“Knowing and Living(in) the city- differently
“What was your experience like in Germany?” Every person I met after I came back here in Kathmandu posed this question to me. It was a common inquiry for people, but I couldn’t answer anything more than “It was a new experience.” I was not able to articulate all those experiences. I still have not been able to fully grasp my encounters, maybe this reflection will help me do that. It is more than a coincidence how after this visit my MFA class is referring to so many resources from Germany, and it is assisting me unpack my learning experiences.
Hieldelberg, as a city, was a new city standing on an unfamiliar culture. I had only been to a few places in India and China before. So, my reference points were always limited to these cities. But traveling to Germany and staying in Heidelberg and Berlin has definitely expanded my perspectives for interpreting cities. The juxtapositions and similarities in these urban centers has molded my “knowing and living(in) the city” experience. I am not sure if being in the city for ten days counts as living in the city but I guess we can consider the temporal aspect of living here. Well, it’s the experiences that count and not the counting of the days, right?
The city bore many layers and the diverse perspectives of the participants helped uncover those layers and collectively form knowledge together-some perspectives stemming from familiarity with the city and others from those learning about it for the first time. I am grateful for this interdisciplinary approach of learning about the city and felt how this cothinking community could contribute to not only building a knowledge city but also in a regular urban city. How could this make a difference in placemaking? How would this influence the city fabric? Can we, as a collective, navigate the cities better?
Walking together, observing together and engaging in conversations, the city of Hiedelberg was revealing so many narratives. As I walked through the cobblestone streets of Hiedelberg, in my mind I was thinking of Kathmandu and Delhi; how are these cities evolving as a knowledge hub? In Heidelberg, one of the oldest universities being situated there was contributing its identity as a knowledge city. Does the heritage and culture of the valley make Kathmandu a knowledge city? Or is it only because of the concentration of educational institutions and the presence of other institutions that make Kathmandu a knowledge hub? What exactly do I mean by “knowledge” in this context?
Exploring the city’s heritage and culture as means of knowing and understanding Hiedelberg was a profound endeavor. The city itself became our class for nine days. As an artist, I was drawn in by the architecture, landmarks, designs and urban landscape. The city’s aesthetics not only held the history but also housed narratives waiting to be shared; they served as points of interaction for engaging in meaningful dialogues. Uniplatz, our designated gathering spot, became a fascinating field study for us when we started to closely examine the space, the movement and the structures that encircled it. We could unearth multiple narratives woven into the fabric of the space, wondering over how the ownership, utilization and curation of this area evolved over horizontal and vertical timeline.
Another way of knowing the city together was the construction of a glossary centered around “urban transformation” . These collaborative extensions of the definition of the words were guiding us in mentally navigating through the city’s complexities. The term that particularly resonated with me was “urban margin” and “storytelling”.
While moving through the city, I observed how the squares were transformed into extensions of cafes, the very places that were open in the morning. During the guided walk led by Zehra, many moments stood out to me. We were positioned outside the bar and some shops during the narratives. Despite being on the street, I felt like I was invading what I perceived as private territory. Similarly, my thoughts turned towards the residents within the house, the very one adorned with Stumbling stones at their doorsteps. I was wondering whether the facade of the house represented the boundary between the private domain of the residents and the public street. The presence of the stumbling stones in the public space seemed to draw upon the context of the residents’ privacy, creating a complex interplay between private and the public. This realization stood out when a resident closed the door guarding her courtyard where her kids were playing.
Throughout this workshop, we engaged in a process of excavating Heidelberg’s history, delving into hidden narratives embodied by Stumbling Stones and the muted recollections of the Sinti and Roma communities. We unearthed stories that predated the establishment of the university, providing us with insights into the city’s earlier periods. Moreover, we immersed ourselves in the creation of new urban landscapes, illustrated by co-housing concepts and the communal spaces of Patrick Henry Village, Collegium Academicum, and Hagebutze.
Throughout our interactions, every individual we came across held their own narratives, varying in their skill as storytellers. Some were amazing at weaving captivating tales, while others simply conveyed their intentions. This led me to contemplate the significance of storytelling and its potential to influence us, much like the mesmerizing effect of a snake charmer. In certain instances, a storyteller’s account can possess such an irresistible allure that we become entangled in their perspective, even mistaking it for our own. Hence, the collective strength of shared perspective becomes vital, enabling us to escape the captivation that limits us. This process plays a role in both the learning as well as unlearning process as we shift our focus towards knowing and learning the city – differently.
There were many moments of unease for me during this workshop. There were questions swirling in my head; How do countries remember the events? How do people remember the event? How do they participate in these difficult conversations? How much story or memory will the place hold on to when it is being converted to something else? After another fabric is laid over, how will you understand the story of the city?
Nija Maharjan, an illustrator, graphic designer, and animator, intricately weaves her cultural heritage and personal connections into her artwork. As an MFA student at Kathmandu University's School of Arts, Department of Art and Design, she passionately delves into the oral histories of the Newar community residing in the valley. Through captivating children's picture books and animated videos, Nija artfully brings these narratives to life, preserving the rich heritage and traditions of her community. Recently, Nija has embarked on a new path of discovery, nurturing a profound interest in research. Eager to broaden the impact of her work, she is excitedly exploring the possibilities of employing visual narratives as a means of effectively communicating and engaging with a wider audience. By fusing her artistic talents with rigorous research methodologies, Nija envisions sharing her findings in visually compelling ways, ensuring that her work resonates deeply and fosters a greater understanding among viewers. Nija Maharjan's journey as an artist, researcher, and storyteller is marked by a dedication to her roots, a commitment to cultural preservation, and an unwavering passion for engaging others through visual mediums.