Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Indigeneity and Art in the Himalayas

05 July 2024, 1:00 pm–5:00 pm


A one-day event that showcases the work of artists and researchers from Nepal and India as they engage with the themes of Indigenous identity, collective rights, and possibilities of new futures amidst the unfolding climatic and social crises.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

Invitation Only






Mridu Rai and Sangita Thebe Limbu


IAS Common Ground, Room G11, Ground Floor
South Wing, UCL
Ground floor, Wilkins building
United Kingdom

A new generation of Indigenous artists, educators, and writers have been producing an influential body of work in recent years, which aims to reclaim and represent Indigenous stories, experiences, and marginalised histories in the Himalayas. They also seek to reimagine new futures and possibilities amidst the unfolding climatic and social crises.

Our project Indigeneity and Art in the Himalayas - funded by the IAS Critical Area Studies Small Grants Fund - aims to bring together artists and researchers from Nepal and India to share their experiences of working on issues of identity and collective rights in the eastern Himalayas. In doing so, we will critically reflect on Indigenous storytelling, knowledge production and methodologies, and the contested discourse on Indigeneity in Asia.


13.00 – 14.30
Film screening of Ningwasum and Mangdem’ma
Ningwasum is a science-fiction documentary by Subash Thebe Limbu. The film reflects on the concepts of time, memory, and belonging as well as experiences of colonisation and cultural erasure.
Mangdem’ma is a short film by Mekh Limbu. It explores the historical fragmentation of the Adivasi Indigenous community in Nepal under the postcolonial national identities.

Subash Thebe Limbu is a Yakthung artist based in Nepal and the UK. Working with sound, film, music, performance, painting, and podcast, he draws on science and speculative fiction to address Indigenous struggles resulting from the effects of colonisation and climate change. Limbu graduated from Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London and holds degrees from Middlesex University and Lalit Kala Campus in Kathmandu.
Mekh Limbu is an artist based in Kathmandu from Dhankuta. Belonging to the Adivasi-Janajati Limbu community, his work often addresses the geopolitical fractures that stretch and shape Indigeneity. His use of archival matter is grounded in a need for the intergenerational transfer of language, ritual, and memory. His works also document the ramifications of Nepal’s labour migration industry on his family, underscoring the estrangement of traditional kinship structures. His video work Mangdem’ma-an invocation for the healing of adivasi spirits and lands was screened at Tate Modern, London, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2022-23 and Biennale Jogja 17 (2024). He has exhibited at Waley Art, Taipei (2019); Weltmusem Wien, Vienna (2019); Kathmandu Triennale (2017); Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus (2016); and the Serendipity Arts Festival, Goa (2016). Alongside his collective, Artree Nepal, he has also been a part of Kathmandu Triennale (2022), Dhaka Art Summit (2020), and Biennale of Sydney (2020).

14.30 - 14.45
Tea/Coffee Break

14.45 - 15.15
Shadow play ‘Ki Syiem Kynthai Jaintia (The Jaintia Queen)’
This shadow play is steeped in oral history and draws inspiration from the traditional theatre festival in Jowai, Meghalaya, India. Through the lens of a young girl's quest to unearth the stories of the Jaintia queens, the play delves into the intricacies of historical narration, representation, and collective memory.

Synchar Pde is a community artist and researcher hailing from Jowai, India. A Meghalaya and London-based artist, she completed her BA in Fine Arts from Chelsea College of Arts. Her work is deeply rooted in exploring the diverse experiences of the people who call India home, particularly through the experiences of an Indigenous tribal person. She frequently employs materials that are reusable or recycled, such as tea powder or paper. This choice not only aligns with her artistic vision but also serves to emphasise the temporary nature of her work.

15.15 - 15.45
Tea/Coffee Break and Networking

15.45 - 17.00
Panel Discussion on ‘Encountering Indigeneity in the Himalayas’ with Subash Thebe Limbu, Synchar Pde, Anudeep Dewan and Mridu Rai 

Anudeep Dewan is a doctoral candidate of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, Anudeep’s research is informed by her family's history of migration across Himalayan nation-state borders from eastern Nepal, caused primarily by the state’s imposition of taxes on land and the gradual enforcement of the concept of land as private property. Through her research, she aims to provide an understanding of how nation-state centric legal systems have and continue to displace Indigenous legal systems of land use and care, and as a consequence, Indigenous communities from their lands. Anudeep works with Indigenous memory in the forms of oral history, old land documents, and photographic materials to support the making of Indigenous-centred histories.
Mridu Rai is a PhD scholar in Anthropology at UCL. Her research centres on harnessing Indigenous and animistic philosophies as methodologies and frameworks within visual culture. She is the founder of the Confluence Collective, a platform founded by researchers and artists that facilitates interdisciplinary dialogues and critical engagement with visual practices in the Eastern Himalayas.

17.00 – 18.00
Drinks and refreshments will be provided.

13.00 – 18.00
Photo exhibition
Throughout the event, we will display artworks by artists/photographers Millo Ankha, Yawan Rai, and Chingrimi Shimray. The exhibition will also be on display between 8-19 July at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) Library.

Millo Ankha is a former dentist turned artist and poet from Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh. She works with images, texts, oral literature, performance and mixed mediums. Her work explores themes of gender, environment and Indigenous worldviews.
Yawan Rai is a freelance photographer from Gangtok, Sikkim. He completed his Photography Diploma course in 2014 from Delhi and returned home to practise photography both as a profession and hobby. Apart from commercial and commissioned photography work, his work mostly focuses on documenting the stories and ritual practices of the eastern Himalayan Indigenous Kirat communities guided by their oral and written narratives, including his own (Dumi Rai). His visual-artistic practice involves not just taking photos on the field, but also learning the slow art of printmaking, which he feels is an integral part of his process. He also runs a fine art printing studio called Studio Tetteluna in Gangtok, which he started in 2019. The word Tetteluna, which translates to slowness in the Dumi Rai language, guides his artistic practice.
Chingrimi Shimray is a visual artist and designer whose work delves into cultural inquiry and belonging. She explores her themes through photography, print, textiles, and games. She is the co-founder of ishi Magazine, a bilingual publication dedicated to bringing together narratives of Indigeneity from the past and present. She is also an active member of AAMA Collective, a female-led, lens-based collective from Northeast India. Currently, her work focuses on community engagement and the gamification of collective inquiry.

The financial administrative support is provided by the UCL Department of Anthropology. The exhibition is supported by the UCL IOE library.

Image: video still from the docufiction Ningwasum. The photo was provided by artist Subash Thebe Limbu.