Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 4 x 4 ft
The Dark Light
At first glance, it screams utter sorrow. It projects out-and-out unhappiness of the mind, body and soul, a feeling of having given up on life itself. It is dark, it is lonely, it is sad.
But do not dismiss the painting, give it some time to grow on you. The painting may fleetingly transport viewers to painful periods of their lives, long repressed. Most of us have experienced such ‘dark’ moments, where we struggled and persevered only to emerge elatedly on the other side. This painting is the work of 16-year-old Dipesh Nepali who is from a village in Jumla district, in the isolated mountains of north-western Nepal. An ordinary school student, Dipesh has had a difficult life in a harsh environment where food is often scarce, winters are long and dreary, and access to basic healthcare and education is minimal.
In his spare time, after finishing his household chores, Dipesh likes to draw and paint. It is his escape from the daily grind, a chance to express himself and bare his soul. “Art was my escape from the world, and from myself,” Dipesh told me recently. “It is a way to be truly free from the chains of family and society. It is where the chaos of my mind and soul find rest, art is a medium to bring it all out.” Talking to the young artist in Kathmandu recently helped me understand the written and unwritten rules of society, not least materialism and the desperate search for instant, superficial gratification which ultimately led him to seek solitude, go into hiding, and retreat into himself. Yet, in his work, Dipesh has retained the curiosity of his childhood, the questioning and seeking, and in doing so he has discovered that art resided within him. It only needed to be kindled gently to become a powerful tool.
At first glance, this painting does not seem to inspire much, it looks ordinary and is not pleasing to the eye, either. But give it time and space to incubate, and it radiates a quiet energy, like an inner applause for a battle won over negative emotions. Proof that the artist has been at a low point in his life, and is back up to show us how it felt. If we reflect on the painting long enough, it may bring back our own dark moments, reminding some of us of the process of recovery, how we emerged stronger, determined and self-reliant. No matter what our struggle, there is always more ahead to look forward to. But evoking and honouring these memories empowers us to meet adversity head-on and overcome them. Dipesh was confused about himself and about his passion for art. So, he travelled to Kathmandu seeking skill and exposure. Luckily, his older brother was in the city and took care of him.
“Yet, internally I found no relief, being weighed down with my own thoughts, feelings and emotions. I submerged myself in my work, as an escape. Hard work became a form of a band-aid, but it never really healed the wounds,” Dipesh relates.