From Nepal, with Thanks

Puja Thapa’s family has a tradition of thanking friends by giving them artwork. So now, Thapa, a junior at Keene State College who is from Nepal, is thanking her American friends by making drawings of them that she’ll show in September at an exhibit at the campus’s Carroll House Gallery.

The show – Embracing Cultural Perspectives – will feature Thapa’s work, along with that of her father, Naresh, as well as Benajil Rai, another Nepalese student, and Professor Renate Gebauer. The elder Thapa, a professional artist in Kathmandu, specializes in watercolor and acrylic landscapes and portraits. He works out of the family home and was a big influence on Thapa when she was growing up.

“Art has been my entire life,” she said. “I have always been around it.”

Thapa, who is majoring in business management and minoring in studio arts and women’s and gender studies, is currently busy sketching her American friends for the art exhibit. She’s creating pencil sketches in black and white, then applying, in color, a Nepali ornament or accessory.

“I would like to combine the American culture and my culture with it as well,” she said. “I love colors, but I just recently found my interest in pencil sketches. I love having this blank canvas, and then you get a pencil and you get to change the blank canvas into something else, something meaningful. I think pencil sketches are very relaxing. It is like meditation to me. That is how I spend my free time. It is something for me to get lost in.”

Thapa’s interests include arts activism and arts management, as well, and she knows that many artists don’t have the marketing background to get their work out into the world – hence her business management major.

She came to Keene State through a special scholarship that funds young women who are part of an organization in Nepal called the Little Sisters Fund, which helps economically disadvantaged girls get educations.

Through the work of a retired Keene State professor, Len Fleischer, and his wife, Erika Radich, a scholarship has now brought three young women from Nepal to the college. Fleischer and Radich are also Thapa’s American hosts during college breaks, and she credits Radich for sparking the idea of holding an art exhibit.

Thapa and Rai are both scheduled to graduate in spring 2021; the third student from Nepal, Slesha Tuladhar, is finishing up her first year at the college.

“Only a few of us get this opportunity to get higher education in the U.S.,” Thapa said.

In addition to her artwork and other studies, Thapa is involved in many clubs and organizations, including as administrative executive editor for the college newspaper, The Equinox.

“I also work as the treasurer for the Global Culture Club,” she added. “I am a part of the Gardening Club and I recently have started attending open drawing sessions at the Thorne-Sagendorph Gallery on campus.”

In addition to her own drawings and her father’s paintings, the Carroll House show will feature videos by Rai and photographs of Nepal by Dr. Renate Gebauer, a professor of environmental studies at Keene State.

“It all started because I wanted to do an exhibit of my father’s works before I go back to Nepal,” Thapa said, noting that the show will double as a way of saying “thank you” for the opportunities she’s had at the college. “The exhibition is my way of giving back to the community because they accepted me and my culture here.”