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Sheelasha Rajbhandari
Agony of the New Bed

Agony of the New Bed by Sheelasha Rajbhandari brings out the familiar yet often ignored reality of gender discrimination and taboos built within the construct of marriage. Part of the artist’s series Marriage Taboos, these portraits of women from different age groups in Nepal are staged on cotton mattresses placed on miniature golden matrimonial beds. The embroidered text on top of the portraits in golden threads are a representation of the range of vulnerable and resilient emotions experienced by women and the social beliefs towards them.

Gold is a major part of many Asian marriages both socially and culturally. Marriage is celebrated with the exchanges of costly gifts and brides are decorated with gold and other precious jewellery along with shiny red and gold clothes. But this ornate spectacle also works to hide a bride’s identity. Similarly to many other countries, in the traditional marriage system of Nepal, ownership of a daughter is transferred from a father to a husband. Brides are encouraged to shift their identities and adopt their husbands’. This practice has contributed to the preference of sons over daughters, as daughters leave and assimilate, while  sons continue the family lineage.

From an early age women are trained to be subservient, loyal wives and mothers and to perfect her ‘duty’ of managing household chores. After marriage women are supposed to relegate any feelings towards her parents or her career to second place. Vast amounts of social research has documented the fact that a high proportion of married women become victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Sheelasha Rajbhandari is a visual artist, cultural organizer, and co-founder of the artist collective Artree Nepal (founded in 2013) based in Kathmandu. She is interested in exploring alternative and plural narratives through folktales, folklore, oral histories, mythologies, material culture, performance, and rituals and placing them as evidence, along with references to mainstream history and narratives. Her long-term research projects and artistic practice often juxtapose these contradictions and synthesize the knowledge and experiences that result from individual and collective discourses. Through her work, she frequently tries to encounter simple yet socially taboo subject matters, with a focus on women’s struggles, celebrating their resilience. Her recent works explore the current transformation of Nepal from a once important centre for trans-Himalayan trade to a geopolitical situation in flux between the two emerging world powers of India and China. Rajbhandari is very careful about choosing materials and methods that align with her conceptual framework. She prefers mediums and materials that add meaning to ideas and have their own significance.

With her partner Hit Man Gurung she works as a cultural organizer in various projects and both are active as co-founders of the artist collective Artree Nepal. Together they also conceived 12 Bishakh - Camp.Hub Post Earthquake Community Art Project, a seminal project carried out in the aftermath of the 2015 Kathmandu Valley Earthquake.