30 Jan-5 Feb 2015 #743

The root man

Little-known artist turns root cleaning hobby into artistic passion
Cynthia Choo

Forty-four year old Narendra Dangol (pic) started collecting gnarled roots of holy trees just so his mother would stop calling him lazy. Narendra, who is unemployed, stumbled upon this hobby when he found some discarded roots by the roadside.

“I decided to clean it up and put it at home. To my surprise, after dusting the mud off [the root], it was beautiful,” he said.

When cleaned and propped upright, the snaking roots resemble artistic installations, and it is easy to let your imagination run wild amidst Narendra’s roots. These rare and delicate roots require ample patience to handle and clean. A metre long root can take between two hours to three days to clean. The biggest root in his collection took Narendra half a year.

“These installations can be anything to anyone, I don’t want to restrict anyone’s imganination of what it should be,” said Narendra.

Since beginning his collection six years ago, the collector's roots now occupy four rooms in his house.

In January this year, Narendra was asked to exhibit his work at the courtyard of Patan Museum by the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Museum. The exhibition (pic), free for visitors inside the museum, ironically cost Narendra Rs 5000 instead, as he had to rent a vehicle to transport the roots to the museum.

For Dangol, whose only source of income is rent money from tenants, this has been an expensive hobby. Besides not getting any financial return from his art, Narendra also had to sacrifice extra income by using empty rooms for storage rather than subletting to tenants.

The lack of sponsors willing to invest in art – and artists – in Nepal makes it even more financially taxing. So, why continue?

In addition to the aesthetic beauty of the root collection, Narendra says he feels the need to preserve roots of the Jyapuswan tree.

“It used to be treated as a holy plant in Nepal, people don’t understand its importance anymore. Now, they just treat them as waste and throw them out,” he said.

His determination to spread awareness about the Jyapuswan roots further spurred his passion for the unique art of root sculpting. Unfortunately, this passion might be short-lived. The roots which are only planted during the Shivaratri festival are disappearing due to constant road expansion projects and urbanisation.

This makes Narendra even more passionate about protecting the rare trees that give him the roots of his art. Without the roots, Narendra knows there will be no art or hobby for him to continue. This is perhaps why the humble Nepali doesn’t go by the title of a sculptor, or an artist.

He said: “I don’t wish to have a status or a title. I am just happy admiring the complexity of the intertwined roots after I clean them.”

Read also:

Art for mart’s sake

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