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The month-long residency at PhotoKTM5 was organized in collaboration with the Jatayu Vulture Restaurant in Kawasoti and Bird Conservation Nepal. It was a mix of variety of experiences, many of which were a first for me. Living in the buffer zone of the community forests near Chitwan, engaging with the place, space and people around was a completely distinct experience from what it feels when we read about the world famous ‘community forests of Nepal’. Layered with the politics of colonialism, caste, gender, ecology and conservation, it was complex and grasping it in-depth within a short span of 4weeks was rather impossible.

Out of the many things that I experienced for the first time, the process of feeding vultures and their conservation; a handful of people from the local communities who previously lived inside the forests beautifully executing a model of conservation developed locally; the nuanced understanding of the local people about the history, geographical conditions and changing nature of the forests in the present environmental conditions, filled me with awe and appreciation towards the indigenous knowledge systems. Interaction with environment activist & a veteran forest guide, Shri D B Chaudhary and with Mr. Birendra Mahato, activist & the museum director of Tharu Cultural Museum in Chitwan & Community Conservation Nepal opened up different facets of the community forests of Nepal as a conservation case study from the people or community’s point of view. 

My understanding of the place was further informed by my interaction with the children and teachers in the local schools. I developed an inquiry titled ‘Ma ko hoon?”  into their personal and social issues like adolescence, accessibility, gender and identity using art as a medium. Together we translated the everyday through drawing, performance & photography.

Another interaction that inspired me during my stay in Kawasoti was with two elderly women – Guljaari ji and Sharada ji who were previously the tattoo artist of the village. Traditionally, it was a strict ritual for the women in the Tharu community to have tattooes on their arms, legs and upper chest. The conversation with them was unique; the distinction in our backgrounds diluted momentarily and drawing, image making and conversations on creative engagement took over. 

The vast expanse of green all around, the walks through the community forest, spotting many different species of birds and the quietude of the place in sharp contrast to the complexities of conservation, ecology, caste, gender made me think deeply about the political. This self-reflecting inquiry about the political led to a performative exercise titled Alice’s First Political Art. 

The four weeks culminated with a display of the process during the photo festival in Kathmandu. ‘Ma ko hoon?’ was displayed in the form of a communal space, where people could sit together – talk, laugh or have a quick bite, browse through the material  kept on the mat or could simply rest for a while after viewing the other projects.

The residency was supported by PhotoKTM in collaboration with Jatayu Vulture Restaurant and Bird Conservation Nepal.