A Nepali sculptor has been commissioned to build a 113ft statue in Bhutan
Born into a family of traditional metal artists in Kathmandu, Raj Kumar Shakya says he can't remember a time when he wasn't working with metal, hammering it to create figures of deities.
At an age when other children would be playing, Raj Kumar would be etching designs on copper plates and then hammering them into bass reliefs. "My home was my school," he recalls. Today, Raj Kumar is a specialist in embossing metal sheets, using a method known as repouss?. Unlike the more popular method of lost-wax casting, the repouss? technique involves beating the metal to give it the desired shape.
"Even as a child I was fascinated with large repouss? statues and dreamt of creating larger-than-life designs," says Raj Kumar.
Raj Kumar's work has come to the notice of monasteries in Japan, Korea and most recently in Bhutan. He has been invited to Bhutan to build a 113ft tall statue of Guru Rimpoche, or Padmasambhav. Next month, Raj Kumar will lead a team of 14 of his craftsmen to Bhutan to construct the statue atop Takela Hill, situated in Lhuentse of eastern Bhutan.
"The statue will be one of the largest in South Asia, possibly the biggest made from the repouss? technique," says Raj Kumar. The metal alone will weigh 80 tonnes with the gold-plated face and hands, and the entire structure will take three years to complete.
Ram Kumar runs his family workshop, On Metal, in Kathmandu with a team of 30 skilled artists. Using traditional methods they produce copper figures, masks, stupas, mandalas, preserving the ancient artistic techniques of the Newar people. Ram Kumar's works have decorated various monasteries in Nepal and Tibet and have also reached Japan, Australia, Germany and the US.
Although the demand for Nepali artwork has increased, Ram Kumar, who is also a teacher of metal art, is a bit worried that the next generation is not as interested in learning this valuable skill and in preserving the heritage.
However, the positive aspect is that this occupation is not caste bound anymore. Traditionally only Shakya families were involved in it," he adds.
When asked about his future plans, Shakya replies: "I want to construct a gigantic statue of Buddha in Nepal, possibly atop one of the hills that surround Kathmandu. After all, what people remember you for eventually is what you leave behind."