I first visited Nepal in 2005 where I beheld the beautiful repousse temple toranas of the Kathmandu Valley. An ancient endangered art, the Newars of the Valley are universally considered the finest practitioners of repousse—the art of hammering sheet metal into three dimensional forms. When I first gazed upon the ancient fire-gilded copper imagery of the toranas, their flickering surfaces graced by the remaining tissues of once thickly applied gold and the richly colored patinas of exposed copper, I was put in mind immediately of painting. It was from that first aesthetic impression that my envisioned synthesis between repousse and painting emerged. In 2011 I was immensely fortunate to be awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award to actualize my vision, and I returned to Nepal to continue my study of repousse metalworking under the greatest living masters of this practice, the grandsons of the famed historic master Kuber Singh Shakya of Uku Bahal; I had initiated a feasibility study in 2010, and my return for study under Fulbright aegis was a tremendous joy. My guru was and remains Rabindra, son of Rudra Raj Shakya, who is also my colleague and friend. It became one of my life’s greatest joys to work with and be accepted as a friend within the artisans of Rabindra’s atelier in Imodol, and my relationship with this venerable Shakya family is one of my greatest personal treasures.
I quickly appreciated through my study the extreme technical challenges of this metalworking practice; Newar repousse requires a minimum of ten years to attain basic proficiency in all technical aspects–the practice is far more difficult that lost wax casting. As capable artisans continue to be few and numbers are dwindling, I felt a special urgency in celebrating and sharing the wonders of the Rabindra’s atelier with both Nepalis—who were amazed that these masters lived among them—and resident foreigners, who had heretofore no knowledge of these astounding works. Indeed, one of the primary intentions of my work, “The Prakriti Project,” was to rekindle awareness and appreciation of this rare indigenous practice by demonstrating its relevance to artists—especially Nepali–for its contemporary expressive potential. To this end I often invited visitors to view Rabindra’s masterworks and to personally view this demanding artform in process. One of the most rewarding aspects of my outreach was in witnessing the expressions of awe upon the faces of visitors as they beheld works ranging from the exquisitely delicate to the breathtakingly heroic which spread throughout Rabindra’s atelier. Many delightful afternoons were spent in introducing a groups of influential Nepalis to view a colossal Buddha head by Rabindra in progress, observe a demonstration of my work, and consider the relevance of this ancient practice for contemporary art. These noble artists are true living national treasures of Nepal. As the renewal of appreciation among Nepalis and others continues to grow, it remains my fervent hope that my art will continue to further the knowledge of the historic legacy of these extraordinary masters.
Maureen T. Drdak – Fulbright to Nepal 2011