MAATO | माटाे

Homage to the Naga

Homage to the Naga, Video art for exhibition Maato by Zoe Williams

AIR_MCUBE 12th season in association of British Council Nepal


Resident artist Zoe Williams from the UK, was in Kathmandu as part of the British Council’s Crafting Futures Arts Residency in partnership with Gallery Mcube and Triangle Network- Gasworks from February-April 2020. Her primary plan was to collaborate with community members and artists, artisans and craftspeople from Thimi – the pottery capital of Nepal – to produce two-and-three dimensional as well as performative work. However due to the situation with COVID-19 and the lock down measures enforced in Nepal during her time there, Williams had to switch to a more reflective studio-based practice where she began collating the knowledge that she gathered while interacting with the community to create a body of work from her studio space at Mcube. 

Before the lockdown Zoe was working alongside co-resident Nepalese artist Sushila Singh, who was chosen by Gallery Mcube as her Nepali counterpart on the residency. Sushila works with pen and ink drawings and ceramics as her main mediums. Artist and recent graduate from Katmandu University Anjila Manandhar, also assisted and worked alongside Williams and Singh during this process.

Both artists were working with Thimi based potter Jagat Krishna Prajapati and his wife Tej Maya Prajapati, to produce a series of pots and pieces for a communal feast which was due to happen in Thimi at the end of the residency, but could not due to the pandemic. 

Jagat Krishna Prajapati began working making Raksi cups at 9 years old with his father and has been making pottery for nearly 50 years. Although the style of his pottery bears strong similarities to the other Potters work in Thimi, Krishna says he is always able to differentiate his pieces from others.  

Zoe Williams Artist Statement

Zoe Williams (b.1983). Lives and works in London and is represented by Ciaccia Levi Gallery, Paris. Her practice incorporates a range of mediums including moving image, ceramics, drawing and performance-based work. Her work employs a recurrent symbolic visual language in order to implement a playful interchange between notions of eroticism, craft, gender roles, excess and ritual. 


Zoe’s notes on time in Nepal 

During my time in Nepal, I wanted to research and work with the practice of ceramics in the Kathmandu Valley; Focusing on the towns of Thimi and Bhaktapur which are the ceramic centres of the area, where the predominant material is locally sourced terracotta clay. I was specifically interested in learning about the use value of ceramics in Nepal as something which intersected with both the functional and the symbolic. 

When I arrived in Kathmandu I was overwhelmed with the plethora of intricate decoration and embellishment in all areas of life and this idea of ‘god’ being literally embodied everywhere, from the roadside shrines to the small offerings of tika (coloured powder), rice and flowers or food found at the doorsteps of homes, shops and cross roads. These details were of particular interest to me, as it seemed to really be an insight into how the sacred figures in people’s daily lives in Nepal, and also a relationship to materials which felt quite sculptural.

Over the residency, I became very interested in the prevalence of the snake motif as an entity of worship in Nepali culture.  I was fascinated with the association’s snakes have with air purification, rain and crop fertility in the area, as this seemed to me to be interlinked with the notion of respecting clay as a symbol and product of the soil etc. This feels especially poignant now, when thinking about the high levels of pollution and unregulated urban development in the valley in recent years, which are both encroaching on the areas that clay has been sourced historically and also natural habitats for animals such as snakes. Consequently, the designs on the ceramic pieces I created pay homage to the emblem of the snake. 

One of the main things I have taken away from this residency, is how the relationships between craft, food, ritual and the sacred are so embedded within the routines of daily life and the domestic in Nepal. The link between sustainable materials, preserving ecosystems and non-invasive farming methods also seems an integral aspect of the ceramic tradition, which feels like a really important thing to highlight and develop within a contemporary art and craft context as well as in a broader sense. For me it was also fascinating to see how individual Nepali artists deal with such a strong tradition of intricate craft and notions of the sacred within their work, and how this is also filtered through the questioning of gender roles, technology and contemporary life in Nepal. 

The Terracotta pieces on show at Gallery Mcube were originally meant to be used as both sculptural and functional objects within a finale community feast in Thimi. The aim was to take the traditional forms of the pots and vessels created in Thimi and merge these with our own designs and interventions. Sadly, we were not able to create the finale feast due to the pandemic. 

As part of this exhibition, I have also made a small video work ‘Homage to the Naga’, which was shot on my phone mainly during the lockdown period at Gallery Mcube and then from an ancient British burial site on my return to the UK. This time in lockdown at the gallery was divided between working on the pots, gardening and cooking with Manish and his family and allowed me more time to think about how the details of my immediate domestic and natural environment feed into my work in a more intimate way. The video is meant to act more as a texture or feeling to the material aspect of the ceramics. 

