Nabin Shakya, Executive Member of Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal (FHAN) fondly remembers sitting on the handlebars of his father’s bicycle and riding along the streets to Hanuman Dhoka. It was where he watched his father doing renovation and rebuilding work. Starting from woodcarving, he got into crafting statues and sculptures out of stone, and has had quite a lot of success in doing so. He then got into designing, and even designed a few traditional houses.
Who, or what, has most influenced your path toward becoming a maker?
Stone and wood craft have been part of the family tradition since my grandfather’s time. My father worked for the Department of Archaeology for more than 30 years. He worked on both daily basis and contractual basis. When I was small, I went on my father’s bicycle to the renovation site of the Hanuman Dhoka palace. When I got older, I got to work on the renovations of Nuwakot and Gorkha durbars, and the Kumari Ghar in Basantapur.
It was 15 years back that I realized we shouldn’t be limited to crafting statues of gods and goddesses. That’s how I got into interior decoration as well. I didn’t learn the art from any particular person. I learnt it by watching people at work. Although the tools may be different, the artwork in both woodcraft and stonecraft is quite similar. If you have the understanding of 3D depth and sketch work, you can be good in any art work.
The art of handicraft is traditionally passed down from generation to generation, but the new generation is adopting an alternative profession.
What does the future of stonecraft look like?
The flaws lie in the government’s policy. It should focus on promoting domestic products. In the name of climate change, they put on a lot of restrictions on the raw materials found in the jungle. The youth are frustrated and choose some other line of work. Those who get into it, have started using illegal means to get the required raw material.
Is the Nepali handicraft scene receiving greater external interest, as compared with before?
If you talk about numbers, it brings around 10 billion rupees from 60 countries. If the process is systematized, more earnings can be made.
Do Nepali artists see international acceptance as one of the criteria for success? How does that compare with domestic recognition?
The demand for stonecraft is very high in the domestic market. There are a lot of high profile people in the domestic market who have great interest in Nepali art. But, the international market is the ultimate when it comes to handicraft. I had made a huge stupa for a botanical garden in Bremen in Germany.
What is your best creation?
I had crafted a figure of a water god a long time back, which is usually seen near the water spouts. It is called Varun Dev by some..The figure is blowing a shankha (conch shell also used as a war trumpet in Hindu mythology) with one hand; he is resting the other hand on the ground, and looks upwards at the sky. A tourist got hold of it as soon as he saw it. I regret not being able to photograph it. The water spouts I made for the Fulbari Hotel is another work that I cherish.
What is the involvement of women in the handicraft industry?
The involvement of women in handicraft has grown considerably over the years. According to the FHAN data, there are 300 women entrepreneurs in the field. They are involved in handicrafts such as paper craft, doll making, pashmina, and felt.
Who are the prominent women artisans in the field?
There are quite a few women entrepreneurs; among them, Padmasna Shakya and Divya Tuladhar, who are involved in cotton craft, have taken handicraft to another level.
What role is FHAN playing in promoting handicraft?
After being converted into a federation, it has got more responsibilities. To promote handicraft in the SAARC region, we are building a SAARC design center to promote Nepali handicrafts. The government has given us land for the purpose.
As someone who appreciates handmade things and surrounds himself with beautiful objects, what is that something you truly treasure in your home, and why?
I have an old collection of art made by myself. I have a few statues of Ganesh and Bhimsen that we use for worshipping.
How has the local handicraft scene changed since you began your career?
Nowadays, the Nepali market is stronger than it was before. Whether it is the construction of parks, hotels, or resorts, they use handicraft for interior decorations. When people build a house, they want a water spout in the garden.
Nepal-made handicrafts are often stolen and end up in the international market. What’s your take on that?
The old statues in the past used to easily bypass the system due to weak government policies, and reach the international market to be auctioned off, but due to initiatives taken by the Department of Archaeology, there are very few cases reported these days.
How has stonecraft evolved over the years?
If you talk about the history of stonecraft, the Shilakars (now Shilpakars) of Patan’s Jom Bahal had produced a lot of handicrafts. Bhinche Bahal and Sundhara were other prominent places for handicraft production. Sundhara had just one family that worked on handicraft; my grandfather’s family. He had three sons, all of whom, including me, have continued the legacy. Due to the increase in the demand of handicraft, Indian artists started bringing in handicrafts to Nepal which had a huge influence on people living in the terai. Soon, they got involved in making handicrafts, as well. From 20-30 houses, it has grown into a large scale industry in 25 years.
What advice would you give to new artists?
The new crop of artists don’t have the past like many of us do. Most of them are seen copying the statues, arts, and designs of previous artists, rather than creating something that is original.They also lack the proper research and study of the art. They need to be specialized and more trained to bring out quality products. An artist should pay attention to detail in any craft. If you are crafting Buddha, you should know the exact size of Buddha’s ears, the facial structure, the size of hands and feet.