Breaking the Cycle

A Nepali photographer’s attempt to engage with taboo aspects of womanhood

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12 November 2018
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“I KNEW I HAD BECOME NACCHUNEY—too impure to touch—this is how Bunu Dhungana, a Nepal-based photographer, recalled the first time she saw bloodstains on her underwear at the age of 13. She remembered informing her mother, and that they both cried. After their conversation, Dhungana was confined to a dark room for seven days.

Dhungana’s photographic work, “Confrontations,” using herself as the subject, reflects on her experiences of growing up in a traditional Nepali-Hindu community between the ages of six and 36. Using her body as the trope for discourse, her work comments on society’s role in shaping the reality of women, and the effect it has on their psyche and sense of self. “For as long as I remember, I was always reminded that I was a girl and I had to behave in a certain manner,” she said. “The way I should sit, laugh, talk … there is this way of being. The dos and don’ts are clearly laid out. There is an idea of how a woman should be. And I hated it.”

The oppressive expectations of society drove Dhungana to leave Nepal for India in 2001, and she recalled being persistently questioned about her plans for marriage or children as she grew older. Under the pretext of enrolling in an education programme, she hoped to access a more emancipated environment in Delhi. However, it soon dawned on her that societal norms are transnational phenomena, and though moving cities may have granted her more agency than she had in her immediate community, she said freedoms elsewhere are also “questionable.” “Confrontations” started taking shape in May 2017, after she attended a photography workshop where she chose to work on the topic of single women.

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    Bunu Dhungana is a photographer interested in questioning the notions of gender and patriarchy. Her photographic work is informed by her background in sociology.

    Keywords: menstruation femininity marriage Nepal patriarchy metoo movement womanhood Nepali hindu community stigma taboo metoo movement india metoo newar community gender