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  • 09 March, 2023

Going beyond the pictures: A local guide to Photo KTM 2023

Going beyond the pictures: A local guide to Photo KTM 2023
Photo Courtesy: Photo KTM

A festival of art is taking the streets of Lalitpur by storm. What’s all the hype about? Photo KTM Festival 2023 is an annual event that’s like no other. It’s a festival that brings the world to Patan and Patan to the world. Art exhibits from all over the world are currently being displayed in 6 venues scattered across Patan.

If you’re looking for an adventure to seek out these venues and the bounty of art exhibits they hold, here’s your window of opportunity! Photo KTM Festival 2023 started on the 25th of February and will be taking place until the 31st of March. If you’re reading this before the deadline then what are you waiting for? Don’t miss out on this chance to explore Lalitpur and discover venues full of amazing art.

Image Courtesy: Photo KTM

If you’re curious about what you’re getting into here’s a complete itinerary to help you out. Take a look if you want to know where to begin, how to find venues, what’s in store when you get there, and why you should expect great things from this festival. 

Head to Patan House 

Discovering Patan House is the first thrilling find of the festival. Patan House serves as both a gateway to begin the search for hidden exhibits and the central hub for the festival.

As you enter the alley of Dhaugal, the sight of a massive mural of mushrooms sprouting from the walls is the first thing that catches the eye. Underneath these shrooms, the exquisite art of Hemlata Pradhan and Abu Hang Samuel adorn the walls. Pradhan’s detailed illustrations spread awareness of the loss of Indo-Himalayan orchids and other plants. Alongside her paintings are Samuel’s stellar photographs of Nepal’s orchids. Their works combined create an artificial garden of sorts out of a simple brick wall in one of Patan’s numerous dark alleys.  

Dhaugal alley. (Photo Courtesy: Photo KTM)

A radiant glow emanates out of local tea shops and eateries which stand out in these shadowy crevices of Patan. Amidst this delicate balance of light and shadow, the artistic display of vibrant floral portraits steal the show. What’s more! The exhibit doesn’t take away from the local landscape. Instead, it blends well with its surroundings adding to the space. The alley doubles as a parking lot and people can enjoy masala teas as they rest on stools that occupy the road. It is truly a setting to relish with your hot cup of tea as you explore the meanings behind the artwork showcased. 

If you’re curious you can even question festival volunteers stationed at the exhibit and they’ll shed some light on all your queries about the art and artists as well as what inspired its placement in peculiar locales.

Following the wall of art up the alley, leads to a clearing of Chibas, in front of which is the illustrious Patan House. At the entrance to Patan House, you can pick up festival maps, schedules, and free souvenirs. Inside the building, there’s also a festival shop where you can purchase merchandise and more.

The first floor houses an exhibit by Australian artist Alana Hunt. The white wall of the gallery is completely covered up on one side with a black-and-white picture of a huge unfinished highway, abandoned mid-construction. All the pieces in the gallery tell the story of the Australian government’s misuse of power, encroaching over the indigenous land of aboriginal people with false promises of local development.

After taking in all that Patan House has to offer, you can get a hold of one of those festival maps from the entrance and find your way to the next exhibit. These are freely available in all locations so you can start your adventure from anywhere and in any order.  

Onwards to Bahadur Shah Baithak

Patan House to Bahadur Shah Baithak is just a straightforward walk down the alley. No twists and turns, just a brief walk past the junction in between and voila! you have arrived at the enchanting Patan Durbar Square also known as Mangal Bazaar.

It is a spectacular square full of several antique temples, shrines, and landmarks. Bahadur Shah Baithak lies just behind the Dhunge dhara, a massive pit at the base of which are ornate stone water spouts.

The Dhunge Dhara outside Bahadur Shah Baithak. (Photo Courtesy: Photo KTM)

A few photographs exhibited by the Nepal Picture Library have been placed in and around the Dhunge dhara. However, the main attraction is located in the grand hall of Bahadur Shah Baithak which is up on the second floor. Entering the threshold, the building looks much renovated with fresh carpentry and brickwork but well retains the classic Newari ambiance and an essence of the past.

