in NAFA?
I have struggled a lot to bring all council and assembly members together and team up for collective efforts. During our stint, we have struggled immensely with nature and other hostilities. For example, the 2015 earthquake badly damaged our NAFA building while the five-month-long blockade hampered our smooth functioning and schedules. Besides, we have been facing a land dispute that surfaced after the government unilaterally decided to allocate 15 ropanis of NAFA’s land to another academy. In spite of all these hurdles and obstacles, we accomplished tremendous work for the development and preservation of Nepali arts and artists.
We fought for the increment in the government budget for the activities and development of arts. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with various countries. Retro-fitting to repair the damaged NAFA building has been started during my tenure.
We have been continuously hosting a grand national exhibition every year for all genres of paintings, sculptures, cartoons and so on. NAFA has carried out a lot of workshops, seminars and research for the recognition and enhancement of folk and traditional arts like the Mithila, Pauva, Awadhi and Thanka.
NAFA has introduced printmaking in folk arts. Contemporary art has also got unprecedented promotion from NAFA during my tenure. We have recently started encouraging photography as a different genre of art. More importantly, NAFA has focused on the development of sculptures to mainstream them.