ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—The programs of anthropology, art history, Asian studies, history, photography, and religion at Bard College host the exhibition Visions of Patrimony: Photographs from the Court of Nepal (1908–1965) from March 4 to 18 in Woods Studio at Bard College. The show’s reception will be held on March 10 at 5:00 p.m. in Woods Studio. Laura Kunreuther, assistant professor of anthropology, will introduce the historical and cultural context of the photographs. Cristeena Chitrakar will speak briefly about how the photographs are currently used by her family today. Both the reception and the exhibition are free and open to the public.
Visions of Patrimony exhibits photographs from the collection of Dirgha Man Chitrakar (1877–1951) and his son Ganesh Man Chitrakar (1906–1985), who served as official court photographers for the Shah King of Nepal and the ruling family oligarchy of Rana Prime Ministers (r.1846–1951). The exhibition explores the dual patrimonies of two lineages of Nepalis brought together in these photographic images—the extravagantly visible ruling elite and their invisible photographers. Spanning from the early 20th century to 1965, shifts in the photographs over time correlate with the changing logic and interests of the Nepali state, as they move from portraits and political ritual to aerial photographs of the land and quaint portraits of Nepali farmers. During the Rana oligarchy, photography worked doubly to secure their rule: its very use symbolized their privileged status, and the images themselves were a means of visualizing their patrimony by documenting extended families, political and religious rituals, the consumption of foreign commodities (i.e. clothing, technology), and recreational activities (such as hunting).
The photographs displayed in Visions of Patrimony were printed in Nepal several years ago from the original glass negatives taken between 1900 and 1946 and acetate negatives taken between 1946 and 1975. These negatives make up the patrimony of the court photographers’ descendants, the Chitrakars. Chitrakar means “artist” or “painter” in Nepali. Prior to the advent of photography, Dirga Man produced paintings for the ruling elite, in accordance with his profession by birth. After learning the craft of photography, he was appointed to a permanent position as part of the “art department” of the ruling prime minister of the time, Chandra Shumsher Rana. Once the Rana oligarchy was overthrown in 1951, the photographers continued to work as visual documentarians for the state and institutions closely tied to the state. Ganesh Man, for example, took a job as official photographer during the early years of USAID, which worked closely with the government and has been one of the key financers for developing Nepal. His son, Kiran Man, now works as the director and chief cameraman for the state television, Nepal TV, the primary and most watched television channel, at least until 1990. We are fortunate to have these photographs to exhibit, thanks to Dirga Man’s great-granddaughter and Ganesh Man’s granddaughter, Cristeena Chitrakar, who is currently a student at Bard College.
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