"Treaty of Peace and Friendship: This is what friends are for" - Sheelasha Rajbhandari
From once being an important centre for trans-Himalayan trade, Nepal’s geopolitics now lies in flux between two emerging world powers of India and China. Historically, Nepal lay at the crossroads of several trade-routes including east-west silk route, the north-south caravan route and even the Tea and Horse Caravan Road over which it collected taxes from different kingdoms. Along with economics, these routes also became channels for cultural, technological and ideological exchange. Nepal experienced tremendous political and economic tension over the last 70 years when India became an independent country, China became a People’s Republic and Tibet was taken over by China.
In order to ameliorate such tension, several treaties were signed between India and Nepal after 1950, including the ‘Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship’ and ‘Treaty of Trade and Commerce’ that aligned Nepal politically and economically with India. By 1960, Nepal also signed the Sino-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China. However, after the extreme tension between Kathmandu and Delhi in 2015 over the blocking of imports of basic supplies and fuel from the sole supplier India, Nepal went ahead to sign the ‘Transit and Trade Treaty’ with China in 2016. China further opened combined transport services (rail and road) to Nepal which would connect Lanzhou, the capital city of northwestern China’s Gansu province to Kathmandu. In 2017, Nepal officially became part of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also referred to as the Silk Road Economic Belt, despite India’s reluctance to join it.
The flat plains of Nepal along the Indian border eases the transport of imports and exports as opposed to the mountainous terrain of the northern part of Nepal that is next to China. India and Nepal have an open border and India accounts for Nepal’s two-third trade, both in terms of export and import. After the 2015 India-Nepal crisis, the landlocked Himalayan country agreement of (BRI) brought lots of hopes and dreams as BRI has been discussed as a possible alternative gateway for Nepal, giving access to China, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. China and Nepal are also talking about the possibility to extend the rail connection to Kathmandu and probably to India as well; there is a potential of Nepal becoming a corridor for land routes between China and India. There have been informal proposals from India to build direct rail from Delhi to Kathmandu and Kolkata to Kathmandu as well.
Art work (a)
Many people in Nepal had handlooms in their homes in the old days. People either wove and sewed clothes for themselves or wore handmade clothes. There were different cast groups working professionally as weavers, tailors, dyers and so on. The practice of home weaving continued till around the 1960s, but after 1950 , more and more Indian products started to occupy Nepal’s market. Nepal’s trade relation with China slowly bloomed starting in the 70s, but it was around 2006 that Chinese products started to flood the Nepal market like it did all around the world.
From 1996-2006 Nepal itself officially went through civil war which not only claimed the lives of thousands but also resulted in the closing down of a huge number of large and small local industries, causing people to migrate outside the country in search of employment. Locals then preferred more accessible and affordable products from China and India. Nepal, from being a key exporter of textiles, lost its industry to India and China who could reproduce these at much cheaper costs, leaving the locals helpless between the two large manufacturing powerhouses.
Given this background, the introduction of railways within Nepal seem to bring a mixed feeling of hope and anxiety. While it may open up corridors for the landlocked Himalayan country, the railway could inundate Nepal with an influx of imported industrial goods, gradually leading to a loss of traditional craftsmanship. On the other hand, if Nepal fails in its diplomatic role, it may become privy to extreme external political and economic influences.
Art work (b)
The structure of sculpture is based on the 7th century Lichhavi Dynasty copper coin of Nepal. Lichhavi Dynasty ruled the Kathmandu Valley from approximately 400 to 750 CE. Lichhavi-era coins are the first coins widely used in Kathmandu valley and its surrounding hills. Lichhavis are remembered for maintaining their excellent trilateral relation with Tibet and the kingdoms of India. The copper and brass surface of the coin is embossed with the suggestive map of Lhasa, with Kathmandu at the center as well as New Delhi. The train track connects the three cities.
The ancient Jatakas recognize white winged horse as a bodhisattva and as a symbol of safe passage during the difficult journeys of the caravan merchants. The narrative of winged white horse and the merchants are ] depicted in different countries around Asia, in paintings and sculptures of various temples, sacred places and manuscripts. However the winged horse with two heads on opposite sides moves but goes nowhere. It just lingers on the center, struggling to balance relations between its two powerful neighbors. Landlocked Nepal has often found itself at the heart of the Sino-Indian geopolitical rivalry as well as to India’s historical influence.
The works presented here enfold the economic and political past and present into their materiality in the hope of reconciling the anxiety of an unclear future.