Can you teach me?

HD Video, 16:9, colour, 7 min. 59 sec., 2016

The project was created during the Mixed Media Residency hosted by Photo Kathmandu (Sept – Oct 2016) and premiered at Photo Kathmandu 2016 – Nepal’s International Photography Festival

‘Can you teach me?’ explores modalities of exchange between two natives of the Newar ethnicity from Kathmandu Valley, and the artist. Taking an anthropological approach that acknowledges and admits the artist’s role as an outsider in Nepal, the act of being taught is used here as a means to create interaction and exchange non-verbal knowledge with Nepalis. Asking ‘Can you teach me?’ is my attempt to understand Nepal through physically re-enacting some of the manual gestures that inhabit the place. The artist becomes a pupil, a novice to the teacher’s long honed skill. The urgent need to preserve culture and bodily knowledge in the age of digital overflow is present in this alternative way of being together, where calmness is found in the continuous, in the repetition of gestures.
The two teachers are Lalit Prajapati and Toolmaya Maharjan. A practicing potter since 60 years, Lalit is one of the last potters in the ancient ceramic city Bhaktapur who still works with the manual wheel. Toolmaya, a resident of Patan and now retired, taught me the old Nepalese practice of spinning kapya (cotton) into ita (yarn) by hand, a skill that is traditionally passed on from woman to woman. The cotton yarn is used as incense thread for butter lamps and thus still forms an integral part of the daily devotional practice (puja) in Nepal.
Focussing on process rather than the perfection of skill, this work also wants to illustrate our constant human attempt to make things work and the necessary acceptance of failure in order to learn.

© Julia Schuster