Apr 23, 2017 |

The Heartbeats of Bungamati

TEXT : Ar. Swati Pujari Photo courtesy : atelier for artists

It is even more so for a settlement like Bungamati, which is well known in the valley for two things – firstly as one of the two homes of the highly revered deity Rato Machindranath, and secondly as home of some of the best woodcarvers in the country.

Walking the streets of Bungamati one feels the beauty of this ancient settlement in every step. Not only can this be credited to the old houses and ponds, and the temple complex of Machindranath, which were damaged by the 2015 earthquake, it is also due to the sounds one hears on these streets – the sound of hammers hitting chisels to carve wood into exquisite pieces. If one follows this sound to its source it is likely that one would be greeted by a smiling face inside a small studio where the artists of Bungamati are practicing the beautiful art of woodcarving. Many studios, or factories as they are commonly known in Bungamati, make souvenirs such as carved photo frames along with door and window frames and panels. It would be safe to say that at least one person from each household in Bungamati practices woodcarving,

many of whom were driven into the trade due to the financial difficulties faced by their families. Almost every woodcarver starts by working in doors and windows – the frames and the panels, under the guidance of a master. Apprenticeship is one of the strongest methods of skill transfer in traditional arts and woodcarving is no different. Some beginners start by rubbing sand paper on the pieces created by their gurus or seniors, they do this for a year or so and slowly move on to carving patterns like foliage or flowers, still on the surfaces of pieces created by their gurus or seniors. Only after years of working in these frames, panels and patterns do the artists tend to move to sculptures. Most of the artists start carving sculptures with the intention of developing their skills, as sculptures are inherently more complicated than patterns.

However, the path to developing their skills is not an easy one, and not the least due to the highly precise nature of the discipline. It is rare that gurus teach their apprentices without any reservation especially if the apprentice is not their descendant. Adding to that, the lack of, or inadequate reach of, formal programs in woodcarving means that many woodcarvers go through a lot of hardships to learn this art. It would only be fair to say that the ancient cities of the Kathmandu Valley are cities of art with exquisite examples in wood and metal on display in public buildings and spaces. The lack of skill transfer in such traditional art is a major threat to the identity of the valley. It is even more so for a settlement like Bungamati, which is well known in the valley for two things – firstly as one of the two homes of the highly revered deity Rato Machindranath, and secondly as home of some of the best woodcarvers in the country.
Within this context the materialization of 'Atelier for Artists' came along as

a collaboration after the Gorakha earthquake. In the aftermaths of the earthquake many people in Bungamati, including the many artists, lost their loved ones, their houses and their livelihoods. At the same time, in another part of the world – in the Netherlands, a group of artists came together and donated the proceeds from the auction of their artwork to support a sustainable program in Nepal focused towards Nepali art and heritage. These situations lead to the collaboration between the group of Dutch artists – 'Artist for Nepal', a not-for-profit company – 'Accelerator Nepal', a school of arts – 'Kathmandu University School of Arts', along with a highly experienced master trainer from Bungamati a veteran artist – Laximan Tuladhar Maharjan. It is this collaboration that gave birth to the 'Atelier for Artists' in Bungamati.
The primary aim in establishing the atelier was to support and promote local arts and local artists. It was observed that although Bungamati

has a pool of budding as well as experienced woodcarvers, the ancient knowledge of this craft is not as intact as one would hope for. As timber gets more and more expensive, the artists find themselves lacking patrons and thus resort to making cheaper souvenirs that are sold around town. To make matters worse, the renovation of heritage structures, which include highly intrinsic woodcarving, is based on a tender-notice system where as per the regulations of the Government of Nepal the contract is generally awarded to the lowest bidder. In spite of these circumstances, many artists, especially ones who have several years of experience, want to focus on developing their skills, and it is through the discussions with these artists and the master trainer Guru Laximan dai that the program at the atelier was envisioned.
The Atelier for Artists Bungamati was inaugurated in June 2016, after which it conducted a short course of

apprenticeship under Guru Laximan dai. 24 applications were received for this course out of which 18 were called for interview and 10 were selected. However, in the duration of the course three apprentices had to drop out owing to various circumstances, and upon completion seven different artists created seven different artwork under the tutelage of Guru Laximan dai. Each artist selected a deity they wanted to work on, with the recommendation of their Guru, and focused on the anatomy, proportions and textual details of their artwork. Each deity, in each of its specific forms is defined in a particular manner in the scriptures – a knowledge that is very important for artists creating the images of these

deities. Besides, the form of the deities is also described. For a traditional artist it is a must to follow these guidelines while at the same time incorporate their individual identity as an artist in their art. The artists developed their skills not only while creating their own art piece, but also by agglomeration in one location – at the atelier, where each artist created a different piece. In this regard each artist had the opportunity to learn from the creation of seven different sculptures.
Besides the apprenticeship at the atelier, the artists also follow four lectures at the Kathmandu University School of Arts and have attended several workshops and visits related to their art. Upon completion of the first session the

Atelier joined the Kathmandu Triennale 2017 for the final showcase and sale of the artwork created during the program. The proceeds of the artwork sale will be shared between the respective artist and the future apprentice who will join the next session of the program, which is to say a part of the proceeds will contribute to the scholarship of the next batch of apprentices making the program partially self sustainable.
The artwork was showcased at the Newa Chen Art Gallery during the Kathmandu Triennale, and focused on the final output as well as the creation process of the art. The atelier also aims at releasing a short documentary on the story of this process in April 2017.


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