Culture & Art

A People War – An exhibition on Nepal’s civil war

The words “A People War” are written in thin black letters on the cover of the book. The background of the cover shows a picture of two boys, silently looking through a hole in a destroyed wall.
When the picture was taken, the two boys named Hemanta Bista and Aman Giri, were playing in a police station that was destroyed during a Maoist attack in December 2002 in the district of Kailali, Nepal. Six police officers were killed during the bombing. Therefore Hemanta and Aman believed the place was haunted and never went there alone.
Their story is one of thousands which took place during the Nepal civil war, a war that lasted ten years. From 1996 to 2006 the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), fought against the establishment of the monarchy and therefore against the army and police. They declared it “A people’s war” and claimed it to be a war for and by the people of Nepal. In the end the monarch resigned and the Republic of Nepal was declared in 2008. Nevertheless the country was left with many reported and even more unreported deaths on both sides, alongside the destruction of infrastructure and numerous injuries, both psychologically and physically.
To reprocess the traumatic experiences and to provide a platform for the unheard stories, Kunda Dixit, publisher of the “Nepali Times”, decided to write a book based on those personal experiences. After a public call, he collected the photographs and stories submitted by people all over the formerly war torn country. He published them in the book “A People War”, summarizing ten years of every-day-life during times of war on 215 pages.
To reach out to rural community members, an exhibition based on the book was created and settled in a bus to be carried to small towns and villages all over Nepal. The travel exhibition toured from 2007 to 2008 and thereby reached about 600,000 people in over 45 districts of Nepal. “It is in fact one of the few exhibitions seen by so many people”, Kunda Dixit explains.
Now the photographs and their stories are provisionally displayed at the Rato Bangala High School, as the building of their original showroom collapsed during the earthquake in 2015. On the fourth floor, among music lessons and ongoing classes, one can immerse in the stories of around 50 pictures of the former travel exhibition. Beside the photos taken for “A People War”, photos of the books “Never Again” and “People After War” are also displayed. Published in 2009 “Never Again” covers impressions photographed during the travel exhibition, including reactions of people discovering photos of themselves being exhibited. Published in the very same year “People After War” deals with how the people, whose photos were shown in the first book, are living after the end of the war.
The exhibition provides a wide range of individual stories, emotional and sometimes disturbing pictures and not only highlights the stories and losses of the civilian people, but also those of the Maoists and the army. Therefore, it does not position itself on any political side but gives an insight on a very personal and individual aspect of people who experienced the war. The exhibition helps to better understand the war and how it influences people’s daily life without focussing on the political background too much.
Rieka Heidmann

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