The Feeling of Being Witnessed: Alisha Bade Shrestha ’23
Recent graduate trustee Alisha Bade Shrestha ’23 discusses her experience studying Performing and Visual Arts at Bennington College and the "small nestled miracles" she found on campus.
When Alisha Bade Shrestha ’23 applied to Bennington, got accepted, and decided to enroll, she didn’t know what she was signing up for.
“All liberal arts colleges are interdisciplinary, but here it seemed like people were doing extremes, two different things, and I saw that as a possibility for myself,” she said. “But I did not know the Plan Process. I didn’t know what it meant, really. And I didn’t know how flexible the curriculum was until I got here.”
Shrestha is from Nepal. When she arrived, she wanted to focus on performing and visual arts. As a Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation Fellow, Shrestha interned at Ma-Yi Theatre Company in New York City. She also worked as assistant stage manager at the Dorset Theater Festival in Dorset, Vermont.
“I have been lucky so far in getting these things,” she said of the challenging and rewarding Field Work Term placements she received.
Throughout her time, she explored the interdisciplinary nature of Bennington through film and photography, public action, theater, and writing and translation.
As a part of having received the Newman and Cox Public Action Student Fellowship in 2023, Shrestha documented the Nepali Feminist Movement with a combination of oral history and found images and footage.
During her time at Bennington, Shrestha realized how few photographs there were of Nepal and Nepali history, particularly of women.
“There is a great deal of feminist history lacking in education,” she said. “So I thought to continue my artistic pursuits with the lens of womanism. I wanted to explore my history and to clarify the lives of my mother and grandmother.”
She connected with female activists in Nepal. Her project, part of her senior work, used images to produce a hybrid documentary and explores the changes of women’s rights and personal womanism in Nepal.
Shrestha also served as co-managing editor of (M)othertongues, a student-founded journal that includes student prose, poetry, and artwork and addresses such themes as migration, diaspora, in-betweenness, identity, cultural diversity, and language. The journal started with support from the Mellon Foundation, in collaboration with the Consortium on Forced Migration Displacement and Education.
“It has been a place of just welcoming diverse work in all fields,” Shrestha said. “I am really proud of the publication.”
She also explored the ideas of “film as translation” and “fiction being inherent in documentary filmmaking” in her film Heir to an Etched Tale, which was installed in the Usdan Gallery Senior Show, Splinter.
In the final days before graduation, Shrestha was named as Bennington College’s new graduate trustee.
“I am excited, but I am also very honored and proud of the legacy I've created for women who come from a small country and community like mine,” she said.
As she prepared to say goodbye to Bennington and was asked what she will miss, Shrestha unleashed a long list of loves.
“I love and am going to miss the people here. The faculty members, you know them by their first names. You know their partners, their dogs…” she explained. “Just the feeling of being witnessed by somebody is so important here.”
She will miss her peers, as well, especially their capacity to delight and surprise.
“Bennington is a place made up of small nestled miracles, and those happen in Dining Hall or in classes where someone does a scene, and it is like ‘whoa.’ Or someone does a dance move, and they just look so different than they are. It is like a movie.
“And I love the classes here. I thrive in them, so I am going to miss having that structure of going and doing work and watching other people do their work, just witnessing and being witnessed. That is so comforting. You don’t worry about the future when you are doing art.
“And, here,” she continues, “I found a voice.”
Shrestha notes participating in the Student Educational Policies Committee, Town Hall Meetings, working as a House Chair, and participating in student government.
“Bennington practices what it preaches in that you are going to be heard. Maybe exactly what you want is not going to happen, but there is a place for you to say what you need to say.” Shrestha continues, “The voice here is very strong. That is what I want to take: to be so passionate about my morals and what I believe in. Bennington taught me how to be a person, I think, this place.”
In addition to serving on the Board of Trustees, Shrestha took a position through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) immediately after graduation. She welcomed the opportunity to do physical work while thinking about her writing crafts and connecting to the soil and nature.
“I wanted to reflect on all of my senior work and how I can make it better,” said Shrestha.
Currently, Shrestha is working as a research assistant and sourdough baker at Sunnyfield Brick Oven Bakery in Tamworth, NH, and as the Associate Artist at Vermont Public Theater.