Meena Kayastha, the elegance of junk

“union”, 165x70x28 cm, steel, 2014

Meena Kayastha is a young Nepali artist who builds contemporary sculptures that incorporate elements of traditional Nepalese art. Her works combine hybrid garbage collected from junkyards in Nepal with figurative elements made from papier mache which brings about a transformation into art of elements, a priori deemed unnecessary and destined to destruction. This enhancement of waste is not only an environmental claim, it has a political dimension. Indeed the Nepalese social system is traditionally based on a division of the population into castes, some of which are valued and other despised and rejected. Thus, a certain portion of the population was considered as waste by birth. The caste system has been heavily criticized, particularly during the Maoist revolution, but some aspects still persist in practices and imagination. This is why Meena Kayastha ‘s work of recovery and transformation of waste into art takes on a particularly strong dimension in this context, as a reflection of the cultural changes taking place in Nepalese society and as a mechanism to accelerate them. The new life that the artist offers to these objects recalls certainly the social change experienced by Nepal but it also echoes the process of reincarnation inherent to Hinduism and Buddhism. Meena leaves the outer aspect of objects recognizable and identifiable, but she changes their value and meaning by modifying their form and assembling them. Strangely enough, she possesses a magic power to transform garbage into extremely elegant and precious art pieces. Thus, while providing a modern and ecological discourse, the artist not only enhances the Nepalese cultural and political heritage and commits to greater equity, but she also makes a magisterial demonstration of the power of enchantment which set apart real artists. She kindly agreed to answer some questions to further explain her work:

“untitled”, 172x75x75 cm, tiles, wheel, tubes, steel, 2014

When and upon which design did you start doing Art?
– Whenever I come across a piece of junk, it sings of its glory to me. I would gaze, listen and get mesmerised with all that it has to say. It confused me utterly at first but later I realised that it was reflecting upon the reality. As a child I loved the idea of reusing. I would cut the better pieces of my old clothes and sew those together to make a new one. This reflection made me think- nothing is old, if you got purpose with it. After graduation in 2007, I started my journey, exploring the junkyards which for me were an unexplored artistic terrain. I thus started visiting many junkyards and collect elements which were considered useless and disposed. I developed my first junk sculpture assembling different junk objects and welded them together enhancing it with patterns.

“Evolving Conciousness”, 60x12x15 cm, plâtre de Paris, ciment blanc, tuyaux de fer, 2012

“Evolving Conciousness”, idem, 2012
Are there influences (artist, group or themes)  that you would relate to?
-Yes indeed. Rather than influence, I am highly inspired by “DADA” movement, an international anti-art movement which began in Zurich and flourished between 1916 and 1923. They developed the vision of an art created from readymade and made affordable for everybody. Likewise, I tried to awaken the power of imagination by using junk material in my sculpture. People have tendency to use and throw and I seek to find and establish aesthetics into elements that are considered useless and to be disposed of. I want people to enhance their imagination power on rubbish materials in order to give them note that junk, reinvested and reinterpreted, can be an efficient tool to explore their creative expression.

“Lyrics of Chaos”, taille variable, papier mâché, roues de bicyclette, perles, 2010

“Lyrics of Street, 160x109x85 cm, papier mâché, klaxons de bus, tuyaux, feraille, 2011

How was your work received and did you get support?
-In the context of Nepal, I am known as junk sculptor. I am the first artist who came up with exploring junk materials for artistic purpose. My creation is well appreciated here ; this is a great support for me in every step I take in my creative endeavour. I feel proud of having introduced junk art (sculpture) in Nepal.

“Lyrics of Agony”, 64x103x30 cm, papier mâché, ferraille, cire, 2010

“Lyrics of Hope”, 95x35x30 cm, papier, mâché, chaines, feraille, 2011

“Lyrics of Navarasa”, 80x170x65 cm, papier mâché, 2011

Did the political situation in Nepal have an influence on the way you work?
- The political situation of Nepal has been very volatile for almost a decade now, and my society has been affected severely through the years. People’s lives were affected socially and economically to a great extent. All the changes, struggles and lives in the society have been of great influence to my work, from socio-cultural to personal issues, human relationships, provided deep feelings of joy and sadness altogether.

“Lyrics of Queen”, 117x69x33 cm, papier mâché, billes, perles, 2011

Could you briefly describe your main techniques?
-I worked in Hybrid style, fusing both modern and traditional elements. I mostly choose papier mache, brick dust, mud colour, junk materials (especially steel), different colour of tiles for mosaic. I assemble different junk materials accordingly how I conceptualise and weld them together. I never planned that I will be sculpting what I have created because you never know what kind of materials you will get in junkyards. So I believe in process work. For embellishment, I incorporate traditional nepali patterns as well.

“Lyrics of Night”, 133x37x37 cm, papier mâché, ferraille, 2010

Where do you find and how do you choose the objects that you use for your sculptures and installations?
– I mostly collect materials from different junkyards. After my exhibition in 2010 entitled “Lyrics from the Junkyard”, my work received good media coverage and good responses, not only from art circles but also from non art-related people as well. Thereafter, I was pleased that people called me to collect their junk stuff to which they believed I could offer a new life.
Choosing materials from massive junkyard is quite a difficult task. There are lots of stuff you have to choose out of. Junk itself has its own stories, from the stage of having its own purpose to the time its value vanishes into uselessness. I get enthralled by its twisted forms and rusted effects. Generally I collect random stuff from junkyards and play with objects to give a meaningful form.

“Lyrics of Soul”, 126x66x38 cm, papier mâché, klaxon de bus, pot d’échappement de camion, 2010

What are the new designs and patterns of reflection that you want to explore?
- My work reflects socio-cultural, political and personal issues. I would like to work further on the human characters incorporating socio-psychological issues, personal expressions, human intimacy, modern evolution of the society due to cross-territorial/cultural bringing up, family structures, etc.

“Lyrics of Last Era”, 95x76x36 cm, papier mâché,tuyaux de fer, cire, bruleurs à gaz, feraille, 2010

“Lyrics of Circus”, 150x64x45 cm, papier mâché, ferraille, roue de bicyclette, 2010

Do you have projects that you would like to mention in this article?
- I am working on incorporating more junk elements than before, where large portions of my sculptures incorporated figurative papier mache. My current projects involve mosaic, traditional Nepali patterns and more of semi-abstract symbolism.

“Happy Guard”, 115x65x30 cm, tuiles, ferraille ,papier mâché, 2014

Meena Kayastha does not yet have an entire site dedicated to her work, however, she has a tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/search/Meena+Kayastha and a profile on Arts Nepal http://www.eartsnepal. com / artist / meena-kayastha.html where she proposes the sale of some of her works. I would strongly advise readers to take an interest in her work, which deserves our attention, and follow her artistic progression.

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