Climbing up the wooden stairs, you’ll notice a film playing inside a tiny chamber on the first floor. This film is a documentary called ‘The World like a Jewel in the Hand’ by director Ariella Aisha Azoulay. It is recommended to find a cozy spot inside the chamber and enjoy the documentary at your leisure. Azoulay’s film is a window into understanding imperialism through her focus on the destruction of the Jewish Muslim world in North Africa.

Ascend to the next floor, and you’ll be met with a grand hall teeming with exhibits from floor to ceiling. Themes of imperialism are continued in this space. Titled ‘The Skin of Chitwan’ by the Nepal Picture Library, various historical artifacts, items, and objects are displayed here. The exhibition defines the objects gathered in this room as carrying the material memory of past and present projects of placemaking upon the soil of Chitwan. Some of the exhibits include royal decrees, state gazettes, pesticides that once poisoned the land, and folk stories that shaped the belief of its people. These are just some of the myriad of objects that manifests Chitwan’s memories in the grand hall of Bahadur Shah Baithak.    

Exhibit from ‘The Skin of Chitwan.’ (Photo Courtesy: Nepal Picture Library/Photo KTM)

If you’ve worked up an appetite at this point you can find many restaurants in the vicinity. Popular Newari cuisine places like Honacha and Nandini’s are a must-go if you want to try out local flavors. If not, going down the alley next to Bahadur Shah Baithak leads to the next venue.

Finding Khapinchhen

There’s a bunch of diverging alleys centered around a temple between Bahadur Shah Baithak and Khapinchhen. Luckily each alley can lead to a different venue. However, if you want to do things in order you can skip all divergent alleys and keep going straight until you reach a junction. Take a left from there and Khapinchhen is right around the curb. It’s a 5-minute walk from the last venue to this one.

What seems like yet another trip down a dark alley reveals a huge temple complex of Jay Shree Akash Bhairav beyond the curb. The phalchas or rest houses in the periphery of the temple exhibit picture books of birds by D.B. Chaudhary. His exhibit is named ‘As we know them: Bird names in Tharu’. A recording is playing in the background, reading out loud the names of birds in the Tharu language, which you can read along from the picture books laid out on the phalcha.  

Exhibit from Uriel Orlow’s ‘What Plants Were Called Before They Had a Name (Guatemala), 2019 -2021’ (Photo Courtesy: Photo KTM)

The next exhibit has been set up in the bhwe-chein or feast house next to the phalcha. Climbing the stairs up to the second floor of the bhwe-chein welcomes you to a wide room full of television sets and projections on big canvases hanging down the ceiling. In the first half of the room, TVs are playing videos. You can watch these with the accompanying headphones and learn how indigenous people in diverse corners of Nepal utilize locally available herbs as medicine. This exhibit was set up by the organization KTK-Belt and is titled ‘Indigenous Knowledge Portal’.

The next half of the room showcases Uriel Orlow’s exhibit ‘What Plants Were Called Before They Had a Name (Guatemala), 2019 -2021’.  Illustrations of plants have been projected onto huge canvases with a plethora of local names for the plant scribbled onto the page alongside their botanical names. Orlow’s work brings into focus the necessity to recover indigenous knowledge that has been obliterated because of colonialism.

Stumbling into Chyasal Hiti

Continuing down the alley that led to Khanpinchhen opens up into a space full of traditional structures curated with exhibits about birds. This space is Chyasal Hiti. There are detailed catalogs placed in phalchas and catalogs that are about 2 meters tall placed on Dabalis, raised platforms made of brick. These larger-than-life catalogs are enjoyable to flip through and read, filled with fascinating info-graphics about a variety of Nepal’s birds. The works of Feather Library and a group of photographers under the banner of ‘Chhimeki Chara’ have presented their works in this exhibit.

