An Avian Legacy
Cover Story | Jun 11, 2019 | by Aakanchya Tamang and Shreyashka Vikram Raj Maharjan
Mrs. Meena Dangol and her daughter Mrs. Lasana S M Shrestha share with us their aspirations, love for art and their family legacy.
In this fast-moving world, personal desires and dreams usually take precedence over other things. We rarely find individuals who strive to make their parents’ dream come true before their own. Rarely we find a family, whose legacy lines the halls and courts of Kings and great institutions. And even more rarely do we find people with the desire to keep that legacy despite over-whelming odds and changing times. Mrs. Meena Dangol is the daughter of late Hira Lal Dangol, who is considered a pioneer of bird painting in Nepal. Meena’s daughter Mrs. Lasana Singh Maharjan Shrestha, professionally a banker, has endeavored to bring to life her childhood desire of organizing a solo exhibition for her mother. Here they share with us, their stories, and what inspired them to bring their family legacy to the public eye.
How long have you been in this field? Did you get inspired by seeing your father?
MD: I remember being around 14 or 15 years when I started painting. Being brought up in an artistic environment, watching my father and my brothers paint, I used to be intrigued and my curiosity grew as I got older. While other kids my age used to go outside and play, I guess, I sort of made my canvas a playground and created a sanctum to call my own. I explored my passion and dedicated my time to learn the required artistic skills.
Do you use the same techniques and style your father and where did the inspiration to paint owls come from?
MD: My father used water colors for most of his paintings but I like to use acrylic and various shades of canvas.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an artist for you?
MD: What I love most about being an artist is the feeling I get every time I begin to paint a piece. It feels like I am dwelling into a world of my own. It has always been a way of expression for me. I love how all my focus is dedicated toward the canvas when I paint. I found a profession and it has led to fame but the most important aspect is the satisfaction of being able to follow my dreams and bring my passion to life. Most of my friends pursued various fields in their careers. My parents’ inspired and encouraged me to pursue art. It is the greatest gift that I have ever received.
Your father, is known as the first bird painter of Nepal after Raj Man Singh Chitrakar. Can you give us an insight about his passion to paint birds and where he got his inspiration from?
MD: My father was a banker. In that era it was a very noble profession. But he risked it all by leaving a job which had a good pay and prestige to start from scratch and pursue his love and passion art. Even as a child when he studied at Durbar High School, he dedicated most of his time to painting. He was an apprentice of Lain Singh Bangdel, one of the most renowned artists of Nepal and followed his footsteps. My father was the illustrators of 700+ paintings in the book “Birds of Nepal” published in 1976 by Dr. Robert Felimg Sr., his son Dr. Robert Flaming Jr. and Lain Singh Bangdel which still remains one of the authoritative works in Nepal. His history, his passion and his works have been presented honorably in a book called the Birds of Nepal, written by Dr. Dina Bangdel, who herself has contributed in the field of art.
Can you give us an insight about your recent exhibition and the inspiration behind it?
MD: This exhibition is titled, Hira by Meena Dangol. Planned by my daughter, it features my most prominent art pieces in tribute to my father Hira Dangol. It has a collection of my paintings, which specialize in portrayal of various species of owls. I get asked a lot about why I mostly paint owls. The eyes of an owl have mystery. Their deep darkness bring out curiosity in me of the world they have seen. It is also the carrier of the Goddess Laxmi, who is highly regarded in the Hindu Pantheon and is the goddess of wealth and good fortune. My husband’s name is also Laxmi (laughs).
In your experience, how much recognition have you gained or offered to you in Nepal?
MD: My father is one of the renowned artists of Nepal. When you google him, his paintings can be seen hung in the walls of the Royal Palace, the president’s palace, and numerous five stars hotel and institutions in Nepal.
I am an artist, but I am also a mother. I devoted most of my time to my children and my daughter Lasana has always told me, “It is time that the world gets to behold your artistry, witness its mystery and share your curiosity. It is time for you to achieve and acquire the recognition you truly deserve.”
In 2016, we organized a family exhibition, “Birds of Nepal: The Art of Heera Lal Dangol and His Family Legacy.” The works of my father, and four siblings were showcased at Nepal Art Council. The admiration and the recognition that our family got was very inspirational which is why my loving daughter wanted to initiate another exhibition which will be my solo exhibition. I feel blessed and hope that my children carry forth the legacy of the “Bird Artist Family of Nepal” for generations to come.
You have been planning your mothers exhibition. How long has it been in your list?
LS : In my list ? Ever since I was a kid. Ever since I can remember, I have seen my maternal side paint these exquisite pieces of art, that are belief. Each painting has a story to tell and it is just so majestic. I always felt that my maternal grandfather got the recognition he deserved for his talents but my mother didn’t.
Thus, since my childhood it has always been my dream to create a foundation, and give her a podium to showcase her passion and get the recognition she deserves. It was a dream, but now I am capable to turn it into a reality. What seemed impossible, and just a vision is now turning into a reality. Whenever I see her paintings at home, I say to myself, “They shouldn’t be confined to the four walls of our home.” Thus, the upcoming exhibition will showcase her talents and bring to the world the artistry of my mother.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
LS: Definitely, organizing an exhibition is something new to me. There are many things which are out of my comfort zone and out of my control. I am unaware of the do’s and don’ts of the art world. But slowly but steadily, I have come this far and at times the summit feels miles away. But I remember my vision and keep moving forward, to honor her talent and to make sure the exhibition is memorable for her and the guests. Apart from that, I also want to make people aware of our family legacy and the value that it carries. For that, I plan to open an art gallery and initiate art classes to teach and empower bright minds. “Knowledge is best when it is shared.”
A proud moment from your childhood, with your mother.
LS: Each and every moment, I must say. She dedicated so much for our upbringing and sacrificed so much. I am always grateful for that and every moment I got to spend with her I cherish. The proudest moment, is the speech that my mother gave at our last family exhibition. I initiated that exhibition, prior to which art was a just a hobby for my mom. A medium of carrying on the legacy of the gene of artistry within them. For them it has never been about acquisition of fame but rather an extension of themselves. The exhibition was a success and that filled me with pride, and watching my mother deliver the keynote was the cherry on top.
Your favourite painting of your mother.
LS: The painting of the focus owl, she gifted me on my wedding. Her dedication to detail can be seen in the vivid strokes that captured every fiber, and what makes it my favorite is the love that went into filling that canvas.
Did you ever think of becoming an artist?
LS: I paint, not to the extent my mother and maternal family. But now, as I have come of age and as I get more ‘older and wiser,’ I have realized the importance of carrying on the legacy of my family. I must say I am a work in progress and I hope to keep the legacy going. After a few years, I plan to completely step into the world of art, learn and honor my family. As for the present, I am looking forward to the exhibition, which will bring to the world my mother’s art. It has always been my lifelong dream, to create this platform, honor our legacy and pay homage to my grandfather.