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Asia

Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet
DADYAA: The Woodpeckers of Rotha

DADYAA: The Woodpeckers of Rotha by Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet illuminates a unique and seldom seen international perspective on indigenous cultures and contemporary social issues in the Nepali context. A small masterpiece, the work engages with one of the most pressing social issues in Nepal, mass migration and the dissolving of social fabric in rural areas.

The story begins with an old couple, Atimaley and Devi, who live in a village in Jumla, in the highlands of Western Nepal. With the unannounced departure of a close friend, the only other person living in the village, they face the dilemma of staying and keeping the memories alive or leaving the village for good. The film is inspired by several stories; Jumla is known for its tradition of ceremonial wooden masks, as well as for protective wooden effigies, known as dadyaa, which are made as offerings to local deities but sometimes as memories of ancestors. In recent years, numerous effigies made by a local sculptor have appeared around Jumla, on bridges, rooftops, ladders, and throughout the forest. Nepal is also burdened by both internal and external migration, with many of its villages desolated and abandoned by young people. But the film is not meant to be an ethnographic survey, and as such it is also inspired by the story of a Japanese woman who made dolls to fill up her village as people died or left for the city, a major phenomenon in Japan. While it mobilizes local references and artistic storytelling languages, at the same time, the work is infused with personal drama and visceral emotion.

Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet have a joint practice that merges film and visual art. Their artistic strategy  is deeply engaged with indigenous cultures, customary and traditional art forms, while presenting these voices in their full relevance for contemporary social issues, in beautifully staged plots and landscapes. Bibhusan Basnet and Pooja Gurung’s practice is an original and locally specific effort of decolonisation, that attempts to find novel ways of integrating different cultural viewpoints in Nepal, a country reinventing itself after an authoritarian regime that erased the many indigenous cultures. With its ethical approaches and aesthetic achievements, Bibhusan Basnet and Pooja Gurung’s practice can serve as a reference point for decolonization struggles around the world.