An exhibit by the Feather library. (Image Courtesy: Feather Library/Photo KTM)

A hidden gem in this venue is the work of Sriram Murali titled ‘Minmini’. A curtained room next to the Chyasal Hiti gate brings you to a dark room where fireflies chatter and glitter. Here you can glimpse into the unparalleled nocturnal beauty of massive firefly congregations in the heart of India’s densest wilderness. With an emphasis on the consequences of habitat destruction, these works truly inspire the value of preserving nature to protect the homes of such beautiful creatures.

Navigating to Namkha

After a date with birds and fireflies, go up the west alley of Chyasal Hiti to make your way toward Namkha. Keep going straight for about 10 to 15 minutes until you reach the intersection in which the number 5 of the Namkha exhibit becomes visible on your right. This is probably the most challenging exhibit to find but one sign you’re going the right way is the many murals of birds plastered all along the way.

Another way to find the location is by asking the locals for directions to Baglamukhi Temple. It’s one of the biggest temples in Patan, familiar to all the locals, making it an easy find. Look south from the temple gate and you can see Namkha mingled between the stores on the right side of yet another alleyway. 

One of many birds you will find around Patan. (Photo Courtesy: Photo KTM)

The venue tucked into a narrower alley has the works of many artists filled in a small gallery. Here you can find works such as photo stories by Ajay Narsingh and art installations of Nilanjana Nandy’s alongside many others.  

In one corner of the exhibit, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the documentary titled ‘Searching for the European Roller’ by the Hillside Project. There are two different versions of the documentary – one in English and the other dubbed in Nepali – making it accessible to a broader audience.

There’s also a back room where you can watch another film about vultures called Jatayu Restaurant by Prasit Sthapit and Shristi Shrestha. You’re greeted by a huge projection inside a big white room where you can observe vultures devour a whole carcass down its bones. It emphasizes the conservation efforts to save Nepal’s endangered vultures by feeding them as in a restaurant.

After watching vultures engage in some not-so-fine dining, you might be a little hungry at this point. Worry not! there are places to eat where you’ll be going next. Make your way to Patan Dhoka where there are plenty of Momo Pasals and eateries to please your palate. This is a major landmark that in ancient times served as the main doorway of Patan, so you can easily find your way here.

Dhokaima Cafe and Fuji Bakery are famous confectioneries in the area if you’re looking for dessert. Other than the food, it’s highly recommended that you make your way to Patan Dhoka if you want to go to Gallery MCube.

The Road to Gallery MCube

Gallery MCube is the last venue if you’ve been following the festival map thus far. It is also the furthest one from the festival hub. However, if you manage to make your way to Patan Dhoka then you’re only 10 minutes away from your destination. Take the right turn as soon as you walk out of the big gate at Patan Dhoka and keep following the road until you reach Gallery MCube.

Gallery MCube is also a cafe so you can enjoy some coffee and other pleasantries here too. There are two exhibits inside a two-storied gallery building. On the bottom floor, you can watch a unique three-channeled video called ‘Ikamo Tialli – Earthless’ by visual artist Monica Alcazar-Duarte. Her work combines film, installation, and augmented reality to shed light on the ecological disasters left in the wake of scientific endeavors. The top floor houses a series of inkjet prints, photograph graphic reproductions, and drawings by Munem Wasif called ‘Seeds Shall Set Us Free’. Both exhibits are interesting and abstract, conveying their message through original artistic expression.

Exhibits from Munem Wasif’s ‘Seeds Shall Set Us Free.’ (Phot0 Courtesy: Photo KTM)

You can find out more at the venues if you’re curious to understand the vision of the artists. The festival ends on March 31 so if you don’t want to miss out on the adventure, make sure you’ve got comfy shoes on and a hunger to explore.

For more details on Photo KTM 2023 make sure to check out their website here.

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