Sushila Singh Artist Statement

“The historical images are both forms and medium for me, to make the abstract insights concrete – they are home to my lines.” Sushila says.
Sushila Singh focuses on pen and ink drawings and ceramics as her mediums where she best expresses. She had her academic career in Lalit Sikshya Academy and Central Department of Fine Arts, Tribhuvan University. Besides, she had been learning from Mr. Babu Raja Dyola since 2004.
“In this artist residential program, I am basically projecting semi abstract figures of femininity reflected in the social – mirror. In doing so, I myself being a woman I will be projecting the mixture of what I feel and what I have been taught in the form of self-love.
I believe femininity represents fertility of liminal space across borders and my experiences on social structure which could project the global psyche in cross cultural and cross border context.”

“मा” आमा
“मा” एऊटा नारी, एक आमा पृथ्वी, अथाह गुण सम्पन्न त्यसलाई लिएर काम गरेकी छु।
माटाे जुन काेमल हुन्छ। त्यस्तै नै नारी पनि अति नै काेमल ।
माटाेले जुन एउटा आकर लिई उनि त्यसलाई ताप दिई एक अर्को रुपमा परिनत हुनेछ ।माटाेलाई मैले ईटामा परिनत गरेकि छु।जुन एकदम बलियो बन्नु हाे। जिवन जिउने काममा कति बाधा अर्चनहरु आउन्छ कति बाट थिचिएर उठ्नु पर्ने हुन्छ । यी कुरा सबैले हामीलाई अझ बलियो बनाउने एऊटा प्रकृया हाे मलाई महसुस हुन्छ ।यही ताप माटाेलाई तापक्रममा राखि कुनै एऊटाबलियाे स्वरुप लिए जस्तै मैले ईटालाई लिएकि छु।
जुन ईटा बाट एउटा पुणँ घर बन्छ। जस्तो कि एक नारिले एऊटा घरलाइ परिपुर्ण बनाउछ। जति पनि उसलाई बाधा अर्चनहरु हुन् यी सबै उसकालागि बलियाे बन्ने एउटा माध्यम हो ।
ऊ अझ बलियो हुदै गईरहेको छ।

“Ma” the mother

I have depicted “ma” as a woman, as the mother earth who is blessed with immense qualities. Maato: the clay is so soft like a woman’s heart.  However, clay can be transformed with the heating process to form a brick. It is a process of making soft element to hard as a brick. Likewise living life is also full of struggle, living in such obstacles is also the process to make yourself strong. In the same manner, how bricks can build a strong house, woman transforms house to a home. It is process of life to realise and become stronger with several ups and down in life. 

Curatorial Note

Gallery Mcube periodically hosts international artist’s residency program in the name of AIR_MCUBE. This residency is open to emerging and established artists from different range of disciplines. 

From 1st March till 6th April 2020 Mcube hosted AIR_MCUBE artist in residence twelfth season in association with British Council Nepal, Triangle Art network and Gassworks, UK. Two artists were selected for this season among them UK based Artist Zoe Williams and Nepali Artist Sushila Singh. Both of them use ceramic as a medium of artistic expression. It is important to have the social engagement through community art and their proposal of involving community in the process of art making is the crucial part of this residency season. Mcube created space for the local and international artists of different genres including community art to come together, share experiences and produce works that inspire our community.

Throughout the residency program Artists took great initiative in pushing the boundary. The residency was happened with research visits, interactive talk session, workshop with students, Community art production in Thimi and in Mcube. Initially artists including art Assistant made the great bonding together with the knowledge they shared and made the collaborative production as well. Despite COVID-19 lockdown, they worked individually for their dream of communal feast in Thimi and final exhibition in Gallery Mcube. Zoe continued her art production in Mcube studio during the lock down and made the exciting production on the ritualistic notions based on her research in Nepal. Her production in clay was blending conceptual notes of naga –  the ritual snake in the pottery created in community space of Thimi. And individually they created several drawings and paintings during the lock down. Sushila Singh created bricks to depict strength. For her clay is like a mother who is soft yet can be stiff. For them it was meditative and spiritual moment to produce according to their own individual thought process. 

“MAATO” an exhibition is an outcome of the artworks produced during the residency period. Maato is the spiritual essence of the existence, the earth where seed grows to the tree, roof to protect from rain and heat. Maato: the clay is something organic, and something that touches lives from the day we born till the end of life.

Manish Lal Shrestha