In The Studio with Arpana Rayamajhi
Hailing from Kathmandu, Arpana Rayamajhi is a jeweler and accessory designer. Now living in New York, she draws inspiration from her love for rock and roll and the juxtaposition of her two homes. While studying at Cooper Union, Rayamajhi began making her handmade effervescent and worldly accessories. Incorporating elements of her personal connection and memories associated with home, she’s added on new materials and designs to reflect her constantly evolving, and malleable take on identity.
Having recently settled into her new home studio in Manhattan, Milk spoke with Arpana about her workplace, her upcoming projects (including hair pieces!), and her passion to pursue acting.
You recently moved studios, how does the transition feel? Is there something you had in mind for your new working space?
I just moved back to my home studio from Bandit Studio in Dumbo. Juggling acting school and studio has been tricky. I felt like I was running to too many places to get my work done and I felt I needed to consolidate space and time. Working at home has its benefits- you can work whenever you want. It also has it’s drawbacks, your work stays with you all the time. I do notice that when I’m by myself, I tend to make a lot more work.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your studio? Is there a specific mood or energy you try to maintain in your workspace?
Right now the aesthetic is very homely because I just moved back home. I would like to be a bit more organized and a tiny bit tidier with my supplies and table. I have tried and failed. I’m not sure but I think I might always have a messy studio. I don’t know if I can get away from it. I do like a big sunny space to work from. Who doesn’t? So I’m lucky to have big windows and a lot of light.
You were born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal. What is your relationship with home, now that you have spent about 8 years living in New York?
I miss home. I miss everything about it but I also remember how badly I wanted to move somewhere bigger since I was a kid. My relationship with home and life in the last 8 years has drastically transformed. Nothing is the same anymore for many reasons. But I do not in any way feel that living in New York has or will make me less Nepali. I don’t say that in a way that I’m attached to my identity but I say that in a way that its a fact that will not change. I don’t think the distance makes me less Nepali. It actually reminds me of what I am. I see myself and the world in a much larger perspective. I also go back once a year and if not, once every two years (sometimes twice a year) without making any excuses. I have friends there and we always have a really good time, and eating and shopping for jewels is my favorite thing to do there. I’m just very fortunate that I can now call both Kathmandu and New York my home. I know these places really well. Well, maybe. I’m learning about New York still. And same with Kathmandu. I guess how well does anyone really know where they come from and where they live? This question just got complicated.
A lot of your work reflects your Nepali heritage. Do you have a process while brainstorming ideas for new pieces?
I didn’t really set out to make work that was solely Nepali. At first, I was using materials (that I still do now) that I had brought with me. When I started making jewelry I gave myself all these peripheral reasons about why I make work- my love for music, art, rock and roll culture, film, nature, socio-political issues, blah blah! And while they do inform my work, I think I was really just missing home and wanted to desperately find a way to not lose it. It was a way for me to connect to my mother, who for me is home. So I’m not particularly working with any specific heritage but I do see myself somewhere between two worlds, the Old Nepal and the new Nepal (and now the bigger world). I think my work is informed by transitions and change and growth and is more representative of me and my experiences. And as for how I work, I rarely sit down and draw. I go straight to making because I can see the work, in my head. That makes me sound so, “ Oh, I see my work in my head before I make it” but it’s true.
Tell me more about the new hair accessories and pieces in your studio. Any more projects we should know about?
These new pieces are still in process. I have a lot more to do but I have been working on and off with hair since I was studying at Cooper. I was using my own hair then. Hair is important to me. Most people that know me know that up until I was 19, I had my hair colored in many different colors, styling, and braiding was very important for me and then as I got older, length has become more important. I am extremely attached to my hair. I have been studying a lot about hair and the different significance of it. I’m speaking very superficially here because I haven’t completed the series. I have ideas but maybe it’s too early to really say much about them. As for new projects, I have something special to share starting 2020 and I’m really excited about it.
What have you found to be the most challenging material to work with? Why?
I don’t particularly think a material is hard to work with. There are techniques and labor of course, but I find that materials can inform what kind of work to make. But the difficulty is good. It helps me grow.
What are your favorite creations to date?
I love a bunch of them for different reasons. But the first few series I worked on, The Melancholy Death of the Urchin Girl * inspired by Tim Burton’s book, The Melancholy Death of the Oyster Boy* is still one of my favorites. I’m still putting out this new series called “The Narcissist” for the longest time ever but I swear it’ll be fun and my new “hair work”.
Since all of your pieces are handmade, how long does it take you to create one piece on an average? How do you find a balance between work and free time?
It really depends on the piece. But usually, a small piece will take me about 6ish hours and then some can take up to days and sometimes a week or two. It depends on the complexity and scale and if I am familiar with the material. And I don’t find a balance between work and free time. Please let me know how that’s done.
Who are some of your idols/style influences? Anyone you would love to collaborate with in the future?
Bjork, Kim Gordon. Mostly they’re artists I love and I don’t like someone particularly just for their style. I would love to make jewelry for Daniel Day-Lewis (or make him anything he wants, a drawing, a shirt, knit, a pair of pants). I would like to be able to do work with him in any capacity. Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson. I would’ve loved to dress Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee and a bunch of other people but most of the people that I look up to for style besides Keith Richards have sadly passed away. Tarantino! Making jewels for Marilyn Manson would be fun. I guess quite a few people.
You mentioned you have been going to school for acting. What inspired you to pursue acting?
My mother. I didn’t set out to do this even though I have always deep down wanted to all my life. I was too young, immature and afraid to admit that my love for film comes from having grown up around film and tv all my life. My mother was an actor so it’s funny that I am finally now able to own up to myself that I have wanted to act in films since I was young. I have had really bad stage fright several times and I can be very shy when it comes to things I really love. But since last year, I have also somehow very, fortunately, had some specific opportunities, one in particular which really catapulted me straight to ” I am going to do this”. It’s scary. I don’t know where life will go but hey, I didn’t know it would be like this either. So, I am just trying to focus on the work that I must do.
What are your plans for 2020?
Finish school, make work, travel and start exercising seriously.
Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits.