Suman and Anil Shakya are based in Patan, coming from a metal-working family of artisans. They are cousins who grew up together and follow in a long line of traditional craftsmanship. Suman’s father was a silversmith, while Anil’s family were skilled chisellers in metalware. Their great passion is taking the base material produced by the masters in the lost wax method of statue-making. This lifelong passion determines their philosophy as they seek to put their own interpretation on the basic statues. Although each puts his own inner artistic themes on to the work, they have completely separate ideas and individual talents. They mostly work in copper, but silver, gold and even iron are all metals with which they have developed skills. Copper is considered the metal of purity by the Tibetan masters who followed the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. The Licchavi period in Kathmandu gave rise to the greatest explosion of religious art in the 13th and 14th centuries and even today many artists seek inspiration from those times.
One great concern they have is that the temptations and influences of the modern world are putting the art and culture of Nepal at risk of being lost to younger generations. Although most Nepalese conscientiously follow their daily religious rituals, the rush of contemporary society is hiding the true ideology behind the acts, including the worship of the deities. The Golden Temple in Patan is the major shrine for Newari Buddhists in the Kathmandu Valley, but each area has its own temple. The Rudra Varna Mahavihar is the focus of their area.
However hard an artist works and whatever their talent, it is always necessary to earn a living, and to be able to do this through a passion is very satisfying. Many of their statues and artwork are made for commissions, but their greatest pleasure comes from producing pieces that come from their own hearts. For these and other reasons, they are very happy to be involved with the Kathmandu Art House development project.
Suman is a couple of years older and developed his craft from an early age, watching his father at work. In those days Patan was the main centre for arts and crafts, with the sounds of metalworking ringing out in the narrow streets – the noises of modernity were absent, and an air of calm pervaded the city. Suman began to develop his own path from the age of 13. Over the next 25–30 years he has sought to design and work on his pieces, keeping in mind their historic significance while bringing the stories of the deity or image alive through his own artistic interpretation. These contemporary designs in no way interfere with the traditional forms of the deities, because to do so would interrupt the powers derived from such images. That is the skill of the modern artist.
Siddhi Raj Sakya, a master craftsman in metal chiselling, had a significant influence on Suman’s experience. In the same way that they gained ideas from earlier masters, they too want to inspire those that follow through their own artefacts. Suman works in great detail, adding layers of decoration and intricate designs to the original lost wax image.
Anil’s family were leading artisans in Patan and specialised in metal chiselling. Even at the age of 6 and 7, Anil was fascinated by the pieces produced in his home. As a child he played with the images like toys, but as he grew up they began to be more than just idols. He also began to experiment with the raw materials and soon developed his own passion for creativity. His work seeks to define the image in such a way as to make history come alive. Anil has a great passion for the design and enhancement of the image. He seeks to give depth to the image with intricate designs, often in floral styles. Traditionally an image will have certain figures protecting or enhancing the main deity; makaras are such examples. The designs flow from the artist’s own imagination. It is these additional works that make the pieces unique and a true reflection of the artist’s conscious intent, or maybe even from their subconscious (perhaps the real centre of true talent).
The skill of the metal artworker is to produce new interpretations of traditional themes, to give a new dimension to the pieces – one that makes the admirer gain his own inspiration. Self-study has been the guiding theme for both artists and this shows in their work. Some of Anil’s work involves adding semi-precious stones and adding a painted dimension to the image, again reflecting a personal theme or added storyline.