I sometimes wonder what a city means. To its people. To outsiders. To itself.
What makes a city a city? Is it people and their stories? Or is it the buildings and the business?
What becomes a city? How does the landscape change from a laid-back space to heavy traffic place?
As I wandered around the art pieces in Taragaon Museum, Patan Museum, Nepal Art Council and Siddhartha Art Gallery for Kathmandu Triennale, Nepal’s international contemporary arts festival that took place from March 24 to April 9 this year, these questions haunted me more.
From left: Stickers of Kathmandu Triennale found in a random wall. Artworks by Yudhisthir Maharjan, Mekh Limbu and Saurganga Darshandhari (Up to Down).
As I roamed around the gallery space of Taragaon Museum, I was struck with the idea of spaces and maps. What is a space? What is a city if there were no places pinned on the map but only streets and rivers? Would we get lost? Or would it be easier for us to find our way around the city? What if the city you know is depicted in an art style that isn’t from the city but very far away? What if the city writes you letters? At Patan Museum, it was the idea of stories of the city – of the city-scape in a blanket, of mother’s purse – thaili, of the everyday stories, of women, of reflection. At Nepal Art Council, it became more specific with stories of a place, of a house, of a feeling and stories of people. While Siddhartha Art Gallery had a different story on birth, death, and boundaries.
My city is not my city anymore,
It belongs to souls who weren’t born here
It belongs to hearts who don’t know how to love it
It belongs to people who just want to escape.
My city is not the city I fell in love with,
just like the people I’ve loved changed over the course of time
just like how I’ve changed in last few years,
my city has changed too.
I am not sure if I like my city anymore
just like I am not sure if I love me anymore.
– At Patan Museum.
The exhibitions that I went to along with, the conversations I had or eavesdropped into, talked about story of a city and its people. It somehow came back to migration, as if for a city to be, migrating is a must. There must always be a flow. It also came to how a city changes and whether we should allow it to be changed or resist. The debate on what will be the identity of the city if it changes every day or how will it ever become a city if it never does, went on. For someone who’s never lived outside Kathmandu, I don’t know how a city retains its identity despite the flux of people and how do those cities keep their memory intact while welcoming new ideas and people.
What these exhibitions also managed to do is make me realize that Kathmandu and I are having some issues with each other. That I no longer feel home here. That I feel as if Kathmandu wants me gone. As if I want to be gone. Nowadays, every time I meet Kathmandu, I find it to be more scarred. I feel like there are more holes in its soul, more wounds, more bruises. And it refuses to heal. I feel like it is on its way to destruction and it refuses to be saved. Maybe it refuses to be loved too.
And maybe that’s how a city is born. And that’s what a city mean.