Located in a side alley through a busy street in Patan, Yala Mandala is an urban artisan village that comprises of a gallery, café, and art residency program. Handicraft workshops are held to contemporize culture and traditions.
“We believe that arts and handicrafts are direct impressions of our culture. Thus, Yala Mandala is for appreciating those meaningful handicrafts and their makers,” says Pravin Chitrakar, founder and creative director at Yala Mandala.
Belonging to an art embracing family and growing up in the heritage-rich site, Chitrakar had always been highly influenced by the local arts and crafts. This made him choose to promote arts over pursuing a career in engineering. “Leaving engineering was quite a tough decision to make yet arts and crafts came naturally to me. You can say I was convinced this was what I wanted to do in life,” he says.
From the building to its name, at Yala Mandala, all architecture has its own unique story. The Yala house is said to be 350 years old where the Rana Prime Minister, Juddha Shamsher Rana, used to rest and conduct various official works. Designed with traditional embellishments like the Bahal and Akhijhyal, it purely reflects the Newari ethos.
On the other hand, the word ‘Yala’ suggests ‘Patan’ in Nepali Bhasa but the literal meaning of the word is ‘I love it’. If viewed together, with this single word one can express their immense love for Patan. Chitrakar says that he couldn’t have had a better name for the gallery.
Yala Mandala is the house of all art lovers. It lets both national and international artists use the gallery space free of cost. Likewise, it has also provided its space to an art studio. This studio, which has now evolved into an arts residency program, was started by a group of young kids who came together to share their skills with one another. Interested individuals are also allowed to learn the fine art skills at the studio.
Though the Patan Handicrafts was established in 1992, it has been only five years that the brand name Yala Mandala was take up. Their products include jewelry, knitwear, buttons, paper products, and other decorative items. The products are prepared by local artisans, in collaboration with innovative designers. These quality products have helped them earn many international as well as Nepali clients. However, Chitrakar says that their biggest challenge is to change the perspective of people regarding handicrafts.
“Handicrafts and their significance are not just limited to just decorative and showpiece items. Instead, it is something that requires passion, patience, and skilled artisans,” he says further adding that people usually underestimate these pieces of artworks. However, after all these years of experiencing the market, he confesses that there have been positive changes in the recent years. “People appreciate arts and the profession itself a little more these days,” he says.
Every few weeks, Yala Mandala invites local members from the Bungamati community to discuss preservation of cultural heritage. Chitrakar and his team also travel to various districts of Nepal to make people aware about building new infrastructures without hampering the local heritage sites.
Chitrakar says that the risk he took 25 years ago definitely seems to be paying off today and he looks forward to educating more people about arts and culture in the future as well.