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Kathmandu Portfolio + 1
Ira Cohen
An Exhibition of Photographs from Kathmandu, 1970-1974

Ira Cohen by Gerard Malanga
photo of Ira Cohen in Amsterdam 1979 © Gerard Malanga

All photographs and text © Ira Cohen.
Text is Kathmandu Dream Piece, published in Friction 10, Summer 1996

click on the small images to go to a full page image with caption.

Karma Tsultrim
1. Karma Tsultrim (Ossian MacLise)
Swayambhunath, Kathmnadu

Trying to describe Kathmandu is like making a cross-section of sky and clouds, indefinable as the mysterious blue which hovers above our ancient memories, everchanging as the cloudforms advancing over the valley; dreams of dragonclaws dissolving like sugar in the oracular waters of oriental wisdom only to reform in great mushrooms of future holocaust. Endless cycles of Death and Rebirth figure everywhere in the storied pagodas, statues of Gods encrusted with orange puja powder or brass figures shining like mirrors from the million hands which do daily homage to the cosmic spirit.There where the common greeting is Namaste (I bow down to the God which is in you), where the dawn comes up over the peaks of crystal and ice hastened by the sound of bells ringing everywhere. And the great turning wheels of the Tibetans keep constant reign over the balance of an errant planet where even the most humble carrier in rags
Death Comes to Swayambhu
2. Death Comes to Swayambhu
walking over the icy moraines demonstrates that true dignity is born of poverty and can never die under an unlittered sky. I remember ripped prayerflags flying in the mountain wind and suddenly there was snow. I remember nights full of candles burning on every doorstep and roofledge and then the stones, every one of which has its own history. Nor is there any flower without its place in the garland of giving. If you spend any time in Kathmandu you will see a man wearing a brown overcoat whatever the season, whose fingers are covered with cheap glittering rings and who carries a rolled up newspaper out of which he will give you a picture of Krishna playing his flute or Durga with a necklace of human skulls riding resplendently on a lion. Or it may be Shiva, Lord of Beasts, sitting in meditation on a tigerskin, not unlike the saddhus who come to worship at the shrines of Pashupatinath as part of their never ending pilgrimage. On the back of the picture he has written painstakingly in English his celebration of the day in honor of the God. This will be the Global Emperor who, when he knew I was leaving for Europe, prepared letters for the political leaders of the West, advising them that "Defense of Globe is our Main Concern." He will be endlessly on his way to the Temple where he will present a fruit to Lord Narayan hoping that one day the fruit will dissolve there without being taken by monkey or hungry human. For it is only when the untouched fruit dissolves completely that the Global Emperor will consider that true benefit may accrue to the Human Race. Then it may be said that the God Himself has taken it.

Gai Jatra Krishna Ma and Father
3. Gai Jatra Kathmandu 4. Krishna Ma and Father, Pashupatinath, Kathmandu
Krishna Ma with pierced tongue Swayamnbhu Buddha Naga, Allahabad
5. Krishna Ma with pierced tongue, Pashunpatinath, Kathmandu; Mahasivaratri 6. Swayamnbhu Buddha, Kagyu gompa, Swayambhunath 7. Naga, Allahabad, Kumbha mela, 1977.

Maccendranath chariot japa, Pashupatinath, Mahasivaratri Mahakala Puja
8. Maccendranath chariot, Patan, Kathmandu valley. 9. japa, Pashupatinath, Mahasivaratri. 10. Mahakala Puja, Kagyu gompa, Swayambhunath.
spire of Swayambhunath stupa Mata-ji Crippled Sadhu
11. spire of Swayambhunath stupa. 12. Mata-ji, Kathmandu. 13. Crippled Sadhu, Kathmandu.

I remember I was just walking down the road and across the ricefields where people were working with hoes and pickaxes, all women in a row. The old men together could barely push their load over the bridge and all the others carrying loads of vegetables or refrigerators on their backs. I was past the road and on top of the hill and the clouds, they were carrying the sky and we were dreaming of thunder.
mylar Portrait of Angus Maclise
14. mylar Portrait of Angus Maclise, New York, 1960s
I remember a detail of melting snow and at the jewelled edges of brittle ice a brown faded flower shines golden in the sunlight at the top of a giant profile like a broken nose cresting the horizon. And then the young Newar girl was married to a tree. I remember pretending to sleep while outside a great slaughter was taking place. A hecatomb of water buffalos killed by the King's men and the King's palms dipped in the blood of sacrifice printed on a white cloth. I remember being assaulted by hostile radios, hysterical laughter in a babble of foreign tongues. I remember the blood in the streets awaiting the last propitious rains and then the sky full of kites repenting of such illbegotten caresses and I implore the secret heart's rhetoric to spray this night with its golden sheen. In the memory of parchment unrolled and the sound of muffled drums calling us to unspeakable acts there on the shores of some fuming river, solitary and unknown ... while pretending to fall asleep over the maps of future possibilities. Imagine all this perfumed with urine and then another busload of tourists appear as if dropped from the sky with cameras trained on each other as they stand in the marketplace afraid of the cows and what is hidden within. For them it is only a stopover, a moment of reality between closing walls of industrial fantasy, but for the one who stays long enough to know the God within, for the one who learns to bow, if only once, for that one the dream will never die.

All photographs copyright Ira Cohen.

All photographs were taken during the years 1971-1974 unless otherwise noted.

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