By Ram Khatry
Arpana Rayamajhi travels the four corners of the world looking for the unique and artistic, the beautiful and ‘not so beautiful’. She is on a perennial hunt for things that unleash the creative genius within her, things that are colourful, things that are steeped in traditions and cultures, things that tell stories about people from varied heritages and things that conjure up the muse inside her.
Once the artistic foraging is done, she brings the treasure home to New York and mixes them with traditional accessories from Nepal creating ornamental masterpieces each of which become truly one of a kind. Her creations redefine handmade jewellery, made with raw materials no factory-operators can see.
Besides being a style artist, Arpana is also a painter and sculptor who lives and works in the USA with her artist boyfriend Bruno Levy.
To her fellow Nepalese, she may well be introduced as the daughter of late Sushila Rayamajhi, a renown cine and theatre artiste from Kathmandu who tragically lost her battle against cancer in 2012.
Vogue magazine noticed this talented ‘multi-media’ artist for her ability to fuse colours, culture, sculpture and heritage into consumer art. To be transplanted in New York after being born and raised in Kathmandu, and then be written about by the online edition of a magazine like Vogue is not a bad start to a career in fashion. But the humble 28 year old is not conceited about it, “I am very fortunate to have had a chance to share my work and a little bit about myself with the world. I do not think I have achieved anything substantial as yet, since this is just the start but it makes me very happy to see that the time I have dedicated to my craft and myself is being acknowledged.”
Although a New Yorker now and away from home for many years, Nepal is never far from Arpana’s heart. Her works easily betray her Nepalese roots, if you are artistically discerning that is. She even dedicated 20 percent of the proceeds when she set up a booth last June at Pioneer Works for Second Sunday, a monthly event of open studios, live music and site-specific interventions presented by the Brooklyn-based Pioneer Works.
Arpana studied in Nepal until Year 12 and then took a three year gap during which she learned music and indulged herself in creative experimentations. She graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art this year with a degree that complements the multi-dimensional creator within her – a Bachelor in Fine Arts. But it is not the formal education that made her an artist – she was born creative we learn, “Ever since I remember, I always made things.”
“I feel like I do not have a confined form of creative expression,” Arpana explains adding that it was always encouraged by her late parents as she grew up in the historic city of Kathmandu, “I made drawings, paintings, jewelry, clothes, music, and could manage 10 careers perfectly well as a child.” In her correspondence with southasia.com.au, she mentions that she learned a lot while studying at Cooper Union and also while growing up in Nepal and living there. “But the biggest education that I never ever received in life is the reality that life itself holds and the experiences that I have had,” the young artist philosophises.
Her motto is to work tirelessly towards her goal without worrying too much about what is possible and what is not. She feels a sense of responsibility towards the world not just as a person but also as an artist who has creative mediums to voice concerns about issues that are larger than the fashion market. When asked if she is the first Nepalese to be covered by the fashion and lifestyle magazine, which is published in 23 different national and regional editions, the consumer artist shows she is not yet ready to gloat in vain self-admiration, “I personally do not know if any other person has been “covered” by the magazine the way you describe it but I am pretty sure that Prabal Gurung has already had numerous coverage for his work on Vogue”.
Her increasing clientèle prizes her creations, proudly wears them and keeps calling back on her doorstep. This loyalty of her customers prompted her to establish ARPANA RAYAMAJHI which was initially called ARPANA JEWELS. Why the change of name so early on into her career? “Now I’ve upgraded to ARPANA RAYAMAJHI, so as to allow me to expand my work outside of jewellery,” Arpana explains in an email interview with southasia.com.au. Arpana does everything to produce the jewellery line but her boyfriend Bruno Levy helps her with the web work and photography which is so essential to promote any jewellery creations. “It’s growing and has a big potential of becoming a mix of art and objects. That is all I am going to say about it now,” she said.
That urge to incorporate and explore variegated forms of art comes from her pure artistic upbringing. Her mother Sushila Rayamajhi was a popular movie star of Kathmandu’s film industry who worked in a number of critically-appreciated movies. Her father, Netra Bahadur Rayamajhi, was a draftsmen with incredible painting and drawing skills, Arpana says. “They were both very creative, very very supportive of my sister and me and it is because of them that I love art,” she reminisces her parents.
Her clients are people ‘who like art and fashion even if they do not practice it themselves and are not afraid to wear something unusual, unique and beautiful’. They are mostly from the USA and Europe although she does have customers who are from her own ethnic background – the expatriate Nepalese people living in the States. Marketing her products in Nepal, however, is not commercially viable. “I do not have clients back home as yet, since I make everything in NYC and the mark up is considerably higher than the average Nepali market,” she says when asked if he has clients in her own home country.
The Cooper graduate wants to be creating for the rest of her life because ‘It is my life’. But she understands that in life nothing goes as planned. As someone who lost her parents at a young age, she is conscious of the ephemeral side of the human existence. It is difficult to talk about business and the future since everything is so temporary and nothing lasts forever, she points out, “I just want to be healthy, happy and be surrounded by my loved ones and make more work.”
“Also having people like yourself who support my work is absolutely crucial in my professional growth. Given that I work hard and people recognize that, I do not see anything but growth. I give everything I have to my practice. So, let’s see where life takes me.”