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Revisiting Paubha

A student of traditional Nepali arts produces a fusion of paubha and metal craft that has the art community divided

We need to locate ourselves within our culture and history for we are product of our own culture and history.” Dr Dina Bangdel talked about reframing the past at the recently held ARTalk by sharing this quote by Indian art historian Geeta Kapur. “Past isn’t rejected, it is retranslated, reinterpreted,” Bangdel added.
 

Treading on this very path, artist Saziv Shakya is revisiting the traditional art form of Paubha. Shakya who started his journey in the art world at the age of 15 has brought the art of metal carving into Paubha. In his oil on canvas creations, actual metal and gemstones form the ornaments worn by deities. “Since I knew both metal carving and paubha painting, the thought of merging the two came to me,” shared Shakya who has had the opportunity to learn from such stalwarts like DB Lama, Lok Chitrakar, late DB Chitrakar and Ratna Chitrakar.
 

“His skill at both traditional art forms has made it possible for him to come up with this new style,” expressed his teacher Lok Chitrakar. Dwelling on the use of metals Chitrakar mentioned that gold leaves were used before artists started using gold dust in paubhas. “They would paste the gold leaf and paint on top of it,” he informed, adding, “however Saziv has used carving”. Shakya uses silver and copper; for gems he shared that he has used diamonds and garnets.
 

In his very first piece Shakya used metal to make wings on a pigeon that protrueded out of each side of the canvas. He has also created a Green Tara and Ganesha using the same methods and is working on a contemporary piece called Grass Buddha.
 

Each one has been a learning experience for him, says Shakya. “The embossed metal has to fit perfectly over the flat painting; achieving this is difficult. I even had to discard my second piece as the metal piece didn’t fit well.” Attaching the metal part is another challenge. While they used glue before, they have not resorted to a stronger knot and bolts idea. In giving his ideas shape, Shakya might have achieved victory over the technical challenges but his innovative style is still to find its place in the art world. There is a dispute over whether his collaboration can even be called a paubha.
 

Traditional paubha artists are not ready to accept it as the same ones they create while Chitrakar who welcomes Shakya’s creations who says, “rather than being just replicated, new elements should be infused in the traditional art forms,” is not ready to call it a paubha either. “Paubha painting methods have strict standards. The moment you use oil paint, it disqualifies as a paubha. Gradation has a minor role in paubha, which mostly uses stone colors, while gradation has a major role in oil painting.”
 

Shakya however believes it can be termed as a paubha. “I am drawing deities as per the paubha principles of iconography and color as I was taught by my teachers,” he reasons. The debate is yet to settle but there is no denying that a new interpretation of a traditional art form has emerged in the Nepali art scene.
Shakya’s next project is a 7 feet by 7 feet Pancha Buddha Mandala.. ■