Multifaceted artist Sunita Maharjan, loves alternating between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in her work. While she started out with drawing and painting, the Kathmandu-based artist now enjoys creating sculptural works and installations as well. The movement of lines plays an important role in her practice, and she achieves that effect with materials like straw, bamboo, weaves and found objects. Maharjan’s works emerge from her engagement with the space around her, and her studio, ‘Drawing Room Ktm’ plays a huge role in her creative process. “Much like a cartographer, Maharjan presents the landscape in aerial view, mapping people’s experiences with lived spaces onto fabric, padding cramped livelihoods with the comfort of cotton and measured needlework,” mentions an article about her solo exhibition, Shared Skies, on Art Forum. In an interview with Lounge, she describes her studio and the eureka moments that it has sparked.
Describe your current workspace to us.
A single open room, with many windows, has two big tables, shelves filled with art books, children’s books and art materials. This space is used by me and my partner, who is also an artist. It has been set up as a personal studio and learning space for both children and adults. We have named the space as ‘Drawing Room Ktm’. The room faces north, which is why it’s a little cold in winters. But the wide balcony acts as a lobby, and it is warmed by the sun early in the morning. Sometimes, I work there too. From the balcony, I can see the green bamboo trees, the Buddhist flags and cherry blossom trees in spring, and that relaxes me. I follow a set working time as I have to teach as well. Usually, I work from 8 am to 3 pm and then again between 6 pm and 8 pm. The latter is a special period of the day as it allows me to think about my working process. The atmosphere in the space changes with time. And during these times of the day, the space is very quiet, and I quite enjoy working then.
Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?
I used to work out of a small bedroom in my old mud house. Thereafter, I rented a small room as a studio, moving on to another rented space near that. Most of my studies—bachelors and masters in fine art in Nepal—were done out of these rented spaces. However, there were constraints, as I could not create large-sized works in those small spaces. After the 2015-earthquake, I left that room, and in 2016, my partner and I got the space, which is now the ‘Drawing Room Ktm’, in Jhamsikhel, Lalitpur.
How would you define your daily relationship with this space?
I can say that it is another home for me, where I spend most of my time. It is a space far from any distraction, where I can totally focus on myself and my work. It's a relaxing space.
Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.
That happened way back in 2016 after I had left my earlier studio following the earthquake. For a year, I didn’t have my personal studio to work out of. But in 2016, just when I got the new space, I was also selected for the Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF) in Goa. The fabric and print work that I created for SAF was large in size and wouldn’t have been possible to create in any other space. The studio has been lucky for me. The entire body of work for my second solo exhibition, Shared Skies (2018), was also created here.
If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?
I think a bright and warm space, with natural light, is what I would want the most. It will be even better if the space is open with a high ceiling, where I can observe my work from a distance and a different angle. I would like the space to be surrounded with trees, which I can see even from inside.
The first artist whose work you followed closely? What about them appealed to you?
The Korean sculptor and installation artist, Do ho Suh, has inspired me a lot. The way he explores the concept of space and home fascinates me. His statement, “The space is not only a physical one but an intangible metaphorical and psychological one,” connects with my practice.
What was the first medium/tool you used in the early years of practice? How has that evolved now?
My first media were drawing and painting. But I change the medium and material according to the idea. For instance, in some of the installations and sculptural works, I have used readymade objects (balloons, plastics threads) and natural materials (straw, bamboo, grass), while some series are based on fabric and prints. I also do a lot of stitching and sewing.
In these past three years, I have been working with seeds, plantations and soil. The works are inspired by my upbringing, drawing on my family’s agrarian background. During the masters in fine arts programme at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, I got the opportunity to work freely. I used drawing and painting as tools to imagine time-based installation works.
My recent work for the Kathmandu Triennale is also a time-based video installation. In this work, food, seeds, and soil are juxtaposed against iron rods and wire mesh to represent the time and surface within which we live. The distance between the actual soil and the ground beneath, despite being connected, marks the attachment as well as the detachment I associate with the act of growing our own food.
The Kathmandu Trienniale opens online on 11 February while the physical exhibitions start on 1 March; kathmandutriennale.org
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.