11 Nov 2017
4 min read
In 1992, Pravin Chitrakar decided to devote his energies to producing high-quality Nepali handicraft items. He was armed with nothing more than passion as his driving force. Today, he is the Founder and Creative Director of Yala Mandala—an artisan hub in Patan that seeks to produce Nepali handmade products that can meet the requirements of even the most discerning buyer.
“Yala Mandala is the name under which we produce a wide range of products,” says Chitrakar. “When we started out, we began as Patan Handicrafts, and produced just handmade buttons. Back then, all I wanted to do was improve the quality of Nepal’s handicraft, and to increase the value of our products and our craftsmanship—both in Nepal and internationally—a dream I am still working on.”
Today, Yala Mandala is a conglomeration of four different companies (Patan Handicraft, Yala Craft, Craft Yala, and Yala Traditions) that designs, develops, manufactures and packages a variety of high-end products inspired by local art, culture and heritage—from jewellery and accessories to knitwear, natural rugs and ceramics. It’s in this thriving hub that Chitrakar fosters young talent, encourages local artisans and mentors budding entrepreneurs.
Set in the heart of Patan, Yala Mandala comprises a gallery, a cafe, an art studio, and a retail concept studio—all housed inside traditional Newari buildings. Inside the Yala premises is also a chic restaurant. The concept store that houses these products—all conceptually based on traditional Nepali, and particularly Newari, artworks and cultural heritage—represents the very ethos of a typical Newari house.
Yala Mandala has over the years not only made a mark for itself as a producer of premium handmade products, but has also, in the process, encouraged and worked with established brands like Laavanya, Aamo, The Candlestick Woman, SAX Nepal, Khali Khutta, Abareness, among others—all companies that share the same ideology as Yala Mandala: to produce high-value, world-class handcrafted Nepali products that capture the essence of traditional Nepali culture while also incorporating contemporary touches. From the delicate, intricate detailing of Aamo's jewellery designs to Khali Khutta's use of rustic, minimal aesthetics in their bags, yoga mats and other items—all the brands that are associated with Yala Mandala produce items that appeal to international market, while keeping intact their Nepali essence.
“We structure all of our activities around close collaborations with both local artisans and innovative designers,” says Sujan Amatya, Art Manager at Yala Mandala. “We work with independent artisans. We encourage them to contemporise traditional art products, to make them more appealing to their customers. We also provide startups free consultation and help handicraft companies with manufacturing their products and packaging them.”
One company that has worked closely with Yala Mandala is Laavanya. Laavanya's journey with Yala started since 2010. “I have known Pravin for a few years now,” says Shweta Upadhyaya, founder of Laavanya Luxury Ayurveda. “I formally started the company in 2012, but I have had a lot of help from Pravin since 2010. From helping Laavanya come up with product ideas to designing the packaging, Pravin has helped us as a mentor, as an advisor and a creative mind.”
Yala Mandala not only provides space for these brands to showcase their products, it also helps companies during their ideation, production and marketing phase. It also helps artisans form wider networks so that they can find new collaborators on their projects. “We don’t have any showrooms here in Patan, and since Patan is a major a tourist spot, Yala has helped build up our customer base here too,” says Upadhyaya.
Through the hub’s latest initiative, Yala Art Studio, Yala also encourages and trains young artists. Yala Art Studio took shape in 2016, when Saroj Maharjan, a then recent KU graduate, came to work with Pravin Chitrakar. “Sometime last year, Pravin suggested we turn the unused space in Yala into a studio for young artists. He proposed I invite fellow graduates and other art students to use the space—to work, to collaborate, to organise workshops. And that's how it started,” says Maharjan, the coordinator of the art studio. The space, which is free of rent for the students, is Yala’s way of supporting the local art scene. Currently, there are around a dozen or so students—photographers, calligraphers, illustrators—who work together and polish their work at the studio. Most of the students’ works are exhibited and sold through Yala’s gallery. Yala also helps the students bag other paid, freelancing projects, like the ongoing exhibition titled The True Stories Mural Project, at Siddhartha Art Gallery.
“It is tough to sustain as an artist, financially. And the way Yala Mandala has been helping us has been instrumental in helping us shape a career in the art sector. Our association with Yala has helped us open up our network, be financially sufficient, and innovate our techniques through collaborations with different artists,” says Maharjan.
Yala Mandala also trains locals to become better craftsmen and to keep their traditions alive. “In our manufacturing workshops, at Patan and at Sanepa, senior artisans provide training to the younger employees, or to anyone who is interested in Nepali handicraft. Mahendra Rai, who is today one of our most skilled jewellery cutters, was once a security guard. He showed interest in the art form and we gave him the platform,” says Deepak Raj Aryal, who has been with Yala for the past 24 years.
“Our doors are open to everyone. We work with independent artists with the idea of honing the younger generation’s craftsmanship, to pass on all that we have learned with the hopes that they will take things further,” says Chitrakar. “Over the years, we have become a platform for creativity and innovation, a culture house of sorts. It has been a long process. But the more we learn, the more we do, the more excited I become about what our artists and artisans are capable of producing.”