Pitzer Global Local Program Hosts “Nepals Civil War: A Photographic Retrospective”

Pitzer College is hosting a new art exhibit entitled “Nepal’s Civil War: A Photographic Retrospective,” which features a series of photographs depicting select aspects of Nepali life after the civil war, in the Founders Room of the McConnell Center.

The exhibit is an initiative of Pitzer’s Global Local Program, a group that engages the local high school community to exchange and engage with different perspectives. The Global Local Program is headed by professor Nigel Boyle, associate dean for Global Local Programs, director of the Institute for Global/Local Action & Studies (IGLAS), and IGLAS chair in political studies at Pitzer. According to Boyle, last year a group of faculty from both Pitzer and local high schools went on a five-week trip to Nepal. While in Kathmandu, they visited a peace museum established by Nepali liberal intellectual Kunda Dixit. Inspired by Dixit’s work, the group wanted to recreate the exhibit. 

Boyle selected the images specifically so that local high schools could utilize them in their social studies curricula. Boyle and other faculty members on the trip were motivated to recreate the exhibit in part due to the absence of the Nepali conflict in mainstream media. The conflict was nevertheless extensive and provoked stark political consequences for Nepal.

Though based on a liberal Kathmandu perspective, the exhibit appears to abstain from political alignment. Instead, it demonstrates the day-to-day impact of the aftermath of the war on the Nepali people. The photos primarily emphasize the generally stagnant quality of life that remains, regardless of the war’s end. 

The collection provides unique insight and a human element on an event that is fairly isolated from the American scope of interstate politics.

“The selected photographs give a sense of time and the progress or lack thereof that you wouldn’t normally hear about or be able to see in a photo exhibit,” Molly Hickey PZ ’17 said. 

According to Insight on Conflict, a project by the UK-based non-governmental organization Peace Direct that promotes global peace-building efforts, the Nepali civil war began in 1996 with a series of belligerent protests by the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal for democratic elections. The conflict was contained by police forces until the insurrectionists attacked the Royal Army’s barracks in 2002. The attack was provoked by King Gyanendra’s continued refusal to hold democratic elections. This sparked a full-bodied civil war that would rage for another four years. 

According to the exhibit information, the war resulted in 15,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. The war ended in November 2006 with the Comprehensive Peace Accord, which appeased the Maoists and extricated the monarchy, but failed to reorient the state with a new constitution.

Boyle explained the strained optimism regarding the new Nepali government. 

“I wouldn’t call it peace, but the war has ended and it isn’t coming back, so on the one hand that’s hopeful and at a popular level people are very optimistic for the future, but nothing works,” Boyle said. “There were one set of constituent assembly elections, but that was completely paralyzed. November 19th, next week, there will be new constituent assembly elections, which is designed to craft a new constitution.”

One of the images in the gallery depicts a woman revolutionary in uniform. Accompanying the image is a placard that explains the social progress the Maoists made in regard to gender roles. According to the placard, prior to the revolution women were largely confined to domestic responsibility, but after the monarchy was abolished, women have more freedom to pursue professional work. 

For Nepal, the price of peace and freedom from autocratic rule, at least for now, is the surrender of a functioning government.

“Everything’s changed, which is why we chose the image of the street child at the start who was in this euphoric moment celebrating the fall of the monarchy. Then, five years later, everything has changed, but he’s still a street child,” Boyle said. 

Shreyasha Paudel HM ’14, an international student from Nepal, provided further insight about the challenges the Nepali government faces with the newly integrated Maoism.

“A lot of people who were elected had been oppressed and didn’t have all the facilities where they were living as farmers and such,” Paudel said. “A lot of those people came into the assembly, but the problem was they didn’t have the background of sociology or economics or law. It’s a big thing being in the assembly but it’s also a responsibility to write a constitution, which didn’t really happen.”

Paudel also said that the Maoists want to establish federalism according to ethnicity. This is problematic, because Nepal is very diverse and no group is strong or large enough to form an influential majority. The Nepali people are no longer burdened by the violence of war, but now deal with a fragmented government that has not yet established a definitive structure. 

“Nepal’s Civil War: A Photographic Retrospective” is a distillation of a highly nuanced political and social process that went on under the radar of American media. The exhibit’s close proximity is a unique opportunity to understand the state of a nation from photographic primary sources. It is free and open to the public, weekdays through Dec. 10.

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