LAL SALAM: The artist Erna Anema, in her studio.
Coming to Nepal had long been high on Erna's list of desires, after reading a book as a child about the 1953 conquest of Chomolungma. While she had expected to be bowled over by the natural beauty of the country, the fine craftsmanship of the metal workers and jewellers fascinated her the most, sowing the seeds of future collaboration.
When she was studying at the prestigious Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, where she now teaches, Erna had become interested in working with gold and silver and wanted one day to collaborate with the skilled Newar craftsmen in Kathmandu valley.
|Copper pots and other objects beaten in Nepal.|
I had the pleasure of meeting Erna at her house in the Netherlands earlier this month, where she regaled me with tales of her collaboration with and fondness for, Nepal's artisans. Her enthusiasm for her work and her ongoing relationship with this Himalayan kingdom are infectious, topped only by a charming unpretentiousness. She is disarmingly frank in the way that she describes both the challenges and successes of her artistic work.
The rough but elegant simplicity which Erna achieves in her art is unsightly to most Nepali craftsmen with whom she has worked, given the differing aesthetic sensibilities. Once she finally succeeded with a copper worker in forming a bowl in the way she wanted it. She left for a couple of hours and returned to discover that he had carefully beaten an undesired wave into the rim.
Erna is modest about her contribution to the livelihoods of these craftsmen, suggesting that her artistic commissions make up only a small part of their annual income. While respecting traditional craft techniques, Erna delights in bringing small gifts for her friends and colleagues Rajesh, Saroj, Mohan, Nabin and Gautam, such as strong work gloves, books on gilding and gas masks to combat the noxious mercury fumes which are released when Patan's craftsmen decorate temple domes.
Erna's oeuvre is made up of three components: objects, jewellery and paintings. The first two are made in collaboration with craftsmen from Patan, while her painting is solo work from her studio in the Netherlands. Soon after an exhibition at Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu in the late 1990s, while Erna was teaching a workshop at Nepal's Art Academy, she organised a successful exhibition in Haarlem at which all exhibited items were sold.
Her most recent artistic adventure is the Lal Project, which she will take on tour to London next week. A lal is a Nepali unit of measurement for silver, from which Erna makes beaten silver brooches of different sizes and constellations.
Victoria and Albert Museum
For more on lals and Erna's other: www.ernaanema.nl