Built/Unbuilt: Home/City | Residency and Workshops

Saturday 11th of February 2017 , School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, Doha, Qatar, 21 min read

Under Dr. Dina Bangdel’s assistance, Sheelasha Rajbhandari, Mekh Limbu and Hit Man Gurung worked with 30 Nepali migrant workers from ten different camps.


"Who are the Heroes of Our Time?" - Hit Man Gurung and Sheelasha Rajbhandari

We started our collaboration for this project during our residency at Qatar. In this participatory work, we involved Nepali migrant workers living in Qatar. This performative participatory works play on the notion of identity and belonging by interrogating the label of ‘a migrant worker’ and ‘the Nepali diaspora’. How do we implicitly judge or discriminate someone by their respective jobs and appearances? We wanted to explore this question and as well as the perceptions of a larger group of people to this question, to labels and to identities. During this project, artists wore duty uniforms of collaborators and asked them to wear their regular clothes. We then posed questions like “Who is a migrant worker? Why are people desperate to leave their homeland and settle in new countries? What defines status?” and engaged in discussions.


In recent history, the biggest waves of migration outside of Nepal took place during World War I and World War II. In WW I, 200,000 men were sent from Nepal to join the British army. There were more than 20,000 casualties. And in WWII, 250,280 people were sent, with more than 32,000 casualties.The magnitude of these movements was so massive that able-bodied males from the villages of the ethnic groups like Magars, Gurungs, Rais, Limbu, etc were difficult to get during the wars. Among the men who went, only few returned.


From 1996 to 2006, Nepal went through a civil war, waged by the Maoists. During this time, internal and international mass migration increased exponentially. After the civil war, continuous political conflicts and an unstable government ignited violence, chaos and uncertainty in the country.This has caused an unexpected rise in mass migration, especially over the past decade, and especially to the Gulf countries and South East Asia where Nepalese continue to go in unprecedented numbers in search of employment and a better livelihood.


According to the World Bank, remittance to Nepal is one of the highest in the world. Migration for foreign employment has become a major source of income for many Nepali households. The remittance also contributes a whopping 33% to the national GDP. Yet the government has not given serious attention to the rights of migrant laborers or developed better policies regarding their safety. Ironically, the society also discriminates against them. Hence the question, “ Who are the real heroes of our time?”.


"Second Home" - Mekh Limbu

“I have been building your houses - and your country - in order to support my family and build my home. In the process, my own home became empty and abandoned. Now I feel that Qatar is also my second home.”


My father left for Qatar when I was eight years old. This year, I visited the city that my father has been calling ‘home’ for 21 years - a place I had imagined all my life and with which I was invisibly connected. What is this place called ‘home’? Since 1996, my father has constructed around 200 residential houses in Doha, my father’s second home in Qatar. “My homeland Nepal feels like a ‘father-in-law’s house,” he says, “somewhere I go occasionally as a special guest. In 21 years, I have only travelled to Nepal five times.” Over these years, he has seen Doha’s skyline rise from the sands of the desert. And he has built houses that have become homes for numerous families. Yet, his own home is empty and abandoned, since our family has moved to the city. The village is also empty; this is a story shared by the families of around 400,000 Nepali migrant workers. These workers are not only supporting their own families and country, they are also contributing to Qatar. My multimedia installation explores this invisible/visible connection between Nepal and Qatar - through my father’s eyes.